While I received my school placement before arriving to Lisbon for orientation, I wasn't too familiar with the vila I was going to be staying in. So of course, like anyone with modern technology these days, I Google'd it.
And this is what I found:
Yup, that's it. The same church kept appearing over and over and over and over.
My first thoughts? Small town Portugal. Well, as long as I'm not the only one stuck in a small town with only a church as the greatest attraction, that's not so bad. Besides, everyone talks about how cheap it is to travel within Portugal because everything is so close!
As our orientation finished up day after arrival in Lisbon, every volunteer was able to meet their respective school representatives. In order, I heard someone ask the others in my program:
"Where will you boys be staying?... Oh! Valongo? Idães? You both are so close to Porto! You'll love it there!"
"Aveiro? It's the most beautiful city in Portugal. You'll love it there."
"Marinha Grande? It's a beach town! Super close to Nazare. You'll love it there!"
Then it was my turn... "And you? Where will you be staying again? Oh... Samora Correia?"
Instant looks of pity.
"Well... at least you'll be close to Lisboa."
From the look on everyone's face, it seemed that I got the brunt end of the stick with my location. So I instantly Googled the distance from SC to Lisboa. I discovered that it was a 40 min drive... by car. Unfortunately, a car wasn't part of my contract. By train, it is an hour journey. Okay, that isn't so bad, I thought. It will be cheap, I can get there in an hour - no problem. Determined to not let the jaded opinions cloud my judgement, I tried to keep an open mind as I crossed the bridge hovering over Rio Tejo. With tired eyes, I watched farmland after farmland pass by my window like a 7 second vine repeating the same clip over and over and over.
Finally, some civilization.
Exactly 43 minutes later, we arrived to a street filled with white houses that share the same burnt orange roofing and yellow accents, but only one of these houses I would now call home.
While I still get some sympathizing looks and words of condolence here and there when I tell local Portuguese people where I'm staying, I've finally adjusted to where I am. I can walk wherever I need to within 30mins and I even found a couple bars to check out whenever I feel like appreciating a local drink. Cheers to that!
I started preparing for this program in Sept. 2016, before it even became visible on the CIEE website. Dec. 5th I started my application. Jan. 11th it was submitted. Jan. 18th it was declined due to full capacity.
The program filled up before my professor turned in my letter of recommendation. Extremely disappointed, I almost didn't even consider transferring my application to the fall. I kept thinking to myself maybe it wasn't really meant to be...
Having already missed the graduate school application deadline, I figured, eh, what the heck. Fall it is.
Jan. 24th I was accepted into the fall program. This same day, I was told that I would receive my placement in August.
Seeing as I still had 7 months until that time and another 2 until the program would even begin, I continued working my two jobs as a bartender, picked up a side job transcribing Spanish interviews for a university PhD student and tried to save as much money as I could before this new journey.
As August finally approached, I was getting a little anxious to hear about my placement.
Aug. 16th we were finally given our "placements"
I was a little disappointed when it turned out that my "placement" didn't actually mean the location within Portugal in which I was going to be placed. It was just another email letting me know I was accepted into the program and that I was going to be in Portugal. Well... yeah. Wasn't that the program I signed up for?
In this same email, we were told to wait until the end of Aug./beginning of Sept. before receiving any information on our school placements.
Sept. 6th we were given our arrival date. That day would be Oct. 12th. Exactly 36 days notice for securing our flights to Lisbon - where orientation would be held - and finalizing any last minute preparations for our new life abroad. (Technically only 35 days, because you have to take into consideration that you typically have to leave a day earlier to arrive by the requested date.)
Sept. 26th we were finally given our school placements.
It seemed like I had waited an entire year for this piece of information... because, well, I basically did. So now that I had a location of where I would be staying, I could finally satisfy the curiosity and even hush the doubtful of all those interested who would, week by week, ask for updates.
Now, I'm not trying to bore you with all the details of my application process. It was longer than what most will actually have to go through. I only hope that some of you interested in being future language assistants will see this timeline and it will help you keep your composure during this process (because it's a long one).
And for those of you, like me, living in a college town, your lease was probably over sometime in June-Aug. Meaning you're probably unfortunate enough, like me, to be stuck subletting an apartment temporarily because you weren't sure of the exact departure date. And because your sublet couldn't be renewed for another month without paying for the entire month, you probably had to make, yet, another move. This time into your mom's house or a hotel, like I did (because your moms house was under renovation). And maybe you've been stressed because you were studying for the GRE, like I was, so that you could take the test before leaving the country; otherwise deadlines would pass while you would be away. Or maybe you are also working 3 jobs, like I did, trying to pay for the high cost of living in your town AND save for your dream travels come time to leave. All the while having your bosses and friends and family and even patrons of work hound you week after week to know more information. When are you going to put your two weeks in? When are you leaving? Do you have a date yet? Are you even going? How do you still not have a departure date? Yet, you still can't answer these questions because you still don't know when you'll be leaving...
What I want to say to you is, stay calm and keep your composure. Complaining won't help because the coordinators only know the information that they've given you. (Trust me on this one.) It's okay to ask questions ahead of time like, what will the attire be? What are the holidays celebrated there? (i.e. what will your days off from school be?) How many hours will you work a week? They may tell you that "oh, you'll find this information out during the webinar," but let me tell you, the webinar won't be until about a week before you leave. So, if you're, like me, and have no attire for teaching and you have a million other things to worry about come closer to your time to leave the country, you need to know these things so you can request off from work to go buy correct attire. Or so that you have dates to tell your parents when they can come visit. They will have this type of information, so don't be afraid to ask.
And remember, no matter what pressures you're feeling now, soon enough, you'll be doing exactly what you signed up to do. So until then, try to keep your composure.
My name is Kevin. I grew up in Billings, MT, but I graduated from the University of Colorado Boulder (Go Buffs!) a little over a year ago. As many 20-something recent grads do, I decided I was ready for a change of pace. I have long wanted to teach English abroad, because not only do I love traveling and experiencing new cultures, but I also have a passion for learning languages and would like to help others do the same. This is how I ended up in Valongo, Portugal, where I will serve as an English Language Teaching Assistant for the next two months in a public school. To use an American term, Valongo is a suburb of Porto, the country's second largest city. I visited Porto on my first free day after arrival, and took the photo you see of the river flowing through the city center.
I am spending the first two weeks observing the classroom environment before I begin participating in the lessons, so thus far, I have been getting situated in my new surroundings and learning about the program. I am participating in a government-backed bilingual education program, which means that I will not just be teaching English. The curriculum is designed for students to learn all of their subjects in a mix of English and Portuguese throughout their school career, with the goal of them being fully bilingual by the time they finish school. So in addition to helping out in English classes, I will also participate in science and history lessons, among other subjects. The students are all under ten years old and in their first few years in the bilingual program, so this will be a great chance to help them become familiar with the language. I do not have much experience with children, as I was the youngest in my family growing up, but it will definitely be a learning experience - after all, I came abroad to step outside my normal comfort zone.
I have also studied the Portuguese language myself in the past, and am looking forward to working on it here and improving my abilities. It's been a challenge so far, as I learned Brazilian Portuguese in school. While I can speak decently well, comprehension is difficult for me, particularly because the accent is noticeably different, and many of the sounds that I am used to listening to as "cues" for certain words do not exist here. But like I said, I came abroad for new experiences, so I am excited to have the opportunity to branch out and learn more as I spend more time here.
Finally, I have already been struck by the generosity of the Portuguese people. It sounds cliché coming from an international traveler, but I have truly been welcomed here. My host family has made it clear that I'm "part of the family," and the teacher coordinating my stay has gone to impressive lengths to make sure I have everything I need to do my job well. They have also both taken me out to meals already, and bought me gifts for my birthday this past week despite only knowing me for a few days.
That is all for now, but I look forward to sharing my experiences with you over the next few months!
Many people are unfamiliar with French Lick, Indiana and who can blame them? I grew up in a town of 8000 people. Heck, we had to combine students from two adjacent towns into one because the classes were too small. To give you an idea, I graduated with 74 people and we had one of the biggest classes in years!
When I find someone who HAS heard of the name French Lick, it's usually because of one of three things: Larry Bird, the West Baden Dome (once coined "the 8th wonder of the world"), or the casino (still a new construction, but as Indiana doesn't have very many casinos, it's quite the tourist attraction).
Anyways, that's where I'm from. Christina Ojeda. Small town Indiana girl.
I hated it there. It always seemed too small for me. There was never anything to do. That is, unless you were there to spend money at the golf courses, gamble at the casino, treat yourself to a nice dinner at the French Lick Resort... you get where I'm going with this. My town was built for tourists. So for the locals, swimming, fishing, high school sports, that was our entertainment.
As soon as I graduated high school and got accepted into Indiana University, I happily packed my things and set off for Bloomington. A small city located an hour and twenty minutes away from French Lick. Not too far from home, but far enough that it felt like I had escaped and moved onto something better.
After graduating from college, I couldn't decide what I wanted to do. Graduate school, yes. What for? No idea. So I decided to take some time to figure things out, travel a little. The following year I was still unsure. Until, I received an email from my university notifying me of a new opportunity to learn Portuguese. You see, every summer my university holds an Intensive Language Workshop. It's basically a summer camp for language learners and this year (that is, summer of 2016) was the very first year Portuguese was introduced into the workshop. (You can take these same classes during the school year, but for someone who's already graduated - like me - it's quite expensive and would take more than 6 weeks to complete).
As part of the workshop, students were to be learning Portuguese for 5 hours a day, 5 days a week. For some, that might be a little... intense (ha ha), but for me, I couldn't wait to sign up! As I earned a degree in Spanish and had been yearning to learn a new language, I thought it was the perfect opportunity. What else did I have to do?
Two weeks into the program, I received an email from CIEE notifying me of a new opportunity to Teach Abroad in Portugal. Was this a sign? How could this be? First a chance to learn Portuguese comes knocking on my virtual mailbox door and then a second, allowing me the chance to LIVE ABROAD IN PORTUGAL? It seemed as if my path was right there, laid out in front me. How could I not take advantage?
So that's exactly what I did. I hopped on my ship of opportunity and set sail!
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
I remember the exact moment of being asked by a friend after the big reveal that I was going to Portugal with CIEE for three months “Do you speak Portuguese” and I quickly responded NO.
Did that stop me for going? NOPE! I was looking forward to learning European Portuguese as a part of the experience and what fun would it be if I already had some understanding of the language. Maybe not fun, but helpful, I was looking to learn.
The nice thing about this Volunteer Culture and Language Assistant position with CIEE is that there is no language requirement which means folks like me with nothing but the most basic recollection of my high school and one semester of college Spanish could be an asset to students in Portugal with just being fluent in English as well as be taught the language on the ground while emerged in the culture. What is also nice is that embedded in the program is that you are to be taught Portuguese as a part of your weekly schedule. In my twelve hours of volunteering, three of those hours dedicated to being taught Portuguese. This is very informal and the responsibility is divided between my supervisor (a teacher at the school) and my host family. In the first few weeks I began learning the basics: greetings, how to ask someone’s names and my all time favorite is “Eu Nao Fala Portuguese”, translation “ I don’t speak Portuguese”.
As the weeks went on I began to realize how similar the Portuguese language is to Spanish but also very different and also how many of the translation and learning tools for Portuguese are in Brazilian Portuguese. Which means there are many differences in words and pronunciation, which can be pretty confusing for someone emerged in European Portuguese. So some days my excitement for learning the language, the fun I referred to turned into stress and frustration. I would sit at dinner with my host family as they spoke freely to each other with so much expression and confidence in silence. Even if I thought about saying “Chamo-me Jamila” I would freeze. Learning a language can be challenging and I came here to assist teaching the English language so I would feel like it’s not as important for really grasp the language. Many of the teachers would come up to me and speak English, they had the fun I thought I was getting into to.
It was during Easter Break in April when I traveled around Europe it was then that I realized I missed the language and my thoughts of “It’s too difficult, I’m never going to get it went away.” I began to review my phrase book and use what I did know in the following weeks. I’m nowhere near proficient today but my comprehension of the language has increased drastically. I’m more attentive in Portuguese lessons and make sure to ask “Como se diz ______ en Portugues”, translation: "How do you say_____ in Portuguese” and no that does not sound like the similar phrase “Como se dice”. So yes, I get tripped up sometimes and give my Portuguese teacher an English language/Spanish language pronunciation of a word where I even laugh at myself for the butchering I do but I’m trying.
Adventure began when I arrived at my assigned school in Barrosa, Portugal on March 7th. I knew from orientation that I would be with secondary school aged students and helping them improve their mastery of the English language but that is all I knew.
What more did I need to know? I was in Portugal for the next three months. I have to go with the flow. Well that’s exactly what I did. When I arrived at the school my first day I was greeted by many friendly faces of both students and teachers. Well to begin, from the moment I set foot in the door. I couldn’t figure out if all of the stares I received from the students were because I’m black or if they were because I was a “real life American” in their small village in Portugal. I went with both which turned out to be confirmed by a teacher the following week.
When I entered the building a group of High School students quickly came to my attention. Saying “ hello” “How are you?” “Why did you come to our school” “You have to eat Portuguese food” “You are very pretty” “What music do you like?” The list goes on but for the life of me I couldn’t figure out why these students though as friendly and as welcoming as they were, were allowed to be out of class first thing in the morning.
I quickly realized that was my American brain thinking and that I was to just go with the flow. After my introductions and photo shoot with the students I met with my supervisor a fifth year teacher who informed me that a schedule for me was in the works but in the interim I would be with her and a few other teachers. I can’t count how many classes I went to or how many times I answered the same questions but it was very nice. I was able to assess the student’s comfort level with the English language. How they formed sentences and if they comprehended my responses based on every interaction.
This allowed me the opportunity to get to know the students but no matter how difficult it was for them to answer a question fighting off their fear of messing up one thing for sure was that the students were excited and so was I. This was a cultural exchange, I had been selected as the Language and Culture Assistant and this was just the beginning.
As the week’s continued I began to see my role and impact take shape. I was called on by the teachers to read passages for accurate pronunciation to the students, or using prepositions, I supported a Science teacher with teaching the Life Cycle of a frog in English and a gym teacher on teaching he fundamentals of volley ball in English. I had the opportunity to share aspects of the American culture with my own experiences of attending school in New York City through a presentation of Similarities and Differences between school in the USA and in Portugal.
This was a new experience for everyone and sometimes things didn’t always go as scheduled but the learning took place which benefits everyone.
How it all began, let me take you back in time, way back in time... To when I officially started my CIEE journey. On March 5th, I arrived at the Lisbon airport in Portugal, in search of a not so familiar face. A few days before my arrival I was informed by the CIEE main office coordinator that someone would be at the airport awaiting my arrival that afternoon. This was not very comforting to say the least, I didn't know if they would have a sign, know what I look like or anything. I was just told someone would be there( I hoped). As quickly as the anxiety grew when I exited the Lisbon airport I was quickly relieved as Luisa from the Lisbon office approached me with a smile and said, "You must be Jamila". She explained that everyone else had arrived earlier and that she would be dropping me off at the hotel to freshen up before heading to a brief orientation. After a short ride from the airport over conversation on Portuguese politics and why I chose Portugal, we arrived at the hotel. I took a quick shower and met the other volunteers hailing from Canada, Virginia, Nebraska, Connecticut and Michigan. We were all taken to a phone store to pick up phones and SIM cards if needed and then we went to the CIEE Portugal office for orientation on the program and safety. This was all already covered in a webinar provided prior to departure. We had a lovely dinner and then we went back to our hotel room for rest before another session of orientation the following day with the British Council on the initiative of the Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL) programs in schools across Portugal. The room was filled with unfamiliar faces who were asked to give brief presentations on their school and their program, I later realized it was a mix of host families, teachers, supervisors and head masters from the schools we were assigned to.
After the presentations we had a nice Portuguese lunch of bacalhau with cream, potatoes, spinach and gelatina to finish. With time to kill before the three hour train ride to Porto my head master and supervisor took me to the Tower of Belém. It was a beautiful sight and I still couldn’t believe I was in Portugal!
The train ride was filled with trepidation and excitement. We arrived in Porto in the darkness of the night and then we took a 45 minute train ride to the small town where my host family lives in Northern Portugal. When we arrived I was greeted by three strange faces- my host mom, her daughter and niece. They provided me a tour of the home and showed me to my room. This was not the family I was expecting as the only information about my host family I received prior to departure was that it would be a mother, father and with two children. I later found out why I was a different family than originally assigned in the weeks to come.
From the airport into the home I felt welcomed and curious for what the days ahead would be like. The following day was my first day at the school where I would be volunteering at and I was hoping I had the same welcoming into the classroom.
My name is Jamila, I'm from New York City and I was raised in the Bronx, where I lived most of life there but I also lived in Brooklyn, NY. I'm a ride or die New Yorker. Now, I see the puzzled faces already. Why would I leave the city that never sleeps to volunteer as an assistant teacher in Portugal? I joined the CIEE teach abroad program to emerge myself in the life and culture of others. I have always been passionate about travel and the connections you make with others while traveling. In addition to my interest of living abroad and connecting with others as I have years of experience working with children and families as a social worker in the foster care system as well as spending some time teaching in NYC. I'm passionate about people and providing service along with developing connections that leads to the enhancement of their lives as well as my own. CIEE Volunteer Teach Portugal aligned with my passions, experience and skills. Portugal being known for its beauty and friendly people, I was ready to take the plunge!
CIEE has an online account system that aids you in organizing the process before and after acceptance. After I decided I wanted to go and applied, I created my online account. The first step is to pay your application fee and all of the fine print about acceptance and program fee. I was notified a few weeks after applying that I had been accepted. Let me rewind back a bit. In my deepest of hearts I wanted to go to Portugal but all my friends and family said “go some where you can use the language in the states when you return” so I applied to Spain, only to quickly find out it was full. It was coming true, I could go where I really wanted to go so I wrote the essay I really wanted to about Portugal but was quickly notified that, Portugal was now full too. I didn't sulk, because I told myself that this year I would get the things I wanted. So I asked the coordinator at CIEE to notify me if there were openings, like if someone dropped out or if there were other departures. Sure enough I was notified about two weeks later that a space was available. At this point I was far behind the acceptance timeline so I had to accept, pay, buy a plane ticket and submit documents on my online profile pretty quickly. Once I had done everything I was patiently waiting to hear from CIEE on my placement a school and my host family. I only had the name of a school and because I didn't know too much about Portugal geographically it wasn't too helpful. I continued on with my pre departure preparations I packed for three months away. I had never done this before. I searched online checking out what bloggers recommended. I subtracted and added to their list to make my own.
I packed what I needed but I still think I might have over done it.
Here's my list
10 shirts- 3 tank tops, 1 sweater, 4 t shirts (mixed between causal and semi dressy)
2 pairs of jeans
2 causal of pants
1 pair of colored pants
2 light weight skirts
3 pairs of shorts
3 lightweight dresses(1 dressy)
2 dressy blouses
1 pair of sandals
1 pair of sneaker
1 pair of causal boots(that can be used for the rain)
1 pair of heel sandals
1 back pack
1 reusable bag
12 pairs of underwear
6 pairs of socks
1 pair of Flip flops
1 denim jacket
1 hooded jacket with heat tech technology I would advise you pack something warmer for a March departure date, Portugal gets cold especially if you are up north like I am.
Bars of Soap
3 months worth of sanitary napkins
5 disposable razors
A zip lock bag full of cotton swabs and q tips
Snacks (nuts and breakfast crackers were my choice)
CIEE advises you to bring educational materials (i.e books, stickers etc) I packed a decent amount on different areas like flash cards on US presidents along with easy to read fairy tales and plenty of stickers. I would say it would be helpful to know what the school/class is working on so the books etc.apply to their lessons or grade level.
I packed all of this neatly into one rolling carry on, a medium size full size suitcase and book bag.
Then off I went for three months of adventure!
I didn't know what to expect when I would arrive in Portugal on the afternoon of March 5th... Let's find out!