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3 posts categorized "Jamila Mclaughlin"

Making Connections

When I started this journey, I thought I was alone but I quickly learned I was 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.


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 http://jsomethingspecial.blogspot.com

Off of the plane and into the home

    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.


March 6, 2017, Tower of Belem



A New Yorker Heads to Portugal

    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 poncho

1 umbrella

1 back pack

1 reusable bag

12 pairs of underwear

5 bras

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. 

Other essentials


Body Lotion

Bars of Soap

Bug spray



3 months worth of sanitary napkins

Disinfectant spray

5 disposable razors

A zip lock bag full of cotton swabs and q tips

Snacks (nuts and breakfast crackers were my choice)





Reading books



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!

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