The title of this final post detailing my experience in Portugal is fitting. Acabado means finished in Portuguese. But, am I finished with Portugal? Most definitely not. Although I cannot determine my own future, my goals for it have changed. I’d like to think that maybe the other proper term for this post should be começado, because I’ve only really just started.
Starting to Learn
While in Portugal, I had only just started to learn what there is to be learned. The United States only holds a small piece of the knowledge available in this large world. Portugal was a gateway to so much more knowledge. This knowledge came in many different forms. Maybe it was learning that in Germany Anti-fa has a different meaning than it does here in the US. Maybe it was learning how to casually show up 15 minutes late and thus be on time to your dinner. Maybe it was learning how to dodge one’s head as the seemingly omnipresent cloud of cigarette smoke makes its way towards your lungs. I learned a lot about the gears that keep the clockwork of a different country running. Not everything I learned was positive. I learned that building inspectors are quite willing to turn their head at clear hazards in a building to make a landlord happy, resulting in the collapse of an exterior wall of an apartment building near me that displaced 80 students (and thank goodness didn’t hurt or kill any of them). I learned that the waterfront clubs, so highly rated by locals, are highly discriminating towards non-locals, whether due to skin color, ethnicity, or language. The injustice of charging the one half-black person in the group 1100 euros (he didn’t pay) while letting everyone else in without delay can’t be put into words. I learned also what it can be like to be a foreigner. In France, when I was accosted by a beggar speaking in French, I spoke Portuguese to him, knowing that if I spoke English, I would not be left alone. This came from experience, when my friend Shiloh and I were overhead speaking English by a beggar who knew English, grabbed us by our arms, and yelled at us until we gave him coins. Being American meant that the marijuana and cocaine dealers prevalent on every street corner in Bairro Alto would always ask me if I wanted to buy. Just as we Americans tend to stereotype other countries citizens, so do the Portuguese. They view all of us as wealthy, even if us students have no money. Being American can be a harrowing experience while abroad. But mostly, it was rewarding. It opened up conversations with students from all over the world, eager to compare their country to mine, in the process handing over a goldmine of information about a country I might only ever see on a map. It led to opportunities to assure people that their English was fantastic, as I deplored my country for not emphasizing bilingualism. Needless to say, I learned a lot. And I only just started to learn what there is to be learned in this wonderful world.
Starting to Find Myself
It is unsurprising that in such a significant event in my life, I started to truly find myself. I have always told people about my Portuguese heritage, usually in connection to the difficult spelling of my last name (which does not follow English grammar conventions). My heritage is the reason I wanted to study abroad in Portugal. I wanted to open the gates to that side of my identity. Now that I am home, I feel even more connected with my dad’s family, and that Portuguese blood coursing through my veins. As I wrote about in my post about the Azores, I felt like I had returned home! Landing in the airport in Horta struck the right emotional chords in me. I teared up. I truly felt like I was home. For, home is also where your roots are, no matter how deeply buried they are. Portugal was my chance to slowly dig up those roots and bring them back to the surface. Just being able to see how the Portuguese live every day was a privilege. Especially when I was in the Azores, and the countryside, this rang true. It gave me insight into what the lives of my farming ancestors must have been like. Lots of hard work, but peaceful and family-oriented. Simple, but at the same time, more nuanced. But, I did not only get in touch with my culture. There was much more of my identity that was unlocked. At 19, I was by far younger than almost every other student there. The Erasmus students, especially, were typically around 22 or 23. So, it came to a shock to many how young I was, that I was born in 2000, etc. These reactions got me to thinking about what my age means to me. Specifically, I got to realize what freedoms a European has that is my age that I don’t at home. I especially thought of drinking culture. Drinking is so taboo in the United States. The picture is portrayed that everyone who drinks does so to black out, to make poor decisions, to get into fatal car crashes. All our lives, we are painted pictures of the evils of alcohol, and how bad it is. And then we make it to 21, finally able to legally drink, and we don’t know what to do with ourselves. Europeans get it. I’m not just saying that because their minimum drinking age is lower. I’m saying that because they do not portray alcohol as purely evil. They stress moderation and good drinking habits (as of course over-drinking is widely unhealthy) not just abstinence. Parents are giving their children glasses of wine at 14 so that they know what to expect. They are educated. And there lies the crux of my identity as a 19-year old. I realized just how immature I am compared to most people my age everywhere else in the world. That’s a tough realization to have. This inspired me to make efforts to learn certain responsibilities, to become more grown-up. At my age, it really is time to start doing that. So, I learned a lot about my identity. And I only just started learning.
Starting to Plan
I’ve always been a planner. I knew for three years in advance that I wanted to study abroad, and do so in Portugal. I would never change that plan if I could go back and do so. I did Portugal the way I wanted to. Essentially, I’ve always thought I’ve known what I want for myself. Well, turns out study abroad can change things. I’ve only just started to plan. My plan is dynamic, ever-changing. Europe spoke to me so much, that I can’t just leave it behind forever. My new European family beckons me to return in the near future, to enjoy its fruits. Thus, it seems very likely that my post-graduate plans will lead me back. Whether that be working, or, even likelier, getting a Master’s in Europe. The European schooling system mostly impressed me, and as I’ve heard, Portugal’s is not even that great compared to other countries in Europe. I can imagine nothing better than waking up in a European city before every difficult Master’s class, knowing that I would learn so much more than what would be presented in that day’s class. I can say that Europe is beckoning. I can say I could live there. We’ll see what is in the cards. Needless to say, it will take planning to make it back. So, I’ve only just started to plan.
Starting to Finish
And now, some final thoughts, in this, my final blog post of my adventures in Portugal. I don’t know if I can put into words what this experience has meant for me. It has opened up my future immensely. It has made me friends that will last a lifetime. It has taken my places I never imagined I would see in person. It has taught me valuable lessons about others and myself. It has done so much. That is why I couldn’t endorse studying abroad any higher. It is life-changing. It’s not for everyone, but everyone should at least consider it. I have to say that one thing that thrilled me to death was that a friend of mine who just started university at Central Washington told me that my Instagram posts and testimonies inspired her to look into studying abroad next year. Now, she is seriously looking into programs, and I can’t be happier that my experiences inspired someone else to do something that was the best decision of my life. I’m not big on superlatives, that puts into words what this experience meant to me. To all you reading this who may be interested in studying abroad, consider the following. One, it will be tough! You will have to be willing to be flexible and willing to get out of your comfort zone. Only if you do that will you unlock everything that can be unlocked! Two, take every opportunity you get! If there is 50 euro airfare to Rome on the weekend, go to Rome! If there is a student organization that is planning events in the city, join that organization! If a local asks you to join them for coffee do it! These opportunities will manifest into so much more! Finally, document everything! Not only is this blog a way for me to remember my feeling forever, it also was a way of me giving back. Everyone reading (I hope) now has a clearer picture of the people and places in a place across the world from them. Doing such things to reduce barriers and misconceptions is one small step on the long path to cultural awareness and understanding. And with that thought, I’m finished.