The summers I studied abroad in Portugal were transformative experiences that influenced my subsequent academic and career achievements. The program was the perfect opportunity to take anthropological methods and theories and apply them to the real life experiences. While I was not conducting research, I was beginning to think more critically about anthropology and it’s applied uses. During my first trip with the program, I became very interested in the different tourism dynamics I was observing, including how Spanish tourists interacted with the local Portuguese population and how students navigated in a temporary system where they were expressly labeled as non tourists. What fascinated me the most during the program was watching my fellow students adapt to a new cultural environment. My interest in cultural interaction had always been present while studying anthropology as an undergraduate but it was my experiences in Portugal that ultimately inspired my decision to enroll in a graduate program to focus on the anthropology of tourism. Although my graduate focus shifted to American heritage tourism patterns, I was always reminded of my study abroad experience and referred to it often when completing my internship for my Master’s Degree.
Outside of the obvious education and academic benefits of the program, my experiences studying abroad were fundamental to my personal growth and development. I needed to and had to learn to function in a new cultural environment, where I did not speak the native language and where I was not aware of social customs. While this was easier with fellow students during the program, it became extremely important when I traveled alone for several weeks after the program concluded. All of the important life lessons I learned through my program participation continue to be vital to my role as Administrative Coordinator for The Center for Women and Families, a local non-profit organization. For example, I am much more sensitive and understanding to our immigrant clients, who constantly struggle with language and cultural barriers. Additionally, as a result of my participation in the program, I am less shy, more comfortable talking to new people, able to talk to large groups with ease, more willing to take risks and try new things, more self-sufficient, and more knowledge about the world. I understand how important it is to share these types of cultural and learning experiences with others and I infuse this in everything I do.
Overall, my experiences as part of this program have made me who I am today and not a day goes by that I don't fondly think of all the wonderful people I met, the places I was able to go and see, the hospitality and warmth of the Portuguese people, the challenges and rewards of learning a new language, and all the other reasons why I encourage those around me to take part in a study abroad program if given the chance.