Four years in Portugal, what have I learned?
a bunch of stuff
life: examined is an invitation to get curious—a collection of ideas, and thoughts about living a creative, intentional life—written from my perch in Portugal.
* reader supported through buy me a coffee
Hello, beautiful! Yes, I'm talking to you.
Today is a special day. It's my four-year Portugal-versary so let's celebrate! First, grab a celebratory beverage—I have chai, which feels pretty festive for a cup of tea.
So get this: I moved to Portugal on October 6, 2018. Four years ago?! What the HECK?
You know what they say about time flying when you're having fun? Well, I'd like to update that old saw for the 21st Century. Here's my version:
Time flies when you're realizing a lifelong dream, trying to get your head around foreign bureaucracy, and looking at four years in a new country but feeling like it's only been two because COVID years don't count.
Is that too long to memorize? Okay, let's stick to the original maxim, but between us, we'll know that fun is a metaphor for all things good, complicated, challenging, and magical.
What have I learned during my four years in Portugal? Oh, so much.
The lessons come fast and furious, even after four years.
Yes, my life has a flow to it now that it didn't in year one, but there are always new things to learn, cultural, linguistic, or political things to remind you that YOU KNOW NOTHING.
That's my motto: I Know Nothing.
It's a valuable phrase for many situations, but especially relevant to this foreigner in the land of bacalhau and beijinhos. For the record, I prefer the latter of those two.
Reflecting on how my life has changed during the past four years, and how it hasn’t, led me to a few lessons learned that I’ll share with you. Maybe you'll find these useful if you're planning a big move—or even if you're not.
In no particular order, let's go!
I've been working on this for a while, even pre-Portugal. As a reminder to take things easy and measured, I recently got a tattoo of my spirit animal, a snail. She still needs a name. I'm taking suggestions :)
Much of life in Portugal will dictate your pace, and that pace is S L O W. I love it.
My head goes too fast most of the time with ideas, imagined conversations, and creative concepts that pour out more quickly than I can capture them. But as I age and my body resists keeping pace with my thoughts, this enforced downshift is welcome.
You'll suffer if you push against the system and the way things happen here. So accept it and enjoy the long coffee breaks. Coffee with friends is much better than stressing alone—and besides, what's the rush?
It's okay to freak out:
Trying to contain all my feelings under the guise that I'm handling it, whatever that "it" happens to be at the time, is just silly.
Moving abroad, especially alone without a friend waiting to greet you in your new home, is intense! It can be anxiety-inducing, confusing, and challenging. Oh, and fun, too!
Most of us are competent with daily tasks in the country where we grew. So a trip to the post office should not be a big deal! Maybe it’s not fun, either, but why is it so hard (at first) here?!
In the beginning, I tried to keep it all together to present a secure and capable front—as much for myself as others. But when I allowed myself to feel awful, confused, and let the tears out, I'd recover in less time than I would after a long week of eating my emotions.
Know there will be a stew of feelings to deal with—intense emotions will arise, and patterns you thought you'd released long ago will surface.
When you're way out of your comfort zone, the lizard brain takes over, and it's tough to resist our reptilian reflexes. We're human; be kind to yourself and others during this transition.
Living far from the things I grew up with and the people I love can leave me feeling adrift.
Most of the time, that untethered feeling is something I cultivate (can't tie me down—nope!), but when the reality of being far from family and old friends sneaks up on me, it's a sucker punch of lonely. It hurts, and it's beautiful, too.
I can love those people just as deeply from a distance—and perhaps with more grace and perspective.
When I was young, I'd subvert the beginning of the well-known John Donne quote like this: I'm the island no man is…."
I was arrogant in my declaration; I didn't want to "need" anyone or anything.
Relationships can hurt in their absence and presence, but they are essential for our growth and well-being. We need one another. Our lives are better with good people in them—loneliness reminds us of this, and I'm here for all of it.
Allow people to help (love?) you:
Sharing our vulnerabilities with others is scary! I learn and re-learn this over and over as a solo human abroad.
I resist help. I want help—okay, I need help! I can't do everything alone, and I don't want to. Living in a foreign country, regardless of how familiar it seems after four years, is an expedition in trust and vulnerability.
I'm grateful to those who offer help and those who know to insist when I'm stubborn and stoic. I recognize love in these acts, and I'm humbled by their expression.
Accept help. Ward off the inevitable loneliness of being a foreigner by supporting and being supported by others.
In general, the immigrant community is welcoming, eager, and kind. By allowing people to share their time and talents with you (and you with them), your life abroad will be fuller and more gratifying.
Thank you Peter, Val-Michael, Sande, JT, Janet, Jorge, Don, and Alex for supporting life: examined through Buy Me a Coffee. Your generosity, in part, affords me time to write this letter to you each week(ish).
Whether a coffee, a comment, a like, or a share—I’m grateful to have you along for the ride.
Until next time —> be kind, rest, and thank you for reading life: examined!
Love this Twin! I like the name Brian for the snail ;) I need a snail in my life too. This piece really resonates with me on all the Internal Weather reasons.
Congrats! Four years is the time spent in high school and college. The transformation from freshman to senior years is remarkable.
Loneliness is kind of like grief and money - universal concerns that are rarely discussed. None of us is escapes loneliness- whether we live alone or with others (my loneliest days were while living with another). It’s interesting that you have made countless immigrants feel less lonely by helping with their transitions. A reflection of your empathic nature.