(Not) Lost in Translation in Lisbon – API Blog

March 7, 2019
Olivia Waters

Today’s blog post comes to us from UNC Chapel Hill student & API blogger Olivia Waters. She’s studying abroad with us in Lisbon, Portugal.

Olivia WatersThree weeks ago, I took a leap of faith.

I hopped on a plane flying across the Atlantic Ocean by myself. I didn’t know where I was living, who I was living with, what my classes would be like, and I had very little knowledge about Lisbon in general.

Over the past three weeks I have fallen completely in love with the vibrant culture, energetic atmosphere, and dynamic geography Lisbon has to offer. I have eaten delicious food, I have seen incredible historical castles and monuments, and I have begun to make fantastic friends. However, there is a real level of discomfort that comes with living in a non-English speaking country that I previously underestimated.

Before arriving in Portugal I only had one semester of Portuguese under my belt and I didn’t realize how much a significant language barrier would initially affect my experience.

All of a sudden simple tasks like going to the grocery store, buying school supplies, and eating out at authentic restaurants were extremely stressful. Af first, that discomfort served as a deterrent for exploring and immersing myself in the city. However, over the past few weeks, I’ve reached a point where I feel more comfortable navigating the grocery store, ordering food, and shopping in small boutiques.

Lisbon Portugal

Last weekend, after a fun night of dancing in a hip district near the water with my friends, my tired self decided to Uber home.

I got in the car and when my driver began speaking quite quickly to me in Portuguese I didn’t hesitate to interject with “Você fala Inglês?” a question translating to “Do you speak English?”

Não,” he responded. In this moment I could have made the decision to spend the next 10 minutes in complete silence as we drove back to my apartment. Instead, I got the confidence to ask “Como você está?” meaning “How are you?” For the rest of the car ride we talked about his day, my school, my experience in Lisbon so far, and his lifelong experience in Portugal.

While it was slow, limited, and far from grammatically correct, we were communicating. I was proud.

I have to say, as beautiful as every sunset I’ve seen and landmark I’ve visited has been, I haven’t felt as connected to this wonderful city that I’m calling home for the next four months as I was in that moment. That conversation, as imperfect as it was, was the motivation I needed to continue pushing myself to take risks, learn, and grow in ways that I wouldn’t back in the United States.


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