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Keeping it Simple

Working with kindergarteners has been an interesting experience. It has made me reflect upon basic communication skills that we adults make take for granted. While working with the five and six year olds these past two months I've developed a different set of communication skills. Speaking slowly is key. You have to use very basic vocabulary. I think these two concepts can be applied to anyone teaching a language to beginners, but it's very important when working with young children.

I've been able to incorporate music into our time together and it seems to be very helpful. The children respond well to songs and even keep up with the paired hand gestures as choreography. It's fun and easy for them to remember. Animated videos on YouTube have come to my aid quite a bit. Super Simple Songs and GoGo's Adventures English Lessons have been my favorites. 


Together, with the help of the bilingual teacher, the children have learned songs in English about how to introduce themselves, the weather, families, holidays, numbers, animals, and more. Father's Day is celebrated on March 19th in Portugal, which is a few months earlier than Americans are used to. We've been preparing Father's Day songs and invited the dads to school so that we can present to them on their special day. 


How Do You Slow Down Time?

Tomorrow is the first day of March, which means I have only three short weeks left in Portugal (for now). The cliché saying is true, time does fly by when you're having fun. I haven't had a dull day since I arrived in January, besides the 5 days total that I was sick. My week days have been busy bouncing back and forth between classes at school, going for walks around Lisbon, and trying to catch as many beautiful sunsets as possible (every sunset in this country is breathtaking). My weekends have been filled with exciting adventures to different destinations around this amazing country, including a trip to the island of São Miguel in the Azores during Carnaval break. 



In addition to bringing English to the classroom, I've tried to incorporate some pieces of American culture into the routine of the host family. They always do a great job at keeping me fed, and I love cooking so I wanted to offer my skills in the kitchen for a meal. We agreed that it would be a Mexican/American dining experience. One Saturday night the host parents invited over some friends for a fiesta feast. I had some help from one of the other volunteers who I invited to join us. We created a menu of build your own burritos, queso, guacamole, salsa, and of course margaritas. It was such a hit. The family and their friends all enjoyed the meal thoroughly.


I'm so grateful for the host family I was placed with. Instead of booking trips out of Lisbon every weekend, last weekend I decided that I would stay with them for a somewhat local experience. On Saturday we visited the coastal town of Cascais. The family calls this "the Malibu of Portugal" and I could see why. We went sightseeing to Cabo da Roca, walked along Praia do Guincho, caught a glimpse of Boca do Inferno at sunset, and ate the most delicious gelato at Santini to cap of the day.


On Sunday we set out of Setúbal to visit the host fathers hometown and enjoy a freshly caught seafood lunch with his mother and grandmother. On the way there we took a drive through Arrábida Natural Park. I had expressed to them my love of nature and the mountains, so I was very grateful that they took the time to show be this wonderful park.

We spotted some paragliders up above the mountains and I said how I've always wanted to do something like that. Well, within 30 minutes of me talking about my desire for adventure, I was strapped to a parapente (paraglider in Portuguese) professional and running full speed off the side of a mountain. This is by far the coolest thing I've ever done! I sailed comfortably through the sky, watching my shadow soar over lush green mountains and then over the Atlantic Ocean. As we landed on the beach I was almost speechless. What an experience! 

1519598347598I've had so many amazing adventures in the past six weeks, mostly which I had somewhat planned ahead for. I think the most fun I had was when life became spontaneous. You may have all these ideas of exactly how you want your program to unfold, what kind of things you want to see and do, but it's best to just let yourself go and see where the wind takes you. It's bitter sweet that I only have less than a month left in the program, but I know for certain that I will be returning to Portugal.


Go with the Flow

Before setting off on my journey I had been warned about the laid back culture in Portugal. Personally, I have always a planner and I like to know what's going on before I dive into something new. I was hoping to take a lesson from being part of a country that are not so concerned with sticking to strick schedules and regiment. I am definitely learning from this experience. I've been embracing the flow here in Lisbon and am very pleased with the outcome. 


First off, I've had to embrace quite a few changes at school within the initial three weeks of the program. I started out with the notion that I would be working with middle and high school students. So I researched and prepared myself with activities, games, and things from home to share with my future students. When I was told at our orientation that I would actually be working with kindergarten students, I thought "no problem" and continued to be excited for what was to come.

After starting at the school and making my schedule with the coordinator, it was back to a mix of different age groups; I would work with kindergarten, third grade, and tenth grade students. I was happy to help wherever it was needed, so again I thought "no problem". I was going with the flow and didn't let the changes bother me. After a visit from the PEBI coordinators from the Ministry of Education things changed again, and I think for good. I am only to be working with kindergarten students for the remainder of my time in the program. 



Everyone at the school are great. I really enjoy the time with my students and supervisors. Since things changed for me over the three weeks I was able to connect with quite a few different teachers and visit different classes to chat with different ages of kids. Sure, all the materials I prepared for the older students have become obsolete but that's the least of my worries now. It's best to go with the flow, enjoy whatever situation you end up in, make the most of your time here! 

I've received invitations from teachers to join them on activities and outings that I probably never would have known about if they hadn't been kind enough to ask me. I attended a fantastic concert last weekend with one of my supervisors and her daughter. A Portuguese band called The Black Mamba put on an excellent show in a historic coliseum in Lisbon's theater district and I had a wonderful time. 


So keep an open mind and stay optimistic while you're abroad. Don't let little changes discourage you or stress you out. Say yes to new things and appreciate when things do work out in your favor. I don't regret anything about my experience in Portugal and I will keep going with the flow, wherever the wind takes me.



Landed in Lisbon

Hello from Lisboa! I'm very happy to be here in Portugal for my first experience with CIEE and my first time outside of North America. My name is Emma, I'm a 25 year old adventure seeker and outdoor enthusiast. It's so lovely here in Portugal. It's the middle of January and to me it feels like spring! I'm from Rochester, New York and have been living across the front range of Colorado for the past four years. So both areas I'm familiar with have been getting snow and cold temperatures, while I'm enjoying 60 degree weather and sunshine. 

To be quite honest, the preparation for this journey took almost 8 months. I originally applied for a Fall program with CIEE back in April of 2017. The October departure session I was hoping for had filled up before I applied, so I was put on a waiting list. I decided to for-go the wait list and submit my application for the following Winter/Spring session in Portugal. I was very pleased to be accepted into the January - March volunteer session with CIEE. To lay it out a with a little more clarity, here is how my pre-departure time line went:

April 2017: Application submitted

June 2017: Application accepted

December 2017: Started CIEE Framework course & received school placement

December 2017: Oneway flight to Lisbon booked

January 2018: Arrived in Portugal & received host family information

Bottom Line - Be patient!! Everything will fall into place, even if it feels last minute. I spent my pre-departure time to conduct research on Portugal as a whole, since I didn't know nor request my placement location. I also started teaching myself the language. I used a few different apps, such as DuoLingo, Babbel, and Memrise. I found Memrise to be the most helpful because it specified European Portuguese, while the other two apps were teaching the Brazilian dialect. I suggest reading travel blogs in addition to this one. Gather as much information as possible.

Preparation helped me feel ready to conquer anything that comes my way while abroad. I hope it does for you as well!


Above: View over Lisbon from the tallest point in the city - Amoreiras 360 View 

Reflecting on My Time Abroad

Hello All,

I am writing this message from the Lisbon airport. My time in Portugal has come to an end, and I am going to spend a week in Ireland before heading back to the US in time for Christmas. This will be my last blog post, so I wanted to take the time to reflect on my experience.

My last few weeks with the program were eventful. I continued to visit several high school classes a week to give my history and culture presentation, and planned several Christmas-oriented lessons for my elementary classes. For the first graders, this meant teaching simple songs like Jingle Bells and We Wish You a Merry Christmas. For the third and fourth graders, I prepared a presentation on unique American Christmas customs like ugly sweaters and White Elephant parties, and taught them Mariah Carey’s holiday classic, “All I Want for Christmas is You.” I was not expecting much from them given the length and the extensive vocabulary of the song, but they managed to master the language surprisingly well.

I also got the chance to visit a couple more of Portugal’s main tourist attractions. Last weekend, I visited Porto’s famous Port Wine Cellars, where my host family and I had the chance to learn about the wine’s making process and sample the end result. The cellars are across the river from Porto's medieval center, providing a great view of the city. On Saturday, I visited Sintra, a small town 30 kilometers outside of Lisbon that was once the royal family’s vacation home. One of Sintra’s main sites is Palacio da Pena, a colorful palace on the top of a hill with wide views of the landscape below. I had never heard of Sintra before coming to Portugal, but several locals told me that my time in the country would not be complete without stopping there. I am glad I heeded their advice, as it lived up to the hype.

Overall, I greatly enjoyed my experience in Portugal with CIEE. My Portuguese improved by leaps and bounds, I traveled all over not just Portugal but the rest of Europe as well, and my host school consistently gave me opportunities to contribute in meaningful ways. I particularly enjoyed working in the classroom. The social, interactive element of teaching came naturally to me in a way that my past office jobs have not. At 23, I have a long way to go in terms of professional development and career choice, but my time in Portugal made me feel that I am better suited to work with people than with a desk and computer.

My single biggest takeaway from my time abroad, both while teaching in Portugal and travelling elsewhere, is the benefit of intercultural exchange. I met people from all over the globe and from all types of backgrounds. Travelers are a naturally outgoing type, and I had too many interesting, informative conversations to count. To me, these encounters serve as reminders that human beings are generally more alike than we often think. I was particularly impressed by the students I worked with. The younger children reacted enthusiastically to the cultural lessons I brought to the classroom. The teenagers regularly asked me engaging questions about life in the US. Topics ranged from the weather differences between Colorado and Florida (this student had seen reports about Hurricane Irma on the news) to my opinion on the US’ governments economic and healthcare policies.

We all are guilty of stereotyping others from time to time. Yet in my experience, when I see people from different cultures interacting, they by and large treat one another with genuine respect and curiosity. While we may live in tumultuous times, I do believe that the world would be a more compassionate and harmonious place if we all had the opportunity to travel.

That is all from me. I want to thank CIEE for giving me what turned out to be an excellent personal and professional growth experience, and for giving me the chance to share it with you on here. If you are reading this and wondering whether teaching abroad with CIEE may be right for you, I would encourage you to go for it. It seems pretty unlikely that you’ll look back one day and wish you saw less of the world. And in addition to teaching others about your language and culture, you will also learn plenty along the way.


Below: Porto from across the river, at the cellars with my host, and scenes from Sintra


This is the End

Well, here I am. My last day of volunteering and let me start by saying, it couldn't have come soon enough.

These past 81 days have felt like I have been living in a time loop, stuck on the same wooden roller coaster over and over and over. Getting jerked around every left and right turn. My head pounding from the continuous beating of the track. All the while trying to act like I'm enjoying the ride because, hey, I waited almost an hour in that line!

Okay, it wasn't that awful. I've actually really enjoyed my experience here. While maybe I wasn't able to make as much of an impact in the school as I was hoping, I will be leaving with many new Facebook friends, much more knowledge on Portugal's culture than I ever had before and I'll even be coming home with some insight on teaching English as a foreign language (Although, I'm not sure I'll ever find myself in a position to teach kids ever again haha.)

Most importantly, though, I have been able to accomplish the two main goals I had prior to arriving to Portugal: travel and improve my Portuguese. In my opinion, that, in itself, makes for a very successful trip.

So thank you CIEE for allowing me this opportunity. While it wasn't exactly the experience I was anticipating, I'm still leaving happy and grateful for the experience. May you continue to make a difference in the world.





You Can Take Off Your Pants Now

So I had my first experience at a European chiropractor yesterday. That was... different.

For over two weeks now I've been having issues with my right knee and my left hip. For as long as I can remember I've had similar issues, which is why I started frequenting the chiropractor at a young age. 

My mother always told me, "I'd rather take you to the chiropractor first. If we go to the doctor, they'll have to take x-rays and they may not even be able to fix you first visit. If we go to the chiropractor, he'll more than likely take care of the problem right away."

And ever since then, any time I've had any sort of issue, my first thought is always to make an appointment with the chiro, which is what I decided to do here. 

Similar to my other experiences, I showed up at the chiro the hour of my scheduled appointment. Thankfully, there was no paperwork to fill out. All I had to do was follow the doctor into one of the rooms and we began with the evaluation. She asked me a variety of questions regarding my level of pain, the location, yada-yada... and then came time for the treatment.

"Okay, you can take off your pants now."

While I hesitantly obeyed, this is where it started to get a little uncomfortable for me.

I visited a chiropractor office once in Bloomington that requested I bring a pair of shorts to change into during our session, which I found strange, but she didn't ask me to bring any shorts, so I was not expecting to have to depants.

Shortly after I heard, "Okay, now you can remove your shirt. I'll turn on the heater to keep you warm."

Timidly, I once again followed her instructions. 

Laying face down on the paper covered table, she lathered up her hands with lotion and began with a massage. It wasn't long before she requested that I remove my bra as well as it was getting in her way. 

Oh great, I thought, one more article of clothing and I'll be naked. What in the world did I get myself into? I felt so uncomfortable at one point that I had to stop her to ask if this was a normal part of the treatment. Apparently, it is. While many professionals differ on their approach to treatment (some massage, some don't), the act of undressing is completely normal, but it wasn't normal for me! No one told me I was going to end up almost naked on the table!

When I told this story to my mom and my host mom, they both laughed. I, too, find it funny now. However, at the time, I was completely beside myself.

Looking back on it now, how naive was I to think that the experience would be the same? Of course it's going to be different! I'm in a completely different country for cryin' out loud! At least now I'm more prepared for my next visit. LOL


Very Superstitious

The Portuguese are said to be quite a superstitious folk, but in my time here, I hadn't found myself in a situation in which I had to perform a particular act regarding any supernatural influences until recently. 

The other night I went out with my family to celebrate the birthday of my host mother's niece. She was turning 6 years old. 

Because I already have 2 other birthday parties under my belt, I felt quite experienced going into this one. I knew exactly what to expect from the night's events. We would meet the rest of the family out at a restaurant of their choice for dinner. There we would chat over pitchers of wine and enjoy our family-style Portuguese dishes. Once the meal was finished, only after our espresso, of course, we would all wander over to the house of a close-by relative. There we would continue to enjoy some digestivos along with a homemade cake.

What made this time different from the others, however, was what took place after singing happy birthday (the Portuguese version, of course), and before the cutting of the cake. Similar to the American tradition I'm so familiar with, the birthday cake was filled with a certain amount of lit candles awaiting to be extinguished by a small puff of air full of desire. 

After the birthday girl managed to extinguish the very last flame, she was quickly given instructions to go underneath the table that the cake was sitting on. So, as instructed she grabbed one of the candles and scurried under the table, crouching over the kitchen floor.

"What is she doing?" - I had to ask.

Before I could receive an answer, the birthday girl popped back out from under the table and handed me her candle.

At the very bottom of the candle, she took a small bite. 

"After taking a bite, she must give it to a guest so that her wishes will come true."

This made me curious. What other superstitions exist in Portugal? After asking various locals, this is what I learned. While there are actually many that we share in common (such as bad luck seeing a black cat, walking under ladders, opening an umbrella indoors, Friday the 13th, broken mirrors...), there are some that I haven't ever heard before. For example: 

-if there are 13 people to a table, the oldest/youngest will die within the next year 

-putting a broom upside down behind a door makes a boring visitor go away

-if you hold a needle by the thread and hover it over your palm (only after tapping it on your skin), it will tell you the sex, the order and the amount of children you will have in the future. It will even tell you how long it will be before you have your first - if any! (This only works if you are single, if you are married, you must use your wedding ring.)

According to my Portuguese profe, the last superstition has yet to fail. Apparently, when she was younger she had a professor that performed this trick for all the students in her class. Now, she says, every single person that was in that class, including her, has the exact number of children the needle predicted.

Definitely trying this out next chance I find a needle and thread.


Bizarre Foods

So the other night I was out with my host family and my host mom's brother. Since we were late to the dinner, he went ahead and ordered our dishes. (It's very typical here to only order two or three things from the menu when you have a table of 6 or 7 or more. When you do so, the entrees are served family-style and everyone shares.)

Now, I'm not really a picky person when it comes to food. I love food, all kinds of food. And when it comes to food, I'll try anything once. With that being said, I'm not entirely found of meat. I'll eat it, but I usually prefer fish or vegetables. 

However, this night, fish wasn't an option. Apparently, the fishermen don't work on Monday's. So if you're in a restaurant you can typically order fish, but it won't be fresh. Because of this, my "host uncle" chose two dishes he thought would best suit the table: lamb and chicken.

While the lamb entree looked a little more appealing, my host family suggested I start with the chicken. Honestly, it didn't even look like chicken. If they would've told me it was beef, I would've believed them. The chicken was so dark in color. As was the rice that accompanied it. 

Whatever, I thought. Bring it on. 

With each bite, my host uncle kept asking me if I knew how it was made. I could tell he was itching to tell me. In my mind I was thinking, "Man, he's awfully excited about this dish. This must be his favorite..."

That is, until I heard my host mom get onto him for trying to "ruin my supper."

"Leave her alone! Can't you wait until she's eaten a little more of it, so she can form her own opinion about it before you go and spoil it for her?" 

I'm sure you can imagine how I was feeling in this moment.

"So.... what is it that I'm eating?" - I had to ask.

Apparently, it's a dish of many names. One of the most common names being: Arroz de cabidela de frango. 

So what's inside? Well, chicken and rice. Oh, and the they're both cooked in the blood of the chicken.

Yup. Apparently back in the day when many Portuguese had little money and even less resources, it was common to make use of what they had at hand.

Why toss the blood of the chicken when you can use it as a sauce?

Nowadays, however, it's considered to be more of a specialty. It was even featured on the Travel Channel on Andrew Zimmerman's show called Bizarre Foods (Season 5 Ep. 2). Along with other entrees such as snail risotto with shrimp and squid ink fat and freshly cooked octopus.

While it really wasn't that bad (with only a hint of the taste of iron), I probably wouldn't order it again. Instead, I'll be saving my palette for the next bizarre food I come across. 


History in Guimarães and Christmas in Porto

Hello All,

My time in Portugal is winding to a close. I only have two weeks remaining before the end of the program. Afterwards I will spend a week in Ireland before heading back to the US for Christmas. Still, I'm taking in as much as I can now since I know it will be over soon. 

One of the unanticipated benefits of my time abroad with CIEE has been that, while working alongside teachers, I have been able to learn along with my students. Since I went to school in a different country and culture, much of the subject matter is new to me - especially Portuguese history, which I help with for one hour a week. I learned that the country was founded during the Christian reconquest of the Iberian Peninsula, an era I am familiar with from studying abroad in Spain during college. In 1128, the Kingdom that would become Portugal split from several other kingdoms that would later become Spain. Many consider this the year of the country's founding, which makes Portugal the oldest still-existing state in Europe.

This weekend, I saw Portuguese history in person when I visited the city of Guimarães. The Portuguese call Guimarães "Cidade Berço" or "The Cradle City," as it is considered the birthplace of the Portuguese nation. Not only is it said to be the birthplace of the country's first King, but it also was the site of a consequential battle that led to the founding of the Portuguese kingdom. It is fitting, then, that visitors to Guimarães are greeted by a wall with the words "aqui nasceu Portugal" - "Portugal was born here" - on the side. The city center is preserved with its old medieval architecture. I found an old castle, a duke's palace, remnants of the city wall, and many old houses, monasteries, and plazas. Europe is full of these fascinating old cities, and Guimarães' importance to Portuguese national identity made it particularly interesting.

The next day, I went into Porto with my host family to see the Christmas season in full effect. Porto's urban, modern pace was quite a leap from the time capsule atmosphere of Guimarães.  In addition to taking in all the Christmas lights and enjoying the music and the festive atmosphere, I visited Livraria Lello. This famous bookstore was the inspiration for several scenes in the Harry Potter films - you'll see the resemblance in the photos! 

That's all for now. I am currently working on Christmas-related lessons for my classes. I will write again at the end of the next week to let you know how it went, and to give some final thoughts on Portugal and my volunteer experience. 

Below: Scenes from Guimarães, Porto at Christmas, and Livraria Lello

IMG_0475 IMG_0496
IMG_0496 Lello2


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