When I first touched upon location on this blog, I wanted to introduce you all to my physical surroundings- the sights, the history I get to interact with on a daily basis, the colorful characters lining the streets, and all the other dimensions of the gorgeous city I currently reside in. But more important than the physical aspects of my city are the cultural elements and the social environment of Lisbon.
For starters, Europe is already a fascinating creature with the development of the EU. I already love studying the EU because it is truly a moving target. Things are rapidly changing and evolving, there is never a dull moment with all the decisions and proposals being put forth. The best part is, I’m smack dab in the middle of history being made! In 50 years or 100 from now, scholars and populations will look back on this time period and think about how exciting it must have been to be living in Europe during this time. Being here makes me want to move to Europe that much faster and start contributing to the evolution of the EU! Not to mention the fragile state of Europe at the moment. Birth rates are lowering all over Europe and immigration rates are dropping, so the problem of creating a new generation to help take care of the older populations (that now live longer due to technology) is an important issue. Another huge EU issue I am living through right now is the euro zone crisis. Because of the austerity measures being implemented, workers are striking all over the city. Recently, there was a garbage strike so the streets were quite smelly for a few days. Finally, there is a lot of strong sentiment from the people against certain European nations that are dominating over them in the European Union- such as Germany. In a way, it’s kind of awe inspiring to see how history still plays such a tremendous role in how populations think of current events. For many Portuguese citizens and other citizens of Western Europe, they still harbor skeptical feelings against Germany in that they feel that Germany is trying to control and take over Europe through their ever increasing role in the EU.These feelings are seen in so much of the culture, even the soccer! (See below)
If that were not already exciting, I am also in the middle of Portugal’s development and transition into the amazing, productive, thriving democracy it is destined to be. You see, Portugal was ruled by Salazar- a dictator- until about the early 70s. While he wasn’t that terrible as a leader (especially since he didn’t believe in extreme use of the military, was highly educated in economics and came from a simple, religious upbringing), he still oppressed the Portuguese people from sharing their thoughts and ideas and from getting an education. So when his regime ended in the mid 70s, new ideas and creativity went flying throughout the cities- bouncing off walls and turning into a social/cultural revolution! It is so intriguing to see how Portuguese people interact with their authority figures compared to how authority figures are seen in the United States. Since the people overthrew the Salazar regime, they don’t have that instilled fear of authority figures or civil servants. Plus, I think that they sometimes don’t realize the precious situation that they are presently in! Portugal only came out of its oppression less than 50 years ago, so it has so much potential to do wondrous deeds with all the increased education it has access to! In fact, I would go so far as to say that this is definitely a pivotal time for Portugal and I hope it invests its people and resources wisely.
To top it all off, I am in Europe during the Euro Cup 2012! The soccer spectator scene (cafes, bars, anywhere with a TV!) has been such a blast with all the games and fans everywhere. I have always enjoyed soccer, but here it is definitely the 2nd most popular religion if you count Catholicism/Christianity as the 1st. And considering (a) the hostility between Germany and Greece at the moment with Germany trying to remove Greece from the euro, and (b) the fact that they are playing a match on Friday, the June 22, I predict that a religious war is about to break out. There is a great article about it here ☞ http://economix.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/06/12/greece-v-germany/
Last but not least, I want to mention the exhilarating university environment here. All the universities and schools are so geared towards innovation, exchange of ideas and networking. Due to a change in the amount of time needed to complete the “Bachelor’s” (here it’s called the Licenciatura) and Master’s, students are graduating much younger or enrolling in graduate programs at a younger age. While that has its own problems since they then graduate younger and still can’t find jobs, it’s so nice to be around younger students that are about my year in school. For example, this past Saturday I attended the Switch conference at a university called ISCTE, and it was a great place to meet young professionals and interact with them.
These are a couple of my friends at the conference. The conference had speakers from all over the world that were there to talk about subjects ranging from technological innovation to African art preservation. (Check out some info here: http://www.switchconf.com/) Overall, it was a great environment for students, and I was so thrilled and honored to have attended. Especially since they have a great M.B.A. program at that school that I want to enroll in someday!
On that note, I invite all my international and American friends to look at Portugal as a possible destination for graduate school programs. There are many universities here with programs in English that are very cost effective! There are M.B.A. programs, law degrees, Master’s and Doctoral degrees and other training programs. In fact, this website ☞http://www.studyinportugal.net/ simplifies the programs available and gives you an introduction to the university network.
University life, as I mentioned above, is so unique in Portugal. The students are all young and ambitious, and I am excited to see what they will do for the next generation of this country. One of my favorite things about the students here is what they dress during the year. They wear black capes (as capas negras) over dress shirts and pants whenever they attend academic festivities. The “academic costume” or “traje académico” serves as one of the most important symbols of the institution of the university network. Not all universities adopt this practice. As an example, one of my friends in the picture above (Miguel, far right) attends a university (ESCS) where the “uniform” is worn on Thursdays. It’s not mandatory or a rule, but it encourages school spirit and unites the students with a centuries old tradition. Another tradition for students is wearing a colored ribbon around the wrist, to symbolize your commitment to your university/college until the end of your degree program. He wears a green one for his college, along with another friend in the picture above who attends the same university.
Today, I happened to discover a few groups of them in Lisbon sitting along the plaza streets and singing for money. (I ended up doling out 7 euros in donations to them, well spent in my opinion.) One of the boys in my study abroad program, Chris, loves to play guitar and so he spent some time playing with them and I ended up singing “Ai Se Eu Te Pego” for them before I left.
Great day, great city and AMAZING environment. Goodness gracious, I am loving every moment here.
Beijo, meus amigos. ✌ Posts about the fun places I’ve visited to come. Promise 🙂