I feel like I have been on an extended vacation. It has been a month and a half since I have been in Lisbon, Portugal and my sense of visitation has evolved.
I always knew that I wanted to live abroad. The idea of walking by the river and smelling pastries from the local bakery was something I always dreamed of. I cannot tell you how many international travel shows I watched to understand the plight of those who dared to move abroad. The dream of eating pastries, touring historic neighborhoods, tasting an array of seafood, and tasting fresh cheese has been a delightful experience. In addition to this, my Portuguese greeting has been perfected and I am able to interact with some of the local vendors.Emotions of Living Abroad
I have learned to take one day at a time. Living abroad is like waking up in the morning, brushing your teeth, putting your clothes on, going outside and walking backwards. You intend to feel the same way you would if you were in your native land but the Portuguese billboards, radio stations, and newspapers remind you that you are a new guest in town. I give a mental high five to every American store I see when I pass by.
YouTube and Facebook has been an awesome tool for staying in touch with friends and family. With a five hour time difference there are moments when I realize my friends are sleeping or unavailable for a telephone conversation. In these still moments I find moments of isolation. The idea that I am across the Atlantic with few individuals who know my name can be nerve wracking.
Transition is not for the lighthearted as one has to be prepared to have patience and understanding when living in another culture. Individuals from the United States have an expectation about how customer service should be conducted and may have surprising moments when living abroad. We are inclined to make a consumer report if we are not pleased with service or find a weak area in the operational practices of a given institution. The role of questioning in the United States is an accepted practice as we see it as a way to keep companies accountable to their customers.
We can look at intercultural practices in other countries where individuals may perceive this expectation as arrogant and rude. I had an interaction with a vendor where I asked for detailed information about the service offered and realized the person thought I was being rude. The person visibly was shocked that I was asking so many questions. I was frustrated that I could not have clarity about the service I intended to use. After this exchange I was reminded of an International student who told me in certain cultures questioning is not the norm. Subsequently, I returned to the location and changed my tone towards one that was more informal and received a better response. Life in general is at a much slower pace here and people value expressions that denote community and family. With this in mind, one has to discern how to approach professionals when requesting a particular service. Both the client and vendor need to work with one another. The pace and behavior is calm and relaxing but an adjustment nevertheless.
Learning a New Language
The Portuguese language is beautiful, rich, and rhythmic. The language is tied to the nostalgic tunes of Fado and the historical legacy of a rich nation.
One challenge of learning this language is the distinction made between European and Brazilian forms of Portuguese. Rosetta Stone has been great for helping me with vocabulary but implementing this in daily conversation is difficult. It is tempting to speak and communicate with the vernacular I have as an academic, but humbling when I am reminded that I am at Pre-K proficiency.
Presently I am currently using Rosetta Stone, tutoring, cartoons, newspapers, and dialogue with family members to build my usage of the language. It is always funny when I muster up a sentence to a local who then replies, “It is ok. I speak English and I need to practice. How are you today?” I have had some embarrassing moments where I have intended to sincerely express gratitude. I was in a meeting with five people and intended to say “Obrigadisimo,” to indicate that I was pleased with the service. I realized I could only state half of the word as the rest of it would not come out. Inwardly I knew what I wanted to say, but externally felt like the cat in the Tom & Jerry cartoon.
I have learned to laugh at my mistakes, and fall forward. I consider it a great day if I am able to greet someone on the street without feeling terrible that I am not fluent in the language. I also can see that people are appreciative of my effort. A woman said to me, “You do not have to learn the language because we will speak to you in English here.” I responded, “I must learn the language, it is important for me to have the full experience of being abroad.”
Taken together, moments of feeling homesick has crept in since I have been here in Lisbon. An awesome moment occurred this past weekend. I went to the neighborhood park to catch some fresh air. After ten minutes of walking I heard the sound of a saxophone and instantly felt like I was at the Boston Commons. As a Boston native I would often hear music in the park and thought nothing of this on a regular day. This moment reminded me of the treasure of this art form. I literally stopped and watched this man play a solo medley that warmed my heart. I walked up to him and asked if he knew any songs from Duke Ellington or Ella Fitzgerald. I happily said, “I am from the States!” Somehow the jazz reminded me of everything I learned about the Harlem Renaissance, and the history of the art form. I felt connected to everything I missed about growing up in Boston and the rich appreciation there is for the art of jazz. Here I was in a new country being serenaded back to my roots.
Taken together, this month has been eye-opening. As I continue to evolve and transition into this culture, I am aware that I am learning how to live in a world that is rich with culture and heritage.
Dr. Allana Da Graca is the founder of Turning on the Lights Global Institute, Inc. Her focus as an educator is to help adult learners reach their personal and professional goals. She is the author of a new self-help book called, Tomorrow Can’t Wait. Currently she teaches a variety of communication courses) as an online instructor at Walden University. She is the recipient of the Robert C. Ford Fellowship, Martin Luther King Leadership BHCC Award, and the Chahara Foundation Award.
Learn more at www.drallanadagraca.com.