Dias de Folga

I’ve had a frustrating couple of days this week because I’ve had trouble understanding my role in the organization I’m working for. I see that things move slower than I expected and I am often sitting there not doing much. This week alone, I have received a text from my boss saying I can take a “dia de folga”, twice.

Folga is the Portuguese word for the time allotted for rest (yes, they have a word for that). So a ‘dia de folga’ simply meant a day off work. Of course, I enjoyed these days off at first but it came to a point where I wasn’t working as much as I expected.

I keep talking about how impressed I am with the pace of life in Portugal. I think this is a recurring theme because I have had a very difficult time feeling like I’m investing my time in something valuable when I’m moving at such a slow pace. My patience is reduced. It’s hard to convince yourself that what you’re doing is worth it when you spend a lot of your time looking at your phone in the office and asking if there’s anything you can do every 10 minutes.

I have taken this as an opportunity to try to create my own initiative to present to my boss and after working on it during my ‘free time’ for a week I presented it to her and it doesn’t seem like something that the organization wants to prioritize at this time. This has only brought more frustration to me.

I’m not sure if the experience of the very slow-paced life I am living right now is completely cultural or if it is an array of factors that add up. Thinking about Portugal having a slow-paced culture and adding a lack of organization and resources to that equation has led to an uncomfortable situation. I have communicated my needs and I know I’m being heard but I’m not seeing any change and that is hard and, for lack of a better word, extremely frustrating.

I think I have learned a lot from this experience. I have learned about patience, communication, cultural differences, acculturation, and the challenges these qualities entail. I hope my repeated reflection on this situation can allow me to put things into perspective and take from this experience a lot of valuable skills that can be helpful in future situations.

90 degree weather, even warmer coffee

One of the best things, in my opinion, to cool yourself off on a warm summer morning is iced coffee. Walking around Lisbon at the beginning of the day; what I craved the most was a cup filled with iced cubes and freshly brewed European coffee. However, it wasn’t long until I realized that this is not common in Portugal.

I was walking to work one morning and saw a beautiful traditional-looking coffee shop where I decided to stop for a quick break and a refreshing iced coffee. I had been in Lisbon for around four days at this point and had my first iced coffee in Portugal at Starbucks as I left the airport. The thought of iced coffee not being available hadn’t crossed my mind.

I walk into the coffee shop and confidently say what I thought was the Portuguese way of asking for an iced coffee: “Bom dia! Eu queria um cafe gelado por favor?”. The barista gave me a weird look. I rephrased my order and said “Posso ter um cafe com gelo por favor?”. He, as the Lisboetas usually do at a hint of an accent or wrong phrasing in Portuguese, quickly switched to English asking “Is it better if you order in English?”. I accepted and explained that I wanted a cup of coffee with ice in it. Everyone working at the cafe was confused as the barista hesitantly replied “Yes, that’ll be 1.25 euros”.

I got what seemed to be an attempt to make an iced coffee by confused Portuguese baristas and left feeling confused myself and, a little embarrassed about what had just taken place. Thinking back on that situation I realize that what happened was that I had ordered a way of making coffee that they didn’t seem to understand.

There are many ways in which, at that moment, I interpreted the situation. At first, I thought, this person is a new worker but once I saw everyone in the shop’s reaction I changed it to: ‘I’m not saying this correctly in Portuguese’. Then, once I switched to English I thought through the situation a little more and understood that maybe iced coffee is simply not something that this cafe didn’t do. Slowly, a scary thought poped to my mind: ‘what if, this wasn’t just something that happened at this cafe but in Portugal in general?”, or even scareir “What if iced coffee wasn’t a thing in Europe as a whole?’.

I had so many questions so, I got to work and voiced my concerns to my colleagues. I told them about the experience I just had and checked with them about some of the conclusions or interpretations I had reflected on as I walked from the coffee shop to my workplace. Everyone had a good laugh and explained to me that iced coffee is not common in Portugal and that people like enjoying a warm cup of coffee, even in the summer. This is when I confirmed one of my interpretations and understood that some of the other conclusions I had arrived at weren’t completely correct. My Spanish co-worker laughed as well and explained to me that she had the same experience when she first got to Portugal. She told me that iced coffee is common in the summer in Spain and that it wasn’t necessarily uncommon in Europe as a whole. I sighed in relief at understanding the situation better. I simply accepted the fact that I would have to either learn to enjoy warm coffee during my (very warm) stay in Lisbon, learn to ditch coffee as a whole (who is she?), or, accept that I would look like a crazy person trying to explain that I wanted a delicious cup of warm coffee with a whole bunch of ice in it.

This conversation was very interesting and it led to a longer discussion about what things were and weren’t normal for us in our different countries of nationality and cultures. I think that there are small things in our day-to-day that we accept as normal and it becomes so interesting to be able to experience how people in other cultures and countries go about these common day situations. The way that my colleagues and I were able to connect as individuals and share our own experiences to create a small community of shared knowledge was captivating to me and it is one of the main reasons why I love discovering new places, cultures, and people.

This was a confusing yet interesting experienced that helped me understand a little more about the Portuguese culture and about intercultural skills that can be very important to develop.

Reconciling New Perspectives

I have been continuing to enjoy my time here in Lisbon. I recently faced a bit of uncertainty with trying to continue to reconcile my expectations of having an organized and demanding ‘corporate America’ internship with the reality that I’m living which is a ‘Portuguese non-profit’ internship. I have learned to appreciate how open my boss has been to communicating with me and this has made my experience a lot better. I am now working on the ‘atendimentos’ with immigrants who come to Renovar a Mouraria seeking guidance and help with their transitions to Portugal.

I am working with some other outstanding individuals with all sorts of different backgrounds. I have met people from Brazil, Chile, France, Spain, Italy, Moçambique, Bangladesh, Ginuea-Bissau, and Portugal of course. The number of cultures, identities, and individualities that I have been exposed to has enriched my individual culture so much. As I am learning about the Portuguese immigration process I am also practicing my Portuguese, learning some words in French, trying Bangladeshi food, and talking about the culture in Italy. This internship has been a great immersive experience and I feel very grateful for being able to participate in it.

I am not going to lie, however, that I’m still struggling to get used to the change in pace of life. This is one of the things that when I got to Lisbon was very frustrating for me. As an Ecuadorian I thought that we already had a relatively slower-paced life (especially when compared to America) but as I’ve spent my time here in Lisbon I’ve quickly realized that the softer European pace of life is very different to anything I am used to. It has become pretty frustrating to have to wait. a lot for instructions, approvals, or email responses. It is frustrating to know you could be a lot more productive if the hour-and-a-half lunch break was an hour shorter. However, I have come to realize that this frustration is actually a sign of impatience and I would like to go back to enjoy life at a slower pace.

I think about how a slower-paced life can help people live more calmly and enjoy every second of their existence a little bit more my frustration changes. I see an opportunity to grow and to learn and I want to set this goal to really learn to enjoy a slower-paced life. I find that the meaning of life is hidden in the interactions and realizations you have on a daily basis . That moment when you can just sit in the sun and be. Or the moment when you actually go to the coffee shop and have a conversation with the waiter or drink your coffee while sitting down and simply ENJOYING it. That is what life is about and that is one of the things that I would love to get from this experience.

Arriving in Lisbon

It’s been two weeks since I got to Lisbon and I can truly say I’m so happy that I’m here. I have been traveling around Portugal, meeting new people, and learning so much. It has been a very interesting journey so far.

I was welcomed at the Lisbon airport by the barista at a coffee shop where I tried to use my Portuguese for the first time. I practiced my order in my head in the line leading up to the cashier and once it was my turn I said it, according to me, sounding like a native ‘Lisboeta’. The lady asked me a set of follow-up questions that left me speechless. Was she speaking Portuguese? I did not understand a single thing. I quickly switched to English admitting my limited knowledge of the language with a shy smile.

I met a lot of people during the program introduction and have been getting to know Lisbon as well. I have fallen in love with its beautiful buildings covered in ‘azulejos’, its welcoming people, and even the slippery side-walks going up and down hills that have made me trip more than once. I have been slowly mastering the metro system and understanding Portuguese culture more and more every day. I have been lucky enough to travel to some Portuguese beaches and am in awe of the beauties I have encountered. I am getting my summer tan back and am feeling great. I have slowly been incorporating more Portuguese into my daily life and been using less English or Spanish in my interactions, although ill admit that ‘Portuñol’ is typically what comes out naturally from me and what has been working best. I have not yet gathered the courage to try the famous ‘Sardinhas’ but I have enjoyed other delicious fresh fish and Portuguese food. My favorite dessert is officially the ‘pasteis de nata’ and I love me some good ‘entremiadas’ or ‘bifanas’ for lunch. I am slowly getting over the fact that iced coffee is not really a thing and am learning to enjoy just a simple ‘cafe com leite’.

I am working for the non-profit organization ‘Renovar a Mouraria’ and I think I couldn’t have found a better place to intern at. The people there are so welcoming, the work they do is so important and I have been able to participate in activities that have taught me about Portugal; its people, and its culture more than any other thing I can think of. These first few weeks we have been working on organizing the community parties for the ‘Festas dos Santos Populares’. I have been serving food at parties (in Portuguese :)), meeting amazing people, learning about the social context of Lisbon and its history, and getting to talk to people who have really enriched my life in amazing ways.

Although I am really happy I cannot say it has been easy. I have encountered multiple cultural incidents where the culture shock has left me feeling confused and even uncomfortable. The pace of work is definitely slower than what I’m used to. The response time between emails is longer and the main form of communication is verbal: leaving a lot of room for misunderstandings. However, I feel like this change of pace is exactly what I needed in my life. I have been doing things with more intention, I have been fully enjoying my breaks, I have been living the present moment and really getting to know my colleagues and bosses at a personal level. I have found a connection with myself that I felt the fast-paced corporate world in America had taken from me. I am very grateful for what I’m living and although it’s been hard to get used to, I am enjoying living the Portuguese way. 🙂

Pre-Departure Post

I am writing this as I’m sitting in the waiting room of the Adolfo Suárez Madrid Barajas Airport. Crazy to think that the day has finally arrived for me to start making my way across the sea and over to this side of the world. I feel all sorts of things: nerves, excitement, fear, and happiness. 

My parents and grandparents are waiting for me in Venice and we will take a week-long trip around Italy together. Then, on June 1st I will be taking a flight from Rome to Lisbon and begin my journey in Portugal for the Summer. 

I just got off my first flight: Quito, Madrid and I got what I can unfortunately call one of the worst spots you can get on a 10-hour flight: middle seat, middle column, row 52 (out of 53). There I sat, middle seat near the bathroom in the back of the plane for probably the longest flight I have ever been on. The excitement, nostalgia, and nerves that I had felt the day before hadn’t allowed me to get a good last night’s sleep at home and so I was already tired. I was definitely not excited for the 10 hours ahead of me. 

As I was getting settled into my seat a lovely couple sat down next to me and that’s when I heard it… a sign? I don’t know what it meant but a smile flushed through my face. The language I began to learn to love a year ago sprang at full speed from this young couple’s mouths as they coordinated the logistics of their own 10-hour flight experience. The words were familiar, the accent not so much. Although, it did sound a lot like the Cristiano Ronaldo interview we had heard in class… It’s Portuguese! I get little butterflies in my stomach, the nerves begin to show as this interaction marks the beginning of my two-month adventure. I turn towards the couple on my left and without much thought go “Olá! Vocês são de Portugal?”. I quickly regret it, ‘did I sound like a rookie? Of course I had to say that! Was that stupid? Is that how you say it?’ They both turn to look at me with big smiles on their faces and say “Sim! Tu?…” Immediately, what felt like a 3-hour (but was probably more like 10-minute) conversation started. They were from Lisbon Portugal, they had come to my home country for their honeymoon and they were just now returning home from what they thought was an amazing vacation. I told them about my internship, how I was learning Portuguese, and how I would be spending my next two months in Lisbon attempting to continue to grow and expand my abilities. They told me that sounded great, that they hope we see each other again in Lisbon, and wished me the best of luck. I ended the conversation by saying “Obrigada! Parabéns pelo Casamento!”. I don’t know if I spoke Portuguese, Spanish, English, or Portuñol. I don’t know if half the stuff I said during that interaction was correct or not. However, what I did know was that this is going to be a summer filled with a lot of growth and that I already did love Portugal and its people!

As my adrenaline rush from the conversation settled in I plugged my earphones to the built-in tv on the back of the seat in front of me. I always like to play a movie for me to sleep with background noise on during the flight. I picked the first movie that caught my attention “Eat, Pray, Love”. I had never seen it, never read the book, and never really heard much of it but 2 hours and 10 minutes later I was in tears and had slept for exactly 0 hours, 0 minutes, and 0 seconds. I think this might be my new favorite movie. I’m not sure if it was the actors, the plot, or the way the movie seemed to have been written for me at that moment but I felt a new sense of inspiration for my nearing future. 

The movie is about an American woman who changes the course of her regular boring life by exploring the world and learning to “Eat, pray and love”. At one point she says “Sometimes, you have to leave behind everything you know, every comfort zone you’ve built, and step into the unknown. It’s in those moments that you truly begin to learn and grow, for every interaction becomes an opportunity for discovery and self-evolution”. It is with this thought that I end my first blog post. I am leaving behind the comfort of my summer at home, my friends, and my family to go do something I’ve never done before at a place I’ve never been to before in a language that is relatively unknown to me but I find peace in thinking about all the growth I will undergo in the next couple of months. I consider these two small, yet meaningful, interactions I had on my 10-hour flight, my first opportunities for “discovery and self-evaluation” as part of my journey in Portugal this summer of 2023.