Studying abroad in Portugal was an invaluable part of my education at UofL. Of all the classes, programs, and extra curriculars I participated in, the trip to Portugal stands in the forefront of my mind as one of the most memorable. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to participate in such a thoughtfully curated, challenging program.
Although I wasn’t always excited about the classes and homework assignments throughout the trip, I look back and can appreciate how closely our daily experiences were intertwined with the curriculum. We were reading, writing, and analyzing the very things we saw every day walking around the small town of Miranda do Douro. We applied anthropological theory to our observations of the sites we visited and events we attended as a group. We learned Portuguese in the classroom and used it hours later to order dinner in a restaurant. The curriculum and the experience were integrated in a way that felt natural and authentic, so much that I didn’t realize at the time how extraordinary it was. It really allowed me to absorb and process the material on level much deeper than if I had been learning in the limited environment of a classroom. I don’t think there’s a better way to truly learn and internalize concepts than a combination of immersion and reflective analysis, which is exactly what the Portugal program was.
On a personal level, I gained greater social and cultural sensitivity both from the realities of traveling in close proximity with a group and from the experience of being in an unfamiliar foreign country. The inevitable dynamics of travelling with a small group of college students helped me become more patient, tolerant, and forced me to deal head-on with conflict. Beyond the social dynamics of our little class, I was challenged with the stress of being a foreigner, constantly surrounded by people I didn’t know, places I was unfamiliar with, systems of general knowledge I didn’t have, and hearing a language I didn’t understand. Although I had traveled internationally before visiting Portugal, approaching and working through the “foreigner” experience with the perspective of an observant, self-aware anthropologist helped me not only to cope with the unpleasant parts, but also to grow. I came away from the experience with deeper self-awareness and better developed cultural sensitivity, both of which have helped me become a better person.
Although I did not go on become an anthropologist, I now work as a program evaluation researcher. My work often deals with programs targeting populations of different backgrounds and circumstances than my own. My experience in Portugal helped me become more sensitive to social diversity, which in turn has led me to develop skill and confidence in my ability to build meaningful relationships with people vastly different than me.