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By Chizuru Uko

Since I got back from fall break Lisbon has started to feel like home, I find myself falling into a routine here and working towards set goals. While I was away I missed a sense of home because I visited so many places and bounced from hostels to staying with friends.

It is also a bitter-sweet feeling because it is my last month in Lisbon and I am not ready to leave Portugal but I am also excited to get reconnected with my family and friends in Nigeria. I am in Nigeria only twice a year and miss being around the people I love so much. I think going to London and getting a little of the warmth and familiarity of home and travelling with my Nigerian friends also made me miss it more. However, I am very grateful for all the lifelong friends I have made here and for the experiences and actually chose to extend my time in Portugal by a week.

I am becoming so much more appreciative of the little things like having conversations with locals in Portuguese and getting to familiar places through muscle memory. Lisbon will always be a special city in my heart, I hope to be back here and spend more time here, also hoping I remain disciplined with Portuguese after Lisbon. Até já.

By Chizuru Uko

I spent the past two weeks in very dramatic countries on fall break; started off in the Azores, stopped by London and ended the break in Iceland. The Azores and Iceland had slightly similar landscapes with natural hot springs, volcanoes, black sand beaches and stunning views. These places felt very different and familiar to Portugal at the same time, the more I travel and interact with people the more similar and connected I feel.

I have had a bit of a crisis with all my free time and realised that sometimes with study abroad programs that aren’t as demanding it’s so easy to get trapped in the beach, travel, live and party lifestyle that I often forget I am an unemployed senior graduating in the spring, lol. It is, however, so refreshing being able to meet people that care about how a place makes me feel more than my plans for after college. Being here is relaxing but I think it is important to remember that life is going on for people back home and that time does not stop while you’re abroad. My advice is to check in occasionally with loved ones and family and let your travels influence your decisions.

Hiking to this waterfall in Iceland made me realise how small I am in the grand scheme of things and made me stop and appreciate all the beauty around me.

By Chizuru Uko

Loving Lisbon has been very easy for me. In the past couple of weeks, I have had so much more free time than usual during the week. While joggling travel, learning Portuguese, building relationships I have made a mental note to spend a good chunk of time at various beaches in Portugal.

Every beach has its individual character ranging from the crowd, to the color of the water, the texture of the sand and the animals you see while snorkeling. Beach hopping has made me fall deeply in love with the ocean, I suddenly have so much respect for the waves around me and the vastness of the ocean. I didn’t realize how intense this had become till I was in a thermal bath in Budapest and got disappointed by the dullness of restricted water.

Similar to most study abroad stories, some of my top beach experiences were at islands I visited in the spur of the moment like Burlengas. Hiking to the beach and the castle here truly made me feel alive and like I was on top of the world.

I am easily a free spirit, I love meeting new people and thrive on getting to know someone with a different background. I have really struggled with this through my program because the people selected are very similar to my friends in America.

I was initially very frustrated that we only took classes together and had so many group activities to encourage group bonding. But with time I found a way to create balance, I was able to identify local communities and groups where I got to interact with other locals like my kizomba dance class and my Hillsong connect group. Taking these bold steps have been very daunting but have made it possible for me to recreate little pockets of things I like to do with people who challenge the way I think.

By Chizuru Uko

I have a really interesting story with identity. On campus and almost everywhere in the world, small talk starts with “Where are you from?” and I always reply, Nigeria, because I was born in the states but spent the first 18 years of my life in Nigeria. However, 10 out of 10 times its followed with a string of questions about my American dual citizenship, how I currently live both in the US & Nigeria, sometimes it even wonders to my accent. This is conversation I have become familiar with, it’s almost a script that never goes wrong.

A couple years ago I watched a TED Talk by Taiye Selasi called “Don’t ask me where I am from, ask where I am a local” and she goes on to talk about how she is a local where she has her three R’s- Relationships, Rituals and Restrictions. Being Nigerian has always come with a source of pride, most times people are interested in the other side of the story- the beautiful local languages, history, food and nitty bitty details that makes my culture- and not the single story often portrayed in the media. Understanding this has greatly impacted me as I travel, I have an open mind about places I visit, I don’t expect any one thing from a new country, I simply try to soak in as much as possible and have conversations with locals about what life is like for them. It’s always important for me to read books about a place and watch movies set in a country to give me a better idea but I always keep in mind that it’s just one person’s version of the story.

Being abroad has also impacted my sense of self greatly, I am a lot more aware of my limits as well as my sense of curiosity. This past weekend I was in Lagos, Portugal and I paddle boarded along the coast of the Algarve’s with two friends. Looking back, it was probably one of the craziest things I’ve ever done mainly because it was me and the ocean for the first time. It was so liberating and calming stopping at private beaches. I see myself doing things I am proud of and pushing myself and this is everything I hope for. I probably don’t know as much about myself and its great being able to risk it all in a new place.

By msotomayor12

Now that the weeks I have left in Europe are in the single digits, I have made it a priority to visit as many cities on my bucket list. This weekend I took a two-day trip to Lisbon, a city that has fascinated me through pictures and by word of mouth. It has been a while since I visited a city that I did not know anything about its culture and history. With only a one-hour flight standing between me and Portugal’s capital, I knew I had to go explore.

Like every city, Lisbon has its charm, but it looks very different from any other European city I have visited. The rows of townhouses and buildings are in need of a fresh coat of paint to bring back its once lively yellow, blue, and even pink facades. To make up for the lackluster, some buildings are adorned with tiles from the base to the roof, which gave me quite the inspiration for my future home. Looking at the city from the top of the Santa Justa Lift or Saint George’s Castle provides a beautiful skyline with the clump red rooftops barely outlining the plazas and city streets.

Without leaving Lisbon, it takes you places. Their cobbled streets are split by cable car tracks. The cable cars—which must be from the 1950s—are rickety, old, and simulate a roller coaster depending on whose driving it. They are a time traveling tool that drops you off in front of a medieval castle or a 500-year-old monastery. The best part is seeing it cross near the 25 de Abril Bridge, which is the twin sister of the Golden Gate. The sight echoes San Francisco.

However, a trip to Portugal is not complete without visiting Sintra. The hilltop city is speckled with castles, palaces, and ruins that once belonged to the Romans, Muslims, and Portuguese royal family. Sintra is known for its fairytale qualities. As someone who grew up an hour away from Disney World, I felt like I was back in the Magic Kingdom at the Pena Palace. Built in the 1840s, the castle’s blue tiled, burgundy, and yellow walls housed the Portuguese royal family until the 1920s. The domes, Arabic arches, medieval lookouts, and pointy pinnacles make the castle look like as if could only be found in a five year olds’ imagination.

The second must-see is the Portuguese royal family’s summerhouse, the Regalerira Estate. Although the buildings are less fictitious than the Pena, the gardens must have inspired every fantasy ever written. Several pathways to the top of the garden are lined with mythological symbols and extravagant fountains. However, looking beyond “what you see” is what makes the gardens spectacular. Several ponds are connected to grottos, which are accessed by long, winding, and dark secret passageways. The only way to cross one pond and waterfall is by stepping-stones. The main attraction is finding the secret spiral staircase that symbolizes death leading to the entrance of Heaven or Heaven to earth, depending on which way to climb it. Seriously, the only thing missing from these gardens are fairies.

Lisbon was the perfect getaway because it really took me somewhere else. The sights were different, the language was easy to understand, and their cheese pastries are to die for. Visiting a city without any knowledge of what to expect makes everything shine a little brighter.

By meaggymurphy

Blurb:My first stop in Portugal has already taught me a lot about Portuguese culture. The positive experience I've had in Porto has surprised me in a lot of ways, especially concerning the people I've met in the country's second largest city. Travelling can be tiring, stressful, and confusing, but in Portugal it hasn't felt like any of these things thanks to the nice people I've had the privilege of meeting along the way. The people are amazing, the food is great, and the city is beautiful- What more could I ask for?

People are nice. That is what I have learned from Portugal so far.  I'm writing this entry from a train between Porto and Lisbon. I made it on the train thanks to some strangers, who offered to call me a cab and then waited with me for it to come so they could be sure the driver got the right directions. It's been like this in every single encounter I've had with the Portuguese. You stop someone to ask for directions, and everyone within a 10 foot radius has to join in with their own opinions and recommendations. The waiters become your friends and joke around with you.

Another great thing about Portugal is that even if you don't speak Portuguese, the language is very similar to Spanish. It's really bizarre to have a conversation between two people, one speaking Spanish and the other speaking Portuguese, that can be productive and understandable.
I would like to take a moment in this post to reflect upon the deliciousness of Portuguese food. Half of the time I'm about 50% sure of what I've ordered, but 100% of the time it has been delicious. Porto is on the coast, and they have great fish dishes of salted cod and salmon, as well as shrimp and crab soups. I've noticed that the food is spicier than typical Spanish food as well. And the desserts! Again, I haven't ever really been sure what I'm getting myself into, but generally everything has tasted even better than it's looked.
Portugal is exceeding my expectations so far. It's so close to Spain that it seemed like a no-brainier to come, but I hadn't really considered how awesome of an experience it would be until I arrived. And despite being close to Spain, it's different in many noticeable and interesting ways. Right now on the train, I've seen beautiful ocean views and small, white-washed towns with palm trees and orange roofs. Before I left Spain, a friend of mine who is originally from Lisbon literally made me a PowerPoint (complete with photos) of all the things I should see and do when I'm in the city. I was amazed that she had taken the time to make me something so detailed and helpful, and now that I'm here, I see that she comes from a culture of people who don't mind taking the time to be nice.