When considering my study abroad program in Lisbon, I had to think about what my life would look like for the next five weeks. I lived at home up until I went off to college, and in college, I’ve lived in an on-campus dorm, close to the dining halls and most of the instructional buildings. I had freshly-cooked food at my fingertips and could wait until the very last minute to trudge over to class. For my entire life, I’ve seldom had to worry about grocery shopping, cooking, cleaning, or transportation; but all of that changed when I arrived in Lisbon.
Suddenly, I was fully in charge of my own life. I now had a forty-minute commute to my classes by subway, which I had to account for in my morning schedule. There was nobody to make sure I ate, so I had to do my own grocery shopping and cook, or spend way too much money on take-out. Finally, at my ripe 19 years of age, I was treated as a bona fide adult.
At first, the notion was terrifying. However, this new independence encouraged me to think more freely and critically. Slowly I began to adapt and learned so much more because of it. I was able to make quicker decisions for myself and learn how to navigate the city without fear of getting lost. I felt confident enough to be able to ask questions of the locals, primarily recommendations of food, books, places to study, and things to do.
Most importantly, my independence helped me to discover my interests. For example, learning to think critically about identity and culture in the Portuguese-speaking world has made me want to apply this knowledge to Latin America, where I’m from. I’ve even begun to think about possibly writing a thesis in a humanities field, which I’ve never even considered as I was always afraid to veer off of the scientific path. I’ve realized that I can be passionate and involved in two very different fields because I am so in love with the knowledge of them all.
From my experience, the Portuguese-speaking world is very expressive, especially through dance. During my adventures in Lisbon, I’ve been exposed to a variety of dance styles. I’ve taken a kizomba workshop with famous dancers Nuno Furtado and Vanda Gameiro, danced to live funaná and morna with my classmates at the Cabo Verdean Association, and even explored some Latin bachata and salsa at an amazing dance club near the Rio Tejo.
While it took me a while to muster up the courage to move my body, I’ve learned that I genuinely enjoy dancing and want to continue learning when I go back home. Having the freedom to explore these cultural spaces, without fear of judgment, has made me realize that I was passionate about something I probably would have never explored back in the United States.
This study abroad program has been key to understanding myself: my passions, my interests, and most importantly, my convictions. I had to ask myself hard questions. Who was I outside of the familiarity of the United States, in a country where my expression was limited and where the customs differed so much from what I had come to know as “normal”?
Would I be able to integrate, or would I stick out like a sore thumb? What would the locals think? Would they be appreciative of the fact that I was making an attempt to learn their language, or would they reject me for intruding in their day-to-day lives? Fortunately, I was able to answer these questions shortly after arriving.
Because I was so appreciative of the culture and eager to learn, it was not as difficult for me to muster up the courage to practice Portuguese. Lisbon became my playground, where I could explore and push the bounds of what I had learned in a classroom setting, applying it to my communication with people who did not know me whatsoever, and I’ve become a much more well-rounded person because of it.