Two Years in Portugal: A Reflection

here's to many more!

Well, it’s happened. As of yesterday, October 7, 2020, I’ve been living in Portugal for two years. 

Two years! I can’t believe it. Some days it feels like I’ve been here forever, and other days it seems like I just arrived. I know that’s cliché, but it’s true. And weird. Time is such a bizarre construct that we all agree to maintain, but that’s a topic for another newsletter.

As I gather my thoughts about the ups and downs and all arounds of the past two years, I want to share what I’ve learned during my time abroad. I’m not sure of the best way to do this, without making it an actual book (hmm, maybe…), so perhaps I’ll start with a numbered list and see where it goes. 

1. Moving abroad is hard. It’s hard, and some days are extra-special difficult, but not more than I anticipated. That’s likely because I practice a Stoic thought exercise called negative visualization (helps to build resilience and mental fortitude and deepen gratitude for life as it is). I expect things to be tough and to fall apart, so when things go somewhat to plan or at least not as bad as I thought they might, then I walk away a winner, feeling like things aren’t so dire after all. Don’t mistake this practice for having a negative attitude, in general (I don’t).

Do not indulge in dreams of having what you have not, but reckon up the chief of the blessings you do possess, and then thankfully remember how you would crave for them if they were not yours. From Meditations by Marcus Aurelius

2. Moving to Portugal may have been hard but living here is not. Mostly. Not hard, that is. Yes, there are challenges, sometimes even daily, but in the two years I’ve lived here, my approach to perceived annoyances has continued to evolve. Take the famed Portuguese bureaucracy. Yep, it’s legendary for a reason, so knowing that, if I have to go to a government office to get something stamped or blessed or whatever, I don’t plan to have much of the day left to do anything of significance. If it takes eight hours, it takes eight hours. What else am I going to do with my time and life? I’m here to participate in all the things that make living in Portugal uniquely Portuguese.

3. Language. After two years, I thought I’d be much further along in my Portuguese language learning/acquisition. So much for unrealistic expectations. It’s only been three weeks, in fact, that I’ve started learning Portuguese in earnest and systematically (12-week online and self-study class). I don’t know why it’s taken me so long to get started, but this is my greatest regret—not being further along in the process. And it’s not an excuse, but COVID-19 has not helped in this area. I was making more progress when I was getting out and around people. Fortunately, I have lovely Portuguese neighbors and friends who help me with the língua.

4. I don’t miss the United States. At all. I miss family and friends, but not the country. 

5. Portugal feels like home. The culture is a fit for me. There’s an ease here, a way of going about life that puts relationships and time away from work above money-making and possession-acquiring. I have coffee with friends, and we sit and chat for hours. My friends never ask what I do for work. I’m not sized up for my clothing or belongings (although possibly for my cropped hair). Europeans take their time off, holidays, and vacations seriously. One study finds that 55% of Americans did not use all their paid vacation time, and 54% feel guilty when they do! 

6. Gratitude. I’m grateful to the kind and helpful people I’ve met here, and to my friends worldwide who have supported me throughout this process. I have fantastic friends—new and old—and I am aware of how much their support has made my transition as an American abroad a smooth(er) one. Without the neighbors and new friends here, and the good friends I speak to each week, I would be adrift. Thank you.

7. Time is different here. Time, going back to my opening thought, is a construct, and in Portugal, it is observed with more fluid attunement and attention. Here, time doesn’t insist on playing the leading role in my life—not like it did in the States. The Portuguese seem to have a less rigid relationship with the clock, and this is perfect for someone like me who is terminally five minutes late for everything. 

In Conclusion

These reflections are not the only ones that have come up and they are not in order of importance. And although I could write lots more about all the thoughts and experiences I’ve had as an American abroad, for now, this will have to suffice. Today, I toast to these two years of my new life in Portugal. May there be many more.

Your Turn

Now it’s your turn. In honor of my 2-year anniversary, you can AMA (ask me anything, but be nice). I will share your relevant questions in a future newsletter. Just hit reply and AMA.


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See you next week!