Thursday, January 14, 2010

New Year, New Decade and Still Loving Lisbon! A Look Back On How My Life Changed Here in the Last 2 Years

So didn't manage to get any new posts in before the end of 2009 as I had hoped to.... but now I am entering 2010 feeling very refreshed and energized after my first visit back home to the US after 2 years of not leaving Portugal!

Now I exaggerate a bit when I have told people I have compared myself to Tom Hanks in Castaway after being stuck in a foreign country for 2 years was like being on a desert island but there is a bit of truth in it in the process of how you feel about a place as time passes by. Originally very excited to move to Portugal when I first came in Feb. 2008, that almost immediately started to vanish when I had immense difficulty getting a job, an apt, electricity and hot water for my apt, and getting around Lisbon without ending up lost in the ghetto. Then as things started to smooth out and I was settling in, the whole issue about legality reared its ugly head and I was in fear of getting kicked out of the country! All of a sudden I wasn't as unhappy about the difficulties of settling here and after all the work I did to get where I was, I was desperate not to have that all taken away. So I lived in fear and almost in "hiding" while searching for the right information to fix my situation. This lasted until the end of 2008 when I found out how to fix it and got started with the process in early 2009.

But my new-found relief and happiness was short-lived when the economic crisis started to really sink in here and I had very little to no work for the first 4 months of the year........I was again living in fear, but the fear of not having enough money to survive now that I could stay here! Every time I got down, I kept asking myself, what the heck are you still doing here?? Is this really worth it? Am I just doing this now because I don't want to admit defeat? Maybe at that time, that was the only reason....but then work started picking up by mid-April and by May and throughout the summer, both my work and my residency process were moving along quite well. I think this was the first time I was starting to really feel that I was finally fitting in here, especially since by then my understanding of Portuguese had gradually developed over time from a thick fog of bewilderment to seeing it starting to clear and being aware and comfortable about what was going on and being said around me. I didn't feel lost anymore, both in speech and finding my way around Lisbon, in fact I know the city better now than many natives!

Towards the end of 2009, it looked as though yet again, I would not be able to leave the country to finally go home and visit my family and friends. This was the hardest for me the year before, as I still felt like a complete foreigner, an outsider who had no business being there and didn't have the support of her own people to get her through the lonely days. This past year I thought it would be just as hard on me but it was actually quite different.....I now felt like I was a part of the Portuguese community, I worked, I had my own friends (not just my boyfriend's friends) I could carry on a conversation in Portuguese and my neighbors actually knew me and knew I was American, not the Ukranian (hooker) they may have once before regarded me as :p I felt that, despite not being able to come home for the holidays, this time I felt comfortable, content and in the end I was so used to living here this long that it was enough for me to enjoy the holidays still.

But then 2 weeks before Christmas I went on a whim to SEF (immigration) to check on my status and found out that I actually could leave the country! Of course I didn't believe it at first because they had been telling me the exact opposite the whole time but after confirming it with 2 other sources, I quickly got online and bought my plane ticket back to the US for a two week trip! In a way now, I was glad I found out at the last minute because I ended up spending Christmas both with my "family" in Portugal and left the day after to go spend it with my real family in the US, so I got the best of both my worlds actually :) It was still scary though to fly on a plane for the first time in 2 years (and the day after the attempted terrorist attack along with my 8hr flight being quite turbulent!) and when I got into Newark, my first stop before another short flight to Washington DC, I came to realize just how long I had been away! I almost felt like a foreigner in my own country; my clothing style had become distinctly Euro when I saw how differently I was dressed to Americans and I was also turning my nose up at some of the ways Americans were behaving that I used to do before! But I think my biggest change was having to stop myself from saying "excuse me" in Portuguese if I bumped into someone going into the restroom :p

Though I liked the way I had developed "culturally" in my time away, I still loved being back at home, enjoying my mom's cooking and lots of fresh-baked Christmas cookies :) But there were other outside American things which I used to love that ended up not being so exciting, especially when I knew I could get almost the same thing in Portugal at an even better and at a cheaper price(even with the exchange rate!). Don't get me wrong, there are many things I love about America, but when it comes down to certain things that are very important to me, Portugal has it better in my opinion. For example, it is so much safer here than in most of the US, with TV news shows actually reporting about things other then murders, suicides, accidents and everything else horrible that American news shows report in gruesome detail non-stop. And Portugal may not have perfect health care but it has certainly been better to me financially than in the US!

Overall it was still a much needed vacation home but by the end of my two weeks there, I was already ready to come back to Portugal. And when I got off the plane here in Lisbon, even in the pouring rain, wind and fog, everything seemed sunny to me and I felt like I truly belonged here. All the little things that I loved about this place which got overshadowed by stress and hardship, came shining through and I I appreciated them once again and much more. I was so happy to be back at my home away from home. Yes home will always be where my family is but now I can finally say that when I come back to my apt everyday after work here, I am coming home as well :) I know now that I made the right decision in coming here 2 years ago, and I am looking forward to things getting even better this new year and on :)


  1. Lovely post, especially to see you at-peace in your new "home"! :)

  2. Great blog, Andrea! I'm glad to hear you are doing well, and your story is encouraging. I sometimes think of leaving DC, but I can't decide where. And vacations are an expensive way of doing reasearch, haha.

  3. Gosh, when I grow up someday, i'll be like you ! :)
    If you need help with anything about Portugal (places, languages, names, etc), just ask me.

    Greets from Oeiras, Lisboa.