Wednesday, May 20, 2009

the AFS experience

I know its been a long time since i last blogged, but Im hoping some people still read this :)
The AFS experience is nothing like I thought it would be. First of all,when I first left Alaska I couldnt even imagine being away from my family, becuase I have gone through my whole life with them around. Being away from them was by far the biggest change. With my family I feel comfortable, I can express my feelings, and most importantly be myself and relax. I initially felt lost in Portugal without that constand comfort and support, but I managed to get by. Gradually I got to know my friends better, my family host family helped me with everything, and keeping busy kept me from dwelling too much on how much I missed them (there is a name here for missing somebody that cannot be translated. It's to have "saudades". I immediately knew what people meant when they said they had "saudades"). Now, I feel like I can finally handle being without my family coonstantly. Of course I still talk to them, think about them, and love them, but I know that my host family here will help me, or my friends, my counselor or other AFSers. And I know that I can handle problems on my own as well. I have learned to depend on other people and trust other people, something which I think will be invaluable in the future when I am on my own.
I think that some people can immediately feel at ease with themselves in different situations (like not understanding whats going on, not being able to communicate) but it has taken me some time. Now I think that I am better at being in those strange situations, and am more prepared for when they come along after this experience as well. For example, I was very quiet when I first came to Portugal, I felt really out of place. But now I have a group of friends at school, I can speak in Portuguese well enough to get around and talk with my friends, and in school I know whats going on. I dont feel like an outsider, though I am differnet, but I feel like I belong in a way. I think the most gratifying feeling from this experience, so far, is feeling like I am supposed to be here. I dont know if I am describing this correctly for all of those who haven't been on an exchange, but I know that it is a unique feeling to be a part of a family and school in a new place and not feel completely out of place. Its a good feeling.
So even though I have had some of the emotionally most difficult times of my life, I am glad to have come to Portugal, and I am enjoying it. Being here and dealing with harder problems than what I would have been dealing with in Alaska has made me grow, and has put into perspective my attitudes there, my attitude here, and what I type of person I want to be. And for the rest of my time here in Portugal, I am going to enjoy it as much as I can and take advantage of all there is here.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Retratos a Sexta

With Maria and friends this last weekend we went to see the Blue Man Group in Lisbon, and then afterwards to a bohemian cafe. There was a place to have pictures taken by a French man there, and as long as you came up with an idea that followed the theme of the week (which was icons) then you could have your picture taken.

A Day in Lisbon

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

some more pictures

In the Torre de Belem (tower of belem) where all the boats would take off to explore the world

Going to a party with Ines and Maria, cousins, and friends

Getting ready to go to a club for a friend's birthday

A nice seat in Cascais

The AFS semester students at orientation camp

A Portuguese Easter

Easter in Portugal is a religious holiday. Actually, for the Christian religion Easter is the most important holiday, but in the US it seems as though it is celebrated more for the sake of finding chocolate and painting eggs. Which is not to say the Portuguese dont enjoy finding chocolate eggs or bunnies. Easter afternoon the adults, not the easter bunny, hid chocolate eggs and chocolate bars for all the "kids" (that is, everbody under 24) and we all scattered around the minimal garden area to find them. But the real events were the parades. I spent Easter in Fornos, a small and more "rural" town. We arrived on Friday and I met more of the family, there were about 40 people for dinner the last night, and toured the farm and house. The farm is not an actual farm, but more of a very large garden, built to support the household. There was also a tennis court with soccer goals and a pool, but it was far too cold to swim. There are lots of cousins who we hung out with and played games and watched movies. Saturday night at about 11:30 the first parade walked by. The whole town walks through the town with the small statue of Jesus on the cross in front. This parade was mourning the death of Jesus, so everybody dressed in black and there was no music and no noise. The next parade was in the morning before mass on Sunday. This parade is the one that we joined in on, walking through the whole town while music played and the priest read prayers.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Regatta, Races

This last week, the last week before the 2 week Easter vacations, was a bit crazy. On Thursday night I went to a disco at 11:30 and stayed out till 5 am, slept for a few hours, and then went to a regatta in Cascais. The disco was fun, but I'm not crazy about night life here in Portugal. The regatta however, was amazing! Much to my surprise I placed 2nd out of 12 boats. There was very little wind and I think I may have done so well on a fluke, but it was great to be out on the water all day in the sun and warmth, however tired I may have been. The same day Maria, Tiago, and Ines left to go on vacation in Andorra and ski, which I was not permitted to do because AFS has a policy about finalists trips. Today, Sunday, I participated in another running race, a 10 km through Lisbon. And now I am in vacations from school till the 13 of April.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

10 little things I really miss, 10 things i really love

10 little things I really miss:
1. mustard! the mustard here is very different
2. olives
3. this list is all food! hah. big breakfasts
4. not "dressing up" for school, or at least just throwing on a tshirt and jeans or sweatpants and calling it good
5. music!!!!! actually this is a big thing i miss. the radio is good, but my family rarely listens to music.
6. homework instead of notes to study
7. smaller tests
8. running partners
9. straightener. my hair looks slightly crazy.
10. eating with hands more and good salads.

10 little things I love:
1. the sun!!!!!
2. the beach
3. my own bathroom (that is not having to share with 2 sisters and a cat)
4. fresh food
5. there are always cafes on every street corner. you can always buy little cakes (bolos) or cafe (coffee)
6. emotions are so much more in the open, for example two kisses on the cheek are typical for greetings and kissing or crying in public are not stared at like the US
7. the bar in the school. not literally a "BAR", but like a snack cafeteria. its got the best criossants and sandwiches for less than a dollar
8. the train. i can go pretty much wherever i want by just walking to the station
8. the old feeling in the streets and in lisbon. everything feels centuries old, just like it actually is
9. people always take care with their appearance, which, although i dont always enjoy it, makes people seem like they actually care
10. 10 minute break periods in school. originally they were annoying, but now i think they are perfect to relax in the sun, talk with friends and recover from brutal tests.

Friday, March 13, 2009


I feel like I'm finally on my feet here in Portugal. The language is still not easy, I can't understand fully unless the people talking speak slowly, but I can communicate fairly well. Or at least get my point across. School is a pretty dull for me, but I usually spend it studying Portuguese, doing sudokus, or talking with classmates.
These past few days have been beautiful! The weather has been about 70 or 85º each day and very sunny. I went to the beach for lunch, and after that little amount of time and sailing today my face is slightly sunburnt! But it feels so good to finally get some sun. I also have a 7 km race on the 21st of March and a regatta on the 27th of March.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

My Host Family

Maria, 17 years old and studying Biology in her last year of high school

Ines, 16 years old and studying economy in her "junior" year

The family (by the way all these pictures were taken in Tanzania)

My host brother Tiago, he's twins with Maria, 17 and studying economy in his last year of high school

My host dad and mom, Jose and Cristina

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

In Viseu

Iglesa Geronimos

Inside the Church

The tomb of Vasco de Gama

Typical tiles of Portugal. There are tiles on many old buildings

Castelo São Jorge

A taste of Portuguese

The view of Lisbon from Castelo São Jorge. The bridge is the exact same as the Golden Gate bridge but in Lisbon
Inside Castelo São Jorge in Lisbon
The view of Cascais, the city nearest to Estoril from the Paredão
The Paredão

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Just a Brief Update and Details

So, I have been with the Machados, Isabel and Maria, for 14 days and have had a fabulous time. I have been to the Old Lisboa, the Expo section (or new Lisboa), Viseu in the north, and many of Isabel's friends houses for parties and talking and such. I am also in vacations right now for Carnival, although the Portuguese don't celebrate quite like the Brazilians. Mainly the little kids dress up and play games in parks. And I am going to an Orientation Camp in Viseu this weekend. Otherwise, here are some details about Portuguese life that I have been meaning to post:

1) Portuguese love to talk and be around each other always. This means Sundays are typically spent with family. Around noon families gather at a house and begin eating bread with cheese as an appetizer (really good cheese), and talking and drinking coffee. Lunch is a huge affair and desserts are always plentiful. Afterwards there is more coffee and talking and then Church or if not (not everybody is Catholic here) home.

2) The classrooms and houses are almost always freezing in the winter! There is usually not central heating, and schools are not heated either. The temperature when I arrived was around 45º and colder in houses. Now it has warmed up, but houses are still cold.

3) My first day of math class was a little funny becuase x is prounounced "sheesh". I walked in and there was a whole bunch of people saying sheesh, and x also are written different as well so I was so confused! I thought everybody really disliked the class or something.

4) Mustard and Pizza are different here. Not to say that I don't eat them at all, but I definitely prefer them in the US. The mustard is very mild, not sour at all, and pizza is made with a different type of sauce i think and the toppings are nearly always cheese and ham. No pepperoni!

5) Most of the music and tv here is American. Nobody likes rap, surprise surprise. Movies and shows have subtitles in Portuguese, or if they are cartoons they are in Portuguese.

I know I have a whole bunch more to tell, but I can't seem to think of it all now.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

A Little Bit of Bad News, a lot of Good

Well, Mr. Marshall, I dont know if you are going to read this but I will definitely send you an email, but I will not be able to race/run the half marathon i was planning on doing here in Cascais. There is a mandatory orientation camp in the North of Portugal that I am supposed to attend, and even though I have petitioned AFS they are saying that I have to be there that Saturday. But, there is another marathon in the Lisboa area, the Lisbon Marathon, which is huge and lots of high class European runners come to do it. So maybe I will be able to do that!
In other news, I found this lovely garden area that I may able to run in, Im not sure I still have to check it out.
I am now staying temporarily with another family while my real host family is away on vacations in Tanzania. They will come back on the 27th. My new family is Isabel and Maria. Isabel is the mom, and Maria is the 14 year old daughter. They are both the sweetest people possible and are trying to show me all the sights in the area. I have been to Lisbon now to see the Geronimo Church, a huge baroque style church with the tombs of Portugal's most famous author and Vasco de Gama, the explorer. I also saw some of the Moorish influence in the Castelo São George, where the nature is mixed with the simple architecture and it overlooks the city. Both sights were breathtaking.
I also went sailing! I now have sailing lessons each Friday. There are about 10 other highschoolers who sail as well, all of us in lasers, alone! This Friday I was in a different type of boat, much larger, just to see what it all is like, and it was so relaxing. The sailing people here are completely down to earth, in fact the lady i was in the boat with loves to play bluegrass music, something that nobody so far has ever heard of here in Portugal.
I will post some pictures of Lisbon as soon as i find the time and the place, but for now I hope everybody is enjoying the winter weather and skiing lots!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

This is just one of the many Roman Catholic traces of religion in the house.

The sitting room where my host parents receive guests. Its pretty fancy.

This is the walkway to leave the house.

There is a pool! Its not filled for the winter, but I can´t wait till it will be.

And this is the house. Its pretty large, for Portuguese standards as well. There is also a small gym on the house connected, and tables out in the garden for eating at. The garden is fairly large and from where I took the picture, and the driveway is to either side of the house.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

A Few More Pictures

As promised, here are a few more pictures, but I will definitely take more because these are fairly silly. Portuguese do not like to have their pictures taken in the winter, because they say that they are too pale, though I find that funny because most people here are at least as tan as the tannest person in Seward.

This is Pintas (which means spots) the family dog. He is slightly crazy, but cute, and runs around the house and garden all day long.

This is my school, São João do Estoril. This is not a good shot, but basically the rest of the school looks similar. The campus is fairly large and the buildings are all spaced out. There are 4 buildings with classrooms and another with two gyms. I can't quite find my way around it yet, but my class is always there to help.

The roads here are typically pavement, but the sidewalks are all made of the smaller stones. The older roads, in the areas with more shops or in Lisboa (Lisbon) are all made of the small stones on top of sand. There are trees all over.

Friday, January 30, 2009


After my first introduction to Sao Joao do Estoril highschool (dont even try pronouncing that if you are American)classes became slightly more intense. My portuguese class was boring for me, because i really didn't understand much, but my math class the next morning was a shock. My class is very well versed in trigonometry, a subject I have only briefly studied. They were all preparing for a national test the next day, that i didn't need to participate in, so I the class was also fairly boring for me. I was really intimidated by the level of the math as well, and i pondered the best way to ask to be placed in a lower level math class the whole hour and a half period.
The breaks between classes are 10 min. long, but they seem like an enternity because i only know several people and even so i can't understand what they are saying all the time.
Mariana and Vera, who are friends of Ines, are also in my class. They help me with keeping up with the teacher and translating. Almost everybody in my class speaks English more intelligibly than I speak Portuguese, so I revert to English when the rapid pace of Portuguese becomes too much for me to understand or I cannot seem to get my point across.
Geography came next. Everybody warned me that it would be difficult and boring, and it was. The teacher stood in front of the class and went through a powerpoint full of notes to write down word for word. I managed to only get part of what was written in my notebook before the next slide appeared. I still have no idea what the slides were about, even after conferring with some other students and studying the notes later. Geography is definitely not the geography that a US student might study. I think it means more along the lines of the study of what triggers population variation, how far people will travel for a product and the patterns of centers of commerce, and etc.
Economics was my best class that day. I met 4 new people and talked with them, and I was assigned a seat by a girl who speaks English fairly well but prefers to speak Portuguese to me and listen to my broken sentences of Portuguese. She helps me constantly and I think I may actually be able to keep up with what the class is learning if she continues to do so and I study very hard.
My classes all finished at 1:30, as they will for 3 days a week (on Mon. and Fri. i stay in school till 6:30), so after I went home for lunch. Even on the two days that I will be in school till 6:30 I get an hour and a half for lunch. After a run on the treadmill (it was pouring outside), I fell into bed exhausted.

The next day Filosifia was the first class, which translates to Philosophy, but is really more like psychology class. The teacher seemed over the edge with the behavior of the class, and I quickly learned the correct pronounciation of "Disculpe", which means sorry, because she said it so often to quiet the class. I didnt understand much of what was going on at all. We were supposed to have Geography next, but the rest of the class had a national exam, so my next class was Portuguese again. This time I understood a little more of what was happening but I am still pretty lost as to what we are supposed to be doing in class.
Some people take notes the whole class, while others sit back and talk or text. There are two tests per semester and they both are the main deciders in what the grade for the class will be. I will most likely fail because several of the tests are coming up pretty soon and I still dont understand most of what is happening. There are homework assignments for some classes, but I don't know if they are mandatory or only for practice for tests. Maria, my host sister, studies constantly, but doesnt actually have homework. Both Ines and Maria have tutoring once a week, and I guess that that is fairly common.
My last class of the day was PE. It was very simple and straightforward, without any writing, which was perfect for me. We played a small game of volleyball after stretching and running a couple of laps and then we did some gymnastics.
Today, Fri., I had math again. Much to my relief, the math that the class is studying now is not as advanced as I originally thought. For all those fellow math students reading this, we covered the material in the first semester of PreCalc, so I was ahead of the class. However, the teacher demonstrated how to do the problems in a completely different way. I think that may be ok, though, as long as i come up with the same answers. I also had English class, which was kind of funny because it sounded just like my spanish classs with Mr. Clark, but in English. Economy was the last class of the day, and I was thoroughly exhausted by the time I boarded the train to go back to Estoril.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

pics from party

the group

Maria, my host sister


me and a friend

First Day at School... Finally

This weekend was pretty fun. I went with Maria to a party at a bar that played music, so more like a disco. Tiago also went, but he mainly hung out with the other guys. At the bar we talked in the upstairs, then below there was dancing. It was pretty fun. Maria doesnt like to drink, but everybody else just drinks to feel comfortable. It was really late, though, and i think i get tired faster here because of the strain of trying to understand what is going on around me with the portuguese. We got home around 4 am.
~I finally went to a class at school! After stopping by the school 2 or 3 times to supposedly begin, I finally attended a class. It was Portuguese class, the same as an English class in the US but obviously entirely in Portuguese. I am now in the same class as two girls that are friends, Mariana and Vera. The class itself was fairly uneventful, because i couldn't understand much of what was happening around me and because i sit alone right in front of Vera and Mariana. The school is nice, it is very open and during passing periods full of people. I asked how many people attend, and i have received conflicting answers, but i guess there are at least 700, much bigger than teeny tiny Seward. There are about 25 or more people in my class. I am going to study Economy. That means i have math classes, economy classes, portuguese, english class, and pe. I also will have portuguese for foreigner classes at 7 two days a week.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

More Details and my first run

I went for my first run here in Portugal yesterday, because it was sunny for the first day i have been here. Which is exactly opposite of what the weather normally is, i guess. but the run was along the Perdao, which is a really nice boardwalk along the beach. It wasnt very long, because i had no idea if running then was ok or normal, so i began by walking. The perdao is only about 6k long, from one end to the other. only men were running, and mainly older men at that, but i decided that it didnt matter and tied my sweater at my waist and joined them. i did get a few weird looks, but none of the wolf whistles that were promised. which is very good. and my family has an old stairstepper and treadmill that i ran on today because portuguese do not go out when it rains, and it was raining once again, today.

Weather- is supposed to be nice. However, since i have been here there have only been two sunny days. It is around 35 to 50º every day. and rainy! though most days are supposed to be very sunny. and the weather is only supposed to be getting warmer.

Food- is pretty good. Portuguese usually like to eat full meals with the whole family, but for me dinner is the only meal we all sit down. dinner consists of soup first, always, then pasta, or rice, with meat or an omelette or something. My family loves to lanchar, or snack, so that fits nicely with my habits. there is always plenty of bananas and apples around, and toast and yogurt.

Portuguese- Is difficult. It is getting easier and easier each day to understand what is going on around me, but i still cannot speak very well. my family speaks english very well, but they encourage me to speak portuguese whenever i can. the pronounciation of the words is often crazy, but the words are mostly very similar to spanish.

School- well, i am going tomorrow!! finally, i have been waiting for 3 days now. so you may wonder what i have been doing with my time all day when the family is at school and work. well... i wake up at 9:30, eat breakfast with cristina, my host mom, and then she leaves for work. at this point i either go to workout, or i sit down and try to learn portuguese from portuguese tv or subtitles, or maybe talking with Vita, the maid, who teaches me words in portuguese in turn for words in english. she is trying to learn without a book or anything, and just because she wants to. Maria or Ines come for lunch from school, they get an hour and a half, and then i am alone again. so i have been pretty bored and i am really looking forward to going to school.

My Neighborhood- Estoril is like the rich suburb of Lisboa. Everybody has money, and dresses really nicely. i feel slightly out of place because i dont have a wool coat and boots, but otherwise everybody is very nice. the streets are clean, but always under construction, and the cars here are all bmws or volvos or smart cars, the tiny half cars. that is mainly because it would be impossible to have a pickup truck around here, the streets are very narrow and the driving is crazy, but my host mom drives nearly 30min to work each day, so i dont think gas is big issue.

Beijinhos- this is the typical greeting, in estoril it is one kiss on the cheek, in other places it is two. beijinhos means little kisses.

Im very excited to go to school tomorrow, it should be an experience, and this weekend i will go to a party in a bar with maria, my host sister. we will be there until 4 in the morning, because that is first train back to estoril from lisboa, but that is typical.

i love and miss everybody, i hope to get some pictures soon of something interesting, because so far i have been pretty boring!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

my new family

ok. so a lot has happened since i last blogged. and just so everybody knows, those pictures were not of a convent, that is my new room here in portugal and my own connected bathroom as well. i will try to take more pictures soon, i am just slightly shy with a camera. So I left the orientation camp on Sunday along with the rest of the kids. Our families came to pick us up. I only live about 20 min. from the heart of Lisbon by car, or 15 by train. Cristina, my host mom, and Maria, my 17 yr. old host sister came to pick me up. They are both very kind and were very excited about having a exchange student. Maria would have actually gone somewhere herself, but she decided she needed to find out what she wants to study in College, which she will attend next year. Cristina owns a garden center and reminds me of a Venezuelan in many ways. When we arrived at the house I met the rest of the family along with a cousin and many friends. Jose is the father, he is a doctor and very formal, Tiago is also 17 and loves to surf and watch futbol, and Ines (pronounced Inesh) is 16 and a more typical teenager. It was all a little overwhelming to meet so many people at once, but Cristina suggested I just relax. Cristina, Maria, and Jose all speak English very well, but I try to speak Portuguese more. Maria, Ines, and Tiago attend a private Catholic high school, but I will attend the public high school. That will not be a problem, though, because the family has many good friends from the public high school and there are 4 other exchange students already there as well as Pedro, who is an exchange student from South America and a friend from the orientation camp. There is also a portuguese language class for foreigners that i hope to go to.
The house is very large and well decorated, and there is a maid, Vita, who cooks, cleans, and does the laundry.
The first day i emailed and blogged a little, then we went to mass. The family is fairly religious, but they are fine with having an agnostic exchange student. Mass was interesting. Its a good chance to practice picking out words of Portuguese that i understand. I can't speak back well at all, but i can mostly understand what is being said if i concentrate, which is very tiring.
After mass we came back to the house and had dinner. Portuguese eat with their fork in their left hand and their knife in their right at all times. and they even eat apples with a fork and knife... I have been trying to learn how to do this, and i think i made a fool of myself by eating very slowly. AFter dinner the whole family went to the "den" and watched tv or played on the computer. TV here is mainly in english with subtitles.
The next day Cristina took me to her work in the morning, and then we walked to my new school. The walk is fairly long, so Cristina will probably drive me in the morning, and then i will take a train or walk back to the house.
The temperature here in Portugal is about 10ºC, but it will only get warmer. The weather from AK seems to have followed me here. There has been rain since the day i arrived. Which is very unusual for Portugal. Usually there is sun and it is slightly warmer, though there was snow the other week.
I will try to get some pictures. I miss everybody, and i hope everything is going well.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Portugal at last!

I am laying on a tough mattress in an ex-convent just outside of Lisbon Portugal as I write this. So much has happened in the short time I left ak. i made it to the gateway orientation in NY at 2 in the morning after a long couple of flights with smelly old men and crying babies. the next day I sat through several hours of advice and simple games with my 2 fellow Portugal bound students, and 2 other girls headed for Ghana. Sam and Sophia were both going to more northern cities in Portugal. Sam is blonde with glasses and from Oregon. Sophia is large and dark skinned and talked with her many friends on her cellphone until it ceased to work in London. We boarded the plane at JFK at 10:45 and flew into London the next day. Six hours on the plane and I had become completely exhausted and felt horrible, due to the fact that I caught the cold Izzy had, and my head ached like mad, my nose would not stop running, and my sinuses popped as loudly as my ears on the descent. Nonetheless, the London airport was something to marvel at. It is huge, with hundreds of stores and 6 terminals.
Before departing for Lisbon, Annie from Boston joined us. She had been held back by her visa. She is very energetic and not afraid to pronounce Portuguese words with her terrible accent.
Lisbon reminds me of a latin city very much. It has the same feel, with small alleyways, crazy driving, huge billboards plastering every open space, and grafitti and small shops in every corner. It has clearly marked signs, however, and lots more trees. The language is very different from what I thought it might be. It is very difficult to pronounce words. All in all though, the poeple are very friendly and open. They greet each other with two kisses, or one kiss, and touch each other often in a friendly way. The food is incredible, or at least at the camp it was. Everything is organic and soup always comes before the main meal. My first dinner was soup, salad, butter soaked noodles, pork, and fruit for dessert. ~
Even though it was pretty difficult the first night with all the traveling, the sickness, and the head cold, Portugal is amazing. I cannot wait to meet my family.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009


My departure date from the US has now changed, just so everybody knows. I am leaving Seward on the 13th right after school and then will be spending the night in Anchorage with family. On the 14th I leave Anchorage at 8:00 am and I will be flying all around the country with numerous layovers until I finally arrive in New York City at 10:30 pm. I will spend the night in a hotel with the rest of the AFSers going to Ghana or Portugal, then in the morning I will go to the gateway orientation. Later in the evening the flight leaves for London, with a ten-hour layover, then we leave for Lisbon, Portugal (the capitol and largest city). In Lisbon we have a second orientation with all of arrivals from all over the world and after a couple days we get to go home with our new families!