18 days ago I stepped off of my flight, ready to be overwhelmed. New people, new smells, new sounds, etc. Everything would be new. I got through customs, and stepped outside into my new life for the next 4 months. I had tunnel vision almost immediately. Hundreds of people waited around the exit, hoping to catch a glimpse of their loved ones. Signs heralding the arrivals of corporate workers were waved above this throng. None of that was for me. I was on my own in this new place. It was my job to get to where I needed to go. What had I gotten myself into? Something amazing!
Lisbon immediately was both exactly what I expected, and a mysterious place. Everyone takes things at a leisurely pace, one slow enough to ensure maximum enjoyment of a glass of vinho verde or a petite Super Bock. I’ll admit I got a little frustrated in the local grocery store as I got stuck behind a man who slowly argued that the chips he had bought were advertised as 40 cents cheaper, followed by the cashier jauntily retrieving said price tag, manually entering it in, and then promptly leaving again after running out of cash. Did I miss anything by waiting an extra 5 minutes? Not at all. The Portuguese seem to understand that it is not the end of the world if some things run a little late. Maybe that’s why my macroeconomics professor showed up 10 minutes late for the first class without a way to get into the classroom, which resulted in class actually starting 25 minutes late. I won’t question it. It is a much less stressful way to live once you embrace it!
Despite the very lackadaisical attitude about time present here, my host university, ISCTE has an opposing view on the same issue. As I received my ISCTE student card, I learned that its main purpose was for attendance! Yes, the school keeps track of the percentage of each class you attend, with 80% the benchmark to pass or fail the entire class. I can only imagine the uproar that would be generated if a university back home were to implement this policy. They take showing up to class seriously here. In fact, my Microeconomics II professor repeated multiple times during the first lecture to come to class and use his office hours because we are paying for them. He’s not wrong. In both my economics classes, two tests each make up the entire grade. If I were to fail one, I would have the chance to take one test for my entire grade. Luckily, the classes so far haven’t seemed to hard, and shouldn’t take away from the enjoyment of the beautiful city of Lisbon.
Portugal has one animal that seems to be present everywhere. This animal is mostly nocturnal, and is especially enticed by signs advertising 10 shots for 5 euros. The party animal is to be found everywhere in the city limits (but don’t take that as reason to believe that they won’t take it out of the city too). These party animals especially center around one area: Erasmus Corner. I had never heard of the Erasmus Program before attending the ISCTE orientations with the 450+ other international students studying abroad there. But, as we mingled whilst munching on pastries and sipping on coffee (well, not me, I hate coffee, Washington is proud of me), that’s all I heard about. These European students are getting paid to go to school in another country. I guess it’s a scholarship, but their scholarship covers their tuition, and gives them stipends to find an apartment on their own. So, not only do they get to discover a new country for free, they get free university credit! “But Jeremy, what does free college have to do with party animals?” Well, all Erasmus students, through Erasmus Corner, have access to hundreds of parties and excursions every academic year, all by paying 20 euros for a Erasmus card. Us lowly Americans attended an excursion to Sintra with Erasmus Life, and our “guide” swore like a sailor, smoked an entire box of cigarettes in seconds flat, and rolled down a hill outside a palace (although I must admit I convinced him to do it, and then promptly did it myself). Some of my flat mates attended a welcome dinner where the Erasmus mentors kept giving them drinks until they fell out of their chair, and then put them back into the chair. Drinks flow fast. And this is what I have gathered about Europe. Drinking seems to me so taboo in the US in comparison, something to be done behind closed doors. Public drunkenness is looked down upon. In Portugal, there is an entire neighborhood, Bairro Alto, where one can walk from bar to bar, drink in hand, and one can think nary a thought about it. Drinking is not always necessarily to get wild. Sometimes, it might be sipping on wine while listening to Portugal’s folk music, Fado. It might be a beer on the rooftop after a long, hot day at work. But, it is omnipresent.
It is not inconceivable that even after only two weeks here I could begin feeling the effects of culture shock. However, I have not felt any pressing desire to go home (although that doesn’t mean I don’t miss people). Nothing about Portugal or its people have caused me great stress. I think the reason for this is because I tempered my expectations before I came. I did not expect the people to be like me, or things to be like they were back home. I expected changes, and I prepared myself to embrace them. I came to study here because of the differences. So, as differences have presented themselves to me, I have not shied away. But, my culture shock grade is incomplete. I have not yet had the most chance to experience culture shock, as I still speak too little Portuguese to have any attempt at a conversation with a native. I wish I had been able to take Portuguese classes before I came. Alas, I start Portuguese this week. I hope to use what I learn to make myself uncomfortable, to go out and shock myself. I want to be shocked! I hope that Lisbon will continue to shock me with its unique flavor and personality, and its amazing scenery and views.
Thanks for reading! I hope this blog has given a little taste on what it has been like to live here so far. I will try to have some more shorter blogs that briefly describe some moments in my everyday life that focus on the senses. I really want y’all to understand as best as y’all can what I’m experiencing everyday! Subscribe if you haven’t already, and leave feedback. It’s always appreciated. Be on the lookout for a few lifestyle blogs, and a blog about an upcoming excursion to the sunny and resort-laden Algarve region! Until next time…