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4 posts from October 2013


The spirit of the game

This post is by Shamira (Amherst)

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Ultimate frisbee may not be the most popular sport in the world, but its players are certainly some of the most passionate about what they do. I have been playing (and loving) ultimate frisbee for about two and a half years now, so the opportunity to play was, without a doubt, one of my main considerations in deciding where to study abroad. Ultimate remains a young sport in most of Europe and especially in Portugal - I've been told only about a hundred people play it in the entire country. I have to admit I was initially pretty discouraged by this statistic, but as my years of ultimate had been confined to natural grass, with the occasional turf field or indoor court, the lure of playing on the beach (as everyone does in Portugal) was just too enticing to turn down.

I emailed a team in Lisbon before I even flew in and went to my first practice here the very night that my plane touched down - it felt absolutely surreal to be playing ultimate on the beach before I could speak any Portuguese or even figure out my way back home. I definitely did not know what to expect, but I was welcomed with open arms (and not to mention, several kisses on the cheeks). They surprised me with their stellar English and taught me 'the most important phrase I had to know in Portuguese' - "quero uma cerveja", which means "I want a beer". By the end of the night, I was part of not just a team, but an entire family.

Less than two weeks after this first encounter, I found myself going to a tournament with this funky bunch in the middle-of-nowhere town of Juzbado, Salamanca. The idea of enduring an 8 hour drive, crossing a national border into a country I had never been in, and spending an entire weekend with people I had not met more than twice before was entirely unnerving. Needless to say, I kept worrying about how miserable the weekend could turn out to be, and it certainly did not help that the weather forecast was rain, rain and more rain. But I’ve learned that you never go wrong with ultimate – I dare say that I had one of the best weekends on my life, complete with a Spanish fiesta of live performances and conga lines. And the whole time I didn’t understand a word of Spanish.

Sometimes, a common love is all you need. While a college ultimate team is a collection of more or less similar individuals - all trying to balance a plethora of classes and commitments without skipping out on the fun of being young - the ultimate scene in Portugal is truly one that transcends all differences – age, physique, distance and social circles. Everyone shows up at the beach, week after week, some driving a whole hour to get there, simply for the love of the game. Lisbon may have lured me in with its spectacular scenery, but it is nothing without the spirit of its people.

Last week, I had my second tournament in Guimarães, a beautifully historical town in the North of Portugal, and in two weeks, I will be off to Lanzarote, in the Canary Islands, for yet another. Before coming here, I was honestly expecting to find nothing more than a group of acquaintances that I could casually play a game or two of ultimate with, but I found so much more, and I’m very thankful that I did.

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Running the marathon

This post is by Paula (UPenn)

 Exactly a hundred and five days ago, I made a decision that would shape the rest of my summer and my study abroad so far. That day, I thought to myself, “Today, I’ll start training for a marathon.” I started running about a year and a half ago as a substitution for yoga because classes at my college always seemed to be scheduled for times I wanted to sleep or eat instead (which to be fair, is a lot of my day). I love it not as an exercise, but instead as a time to be completely with my own thoughts and meditate. In a world full of smartphones, Facebook, full Google calendar days, and constant texting, I felt like I had no time to carve out as my own. So I took off on foot, no phone or music player in hand, and took in as much as I could from my surroundings. Anyways, call it crazy or stupid or tiring (definitely feeling the latter two days later), training for the marathon has given me one of the most special experiences of my life.

 I looked up marathons in Europe that afternoon and decided half-way through study abroad was probably the best time so I could still spend November and December fully and calmly enjoying Lisbon afternoon coffees. Porto’s marathon, which is next weekend, scared me off with pictures of the city’s rolling hills and I was lucky enough to see it either way because CIEE took us there. I considered Berlin because I had lived there for five years, but I had an Oktoberfest trip planned for that weekend - a girl has to have her priorities, after all. So, Frankfurt it was. I had lived there from 0-2 years old but had no recollection of it and it would also allow my parents, cousins, and family friends to come cheer me on. I can’t fully express in words how much their being there helped me, so I’ll show a picture instead.

2013-10-27_15-14-47_472Me, my cousins, and my uncle with the signs they surprised me with

I took a plane over Friday morning and spent two days with my family and family friends meandering about the city and eating (a lot… best part about running a marathon may be the guilt-free eating). I had always judged Frankfurt to just be the bank capital of Germany and therefore dreary, but it's actually pretty beautiful! It has nothing on Lisboa though, of course.

Photo-12 2Picture of Frankfurt's Main River

Sunday morning, we arrived to a swarm of people clad in nylon breathable sportswear. This is when the full stupidity of my decision hit me - these people seemed so much more prepared! Stretching, drinking packs of energy gels, or worse... seeming calm. Inside, my heartbeat raced at 100,000 beats per minute (don't question the scientific likelihood) as I said good-bye to my parents and headed to my starting block. 10 minutes later, I started running and, weirdly enough, it felt great. I started talking to people- one was a 77 year old man who was running his 50th marathon! - and felt fully enveloped by the camaraderie. I smiled through the next 13 miles as I found more people with cool stories and, when I was alone, had the full capability to just think freely about all the random ideas that came to my head.

 It was here at the halfway point that I realized how long this race really was. With a little less than 2 hours on the clock, I realized I was going to be repeating that entire run. But, I luckily had an amazing family there to support me who, every couple miles, were there with big smiles (and big signs) cheering me on. I continued the race and, although struggling through miles 23-25 with what people call the "wall", I managed to finish without ever walking once!

DSC_7964Me (in purple) running amongst the crowd

Photo-13 copyThe finisher’s medal!

My time was 4:07 and although I have no idea if that's good or bad, I smile when thinking about the 100+ days of training I had. I was really, really lucky to have most of those days in Lisbon. The city, the waterfront, the buildings, the smells, and the colors (the hills not so much) make for an incredibly beautiful atmosphere. I was given 20-30 miles a week to explore however I wanted, and always stumbled on parts of the city that made me fall more in love with it. My favorite discovery in my first week here was that the running paths actually have Pac-Man and the game’s ghosts drawn on them! It was in that early moment when I knew Lisbon and I would get along. Getting lost in this city and its parks and paths has been extremely special. So whether it’s by foot or (if you’re brave enough to face these hills on wheels) by bike, get lost in all the streets this Portuguese capital has to offer. And when you’re done, feel completely justified in treating yourself to all the delicious pastries your heart could ever desire.

Sights I ran past when I did bring my phone with me:





Chiado and Lisbon's downtown

All the English-taught courses that CIEE organizes here in Lisbon are open to all students at our host university, Universidade Nova. Several foreign students take them, especially those coming to Lisbon throught the Erasmus program, which is a EU-organized exchange program.

The following post was writen by Paige, an Erasmus students from the UK  taking our course on the History of Lisbon.

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What tells you more about a geographical location –historical documents or the architecture? Even as a historian, I tend to agree with the latter, and the recent trip to Chiado and Lisbon’s downtown seemingly reinforced this.

Having assembled at the coffee shop A Brasiliera, we were immediately exposed to the statue of Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa, known primarily for his collection of poems entitled Mensagem. Known for its bohemian environment, Chiado was a popular meeting point for poets, with statues of authors such as Eça de Queiroz and Luís de Camões. What’s perhaps most interesting about the Eça de Queiroz statue is the depiction of a naked woman to illustrate ‘truth’, a prevalent theme within art culture.


Next on the agenda were the three churches in Chiado: Nossa Senhora da Encarnação, Loreto and the Mártires. All three churches model the same Late Baroque style architecture, known for its explorations of light and shadow, and a return to classical architecture from the mid-Baroque style dramatic intensity. Additionally, each church illuminates traits of a ‘Hall Church’ and uses trompe l‘oeil to depict statues of Saints through paintings.


Although the weather was uncharacteristically warm for October, we battled through the heat and proceeded to walk to Praça do Comércio, formally known as Terreiro do Paço. Located near the Tagus River, it used to house the Palace of the King before the 1755 Earthquake. However, after the earthquake Terreiro do Paço was renamed Praça do Comércio, indicating its new commercial function in the Lisboan economy. As a result of the earthquake, King D. José I relocated, and therefore a statue was commissioned to Machado de Castro to elucidate the King’s power. Presented alongside the Arco da Rua Augusta, Praça do Comércio showed itself to be a grand place for visitors arriving via Cais das Colunas (the harbour).


The final location was the other traditional square of Lisbon, Rossio. Similar to Praça do Comércio, Rossio houses a statue of a past Portuguese King, here being King D. Pedro IV. This neoclassic monument pays homage to the past Portuguese King, who later became Emperor of Brazil. Additionally, most buildings in Rossio were destroyed by the 1755 Earthquake, including the great All Saints Royal Hospital, and therefore most buildings in Rossio date from the 1755 Pombaline reconstruction.

Visiting places in real time certainly adds another dimension to the study of Art History. It allowed us to place meaning and realism to the structures, and therefore as an introduction tour, Lisbon’s downtown provided an abundance of information to complement literary works already obtained.






Dinner and a Movie with a Portuguese Twist


"A gaiola dourada" (“The Golden Cage”)( is the Portuguese movie-sensation of the moment, having been seen, in it’s first month of screening, b almost one million viewers – a number that is really big for Portugal. It deals with the life of (and the attending stereotypes about) the Portuguese community living in Paris.

In the 50s and 60s, millions (literally) of Portuguese were led to immigrate to destinations such as the US, Germany, Luxemburg, Venezuela and, the biggest destination, France. Just to put a number to it, there are about 1 million Portuguese living in Paris. At a time when the economic crisis is creating a new Portuguese migration wave, this film looks at the stereotypes that have been formed in the past half-a-century as well as some of the problems this community now faces, and does so with great sense of humor. Yes, it deals with a very serious issue but it's a comedy!

Afonso, who’s in charge of our “conversation group” (designed to help students work on their Portuguese conversational skills) took the students to see it and I was happy to see almost all our students adhere to it, including those who have just started learning Portuguese.

Here’s the testimony of one of our students, Quincy, from Bates.


We had our first conversation group on Thursday night and it was a blast! We met at the Sporting stadium to watch a movie and chat over dinner. Most of our group came, and although some of us are still just Portuguese beginners, we managed to make it through the whole dinner and movie just conversing in Portuguese. The members of our party with a more advanced grasp of the language were very helpful about correcting the new speakers’ grammar and vocabulary.

We ate in the food court at a delicious shawarma restaurant, that also had amazing fries and sauce (a yogurt based ranch!). On a side note, shawarma seems to be a fairly prominent food in Portugal – there is also a popular spot right next to the entrance to Bairro Alto. We spent the meal recapping our days (lots of napping, exploring and walking) and deciding what we would do for the weekend (Bélem, Beach and Bairroing). Afonso was sitting at the far side of the table so I didn’t get to hear what our Portuguese friend had been up to, but I hope to get a chance to next week.

The movie started at 9:30 so we headed upstairs to get our tickets. It was called “A Gaiola Dourada”, which means “The Golden Cage” in English. The movie follows a Portuguese family living in France who inherits the family winery and must decide if they want to return to Portugal after having lived in France for 30 years and raised both their children there. In an interesting twist, the daughter is secretly engaged to her father’s boss’s son, which adds more tension to the plot. Ultimately the family decides to return to Portugal, where the viewer is treated to sweeping shots of Portugal’s beautiful countryside and a guest appearance by a Portuguese soccer player (we were not sure who). Although the film is about a Portuguese family, because it is set in France a lot of it is spoken in French. As viewers, we were grateful for the Portuguese subtitles because we didn’t think we would have been able to understand much if it had just been in Portuguese – maybe in December.

The group thoroughly enjoyed the movie and decided that we should try to find more Portuguese films to see in the future. When I got home my host mom was very curious about the movie and said that she couldn’t wait to see it as well. Overall the conversation group was a success and we are all looking forward to practicing our Portuguese and making new friends again next week. Thank you Nuno and Luísa!