I discovered the Portuguese study program as a 21-year-old undergraduate anthropology student at the University of Louisville. Growing up in a working class suburb of Chicago and later moving to the suburbs of Louisville, overseas travel and the study of culture was completely out of my realm. That first summer in Portugal challenged my entire worldview, and while it was shocking it was one of my ultimate transformative experiences. The first summer and the subsequent trips to follow changed everything. I realized that as an American, it can be too easy to live life wearing blinders, merely going through the everyday motions. I learned how to consider different realities outside my own, and I truly believe that this very quality makes us better human beings.
The U of L program offered us opportunities in Portugal completely outside of the vanilla European vacation, and the program was also a vehicle for individual experiences. I worked with a variety of Portuguese academics, I took a road trip through tiny towns up and down the southern coast, I lived in Lisbon alone for 6 months, I excavated everything from a Roman bath, to a Neanderthal camp, to Neolithic tombs. I tried foods I would have never tried before like eel and bacalhau, I studied a new language and attempted to speak it, I researched the prehistory of Iberia and Portuguese history and questioned how it related to modern-day culture. I travelled all over the country collecting these amazing experiences, and through the challenges I became an adult. I became a thoughtful, productive, and confident adult, and I am not sure I would have transformed into this person if it hadn’t been for my experiences in Portugal