Global Education

Senior discovers second family

By Annie Orenstein
Published: September 2009

Entering the doors of Newton South two weeks ago was more difficult than I expected. Not only because I, like most other students, thought the summer had gone by way too fast, but also because it was my first time returning to South in nearly nine months.

I spent last year’s second semester on a study abroad program in Portugal. Now, 10 months, a new appreciation for fashion, and countless new friendships later, I am back in the United States, in the midst of my senior year at Newton South.

People still come up and ask, “Annie, how was Portugal? and my only response has been: amazing. Even from the beginning, at the orientation camp in Lisbon, Portugal’s capital, I knew that this was going to be hard, just because it was the true definition of the unknown.

I lived in Viseu, Portugal, which is located about four hours north of the capital of Lisbon. I lived with the Rodrigues family: my father Antonio, my mother Paula, and my two 16 and 14-year-old sisters, Patricia and Joana respectively. I had my own room, complete with a full bathroom and, get this, a personal balcony. Better than my house in Newton? I think so.

I experienced minimal culture shock, however, until I began school. Everything was different at Escola Secundária Alves Martins de Viseu, especially compared to Newton South. 

Number one, there were no sports team and no after school clubs. If you went somewhere after school, it was to a tutoring session. 

“My host family became my family, my Portuguese friends remain my best friends, and the Portuguese culture within me will never be forgotten.

Number two, there are no “honors. You are put into a class not based on your level, but based on your age and grade. 

Number three, the grading system. Teachers grade everything out of 20, a.k.a. 20 = 100, 18 = 90, etc. Achieving a 20, however, was near impossible, and the average grade per class varied. For my class, the average grade was about 13. 

Number four, the schedules were amazing. School would either be from 8:30 until 1:30 (Mondays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays) or 1:30 until 6:30 (Tuesdays and Fridays). This either meant we could wake up early and come home and sleep, or just sleep until the afternoon.

Don’t get me wrong though, the classes were difficult, mostly because everything, and I mean everything, was in Portuguese. From economics class, to the lunch ladies asking you, “Do you want fries with that? (Queres mais batatas fritas com a vossa almoço? just in case you were wondering.)
And now to the most popular question people have asked me since I returned is whether or not I am fluent. The simple answer is, no. If you give a person six months in a foreign country with a language that they have never heard before, chances are they won’t come back completely fluent.

I consider my Portuguese to be pretty much the best I could ask for, however, given the time period I had to learn it. After about one month, my family would only talk to me in Portuguese. A lot of my friends did speak English, but also spoke to me in their native language once they realized I had really gotten the hang of it.

Re-entry into the United States was probably the hardest part of the entire experience. For the first couple of weeks, it was so strange to hear people on the street speaking English. My host family became my family, my Portuguese friends remain my best friends, and the Portuguese culture within me will never be forgotten.

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