When I started this journey, I thought I was alone but I quickly learned I was not alone.
I AM NOT ALONE.
Steve L. Pack said that you must “Remember you are never really alone. Although it may feel like it for very long stretches of time.” So my first week or so, I felt like I was alone. A stranger to a country and people that felt just as unfamiliar as it sounds. It felt like those very long stretches of time Mr. Packs was talking about but then it passed, that lonely time has passed. During my second weekend in Portugal my perspective started to change. I booked a trip to Porto, Portugal the second largest city in Portugal with four of the other volunteers from the program.
When we arrived in Porto it was clear we were all enthusiastic about sharing our new experiences with each other. Conversation began with the food, the school placement, the culture, the language and everything in between.
We were not alone.
I WAS NOT ALONE !
We realized that our weekend would be spent speaking English frequently, sharing jokes that otherwise might have been missed. We were making connections with each other but also with the country. We were learning how important mealtime is, or that the bilingual program in our schools was very new so at each school there were different representations of what this would look like. This was new to everyone, the teachers, the host families and of course the volunteers. We weren’t alone at all and now we all had a very unique connection.
During our weekend in Porto we explored the sights just like any good tourist would do. Yes, we would be in Portugal for three months but we had to take it all in. Make our mark, so that meant tired feet, long days and nights and plenty of photos!
March 18, 2017
Overlooking the Douro River towards Porto, Portugal from Vila Nova Gaia
We were making connections to the country.
After that weekend in Porto the connections began to grow. The following weekend we took a trip to Lisboa, the capital of Portugal.
The connection with my host family grew greater than I realized. I felt that connection with my host family when one day causally over conversation a teacher told me. “Jamila, you will be moving to a new host home in April.” I nearly froze. Thinking… WHAT???? this wasn’t real, I must have misheard.
I didn’t get the wrong information. I learned the new plan so I spoke to my supervisor a few days later and told her what I had heard. She confirmed this was the plan. This was the plan, this was the plan. A plan I was just learning about. My first month in Portugal I was quickly approaching and I was going to move host homes. How could this be?
I spoke to my host mother and emailed the CIEE office. All efforts lead me to having another conversation I needed to have with my host school. My host mother told me that she had not heard about this and that she wanted me to stay in her home. I told her I wanted to staff as well. I was connected. I felt alone AGAIN. I became confused.
Now, let’s rewind back to orientation in early March when I was informed that my host family would be a mother and a father with two children, a twelve year old girl and a six year old boy. It all began to click. This was the original family, I would be moving to.
I spoke to my supervisor and expressed that I did not wish to leave my current host home, but I would if I had to, I would. As a few weeks passed I began to settle with the idea of moving but disappointed with this reality and not knowing when it would actually happen. Easter break was quickly approaching along with my travel plans and this pending move, I didn’t know what to think or what to do. I just hoped for the best. I didn’t want to lose a connection, I was feeling connected. I realized in that moment. I was very connected to my host family in such a short time. They were familiar to me.
The original family that had agreed to take on a volunteer, made renovations in their home to accommodate me but the renovations were not yet complete by the March arrival. Which is why my orientation information didm; match up. So when the reservation were almost complete (for April) I was notified that I would be moving homes.
As the dust began to settle, my connection remained and I was able to stay with my host family. I was so relived.
I learned TWO very important things from this experience.
- Connections are important even in the smallest of ways. This is especially important in a new environment.
- Nothing is going to be perfect, but you can always make the best out of it. This program is developing and I think for a start it's pretty great.
With that out of the way, my connection to this lovely country deepened!
If you want to read more about my trip to Porto read my personal blog https://jsomethingspecial.blogspot.com