Muito Bom Reflections after a week in Portugal

A little over a week in Lisbon and already I know this is going to be the best 4 months ever. Before the exciting becomes routine I wanted to record my initial reactions to leaving home and learning my way around this small country I will be calling home.

On leaving:

Taking a semester abroad has always been one of those things, like going to college itself, that seemed like a given. It was never a question of if, but of where. Not until the months leading up to the trip did it begin to hit me that leaving was not as easy as I assumed it would be. All of my friends in Boulder would continue their awesome Boulder lives with me reduced to a bystander. Yes, I knew I would make fantastic friends and have fantastic adventures here in Portugal but my severe FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) syndrome was not going to like leaving Boulder behind.

I had figured in the ensuing weeks before leaving I would try to spend some time with the different important people in Boulder, have some hot tub soaks, drink some boxed wine. Little did I know, my friends are more amazing than I could have ever thought, and after half a day of being dragged around town I was brought home to my FIRST EVER SURPRISE PARTY. The sight of at least 40 of my friends in a decorated house they had obviously put a lot of time and energy into literally reduced me to tears. My eyes are even welling up now as I type this. Thanks guys, that really meant the world to me!

On arriving:

Oh dear god after 26 hours of travel, I was on the verge of breakdown. I met up with three other girls from the program on my flight from Chicago to Madrid, so when we all missed our connecting flight to Lisbon we got a chance to bond over a mini-excursion through Madrid. It was a cute little adventure but I was very ready to start learning the streets of my own foreign home. Once united with the rest of the CIEE study abroad group, we were given a quick orientation talk and sent home with our host families. The difference I felt between the night I arrived and the next morning after good sleep was phenomenal.

On living with a host family:

One of the biggest question-marks about this semester was the host family. Who are they? Will we get along? How will meals work? Will I need to check in with them if I am going to be home late? I had considered living in the residence halls, but after much urging from past participants I stuck with the homestay and so far am not regretting it. It's nice to have someone looking out for me in a foreign city. I live in a little apartment with a woman Dina and her 11 year old son, located less than 20 minutes from both downtown and the school. There is also a cat, named Kitty Cat, who just comes in my room and pokes around in my stuff. Sometimes it seems like a bit of a seedy neighborhood, but that's what real city life is about, right?

Backyard reading, air-dry laundry, and nighttime walks through the neighborhood.

For the most part I am able to do my own thing; I spend a lot of time in my room because it's cold and I have a little heater in here. It's kind of like living with a friend you just met, where neither party is sure what to do with one another but both parties want the other to be happy. Sometimes I eat with them, mostly I am on my own for food, which brings me to...

On feeding myself:

Ever since I moved out of the dorms and away from the dining halls, feeding myself has been a struggle. I can never think ahead enough to be ready to eat when the hunger strikes. Last semester I was starting to learn my way around food, and then I got here. It's one thing to shop for myself in a huge, familiar, well-stocked grocery store. Put me in a situation where I can't read labels, don't know the brands, and there isn't an entire section of microwave meals and I am toast. And then there is ordering food in a restaurant. Again, no way to read the menu and therefore I have had my food arrive and it is not anything like what I thought I ordered more times than I can count.

Coffee & pastries are a universal language.

On coffee:

College freshmen have found alcohol shots to be the most efficient way to get drunk; the Portuguese have applied this theory to their coffee. An order of um café will get you an adorable little espresso cup which you can daintily sip before or in between classes, and on-the-go versions exist all over campus and beyond.

On showers:

While the Portuguese are extremely efficient with their coffee, the opposite applies to their showers. At first I thought this was only at my homestay, but after talking to other students I learned this is a pretty standard thing. Their shower heads don't mount on the wall. You have to hold the detachable shower head above your head to take a shower, and then place it in the holder by your knees whenever you need to use two hands. Why they don't install overhead shower mounts is beyond me.

The beaches are a perfect mix of european chic and laid back fun.

On learning to live as a resident, not a tourist:

I am a fairly well-traveled person, but almost all of those trips have been under a month long and in the name of tourism. This means cramming a whole country's worth of activities and sights into a very short time, which is always super fun but very exhausting. Often when moving at such a fast pace it's hard to really get past a superficial understanding of the culture you are in.

I think that's one of the weirdest things to get used to in Portugal. I need to get past the guilt I sometimes have after spending a whole day doing nothing but class and grocery shopping. I don't need to spend every waking moment trying to see every sight in Lisbon; sometimes it's the least touristy things that are the most culturally "real," like taking the metro to the mall and shopping in the unfamiliar grocery stores.

Short trips are often very indulgent, filled with hotels and fancy food. That's the other thing that I had to adjust to; living here means getting your hands a little dirty- walking home on streets that I wouldn't necessarily walk down if I didn't have to, or eating something sub-par because I am hungry and not because I am looking for authentic cuisine. But this is what it means to live as a resident, not a tourist. And I am loving every minute!


Created with images by Fr Antunes - "Roofs" • olafpictures - "portugal ceramic tiles wall" • sharkgraphic - "lisbon street tinsel" • Ricardo Ramírez Gisbert - "barrio-alto" • adactio - "Tripe" • - "A Perfect Shot" • Ruth1993 - "cascais lisbon portugal" • paspalleteir@ - "Alfama"

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