Reflecting on My Time Abroad
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