Port wine, pastel de nata and surfing. These are three things that are commonly associated with Portugal. And it is true. Portugal has breathtaking wine yards with the most tasteful port wines, on every corner of the street sweet pastries can be bought among which the famous custard ‘pastel de nata’ pastries and along the wide coast line the best surf sport can be found on the most beautiful beaches. But, Portugal has way more to offer. During my Erasmus exchange in Lisbon I had the chance to experience the Portuguese lifestyle for 5 months.
During these 5 months I studied at Instituto Superior Técnico in Lisbon. Originally, I chose to go to Taiwan, but due to Covid-19 this was cancelled. Luckily, we anticipated on this and had Lisbon as a very good alternative. I chose to do an exchange with extracurricular courses only in order to broaden my knowledge. I followed courses on, among others, economics and production & operation management. Besides offering interesting courses, Técnico also puts effort in organizing extra scholar activities. An introduction weekend was organized for the Erasmus students, during which you were able to meet the other exchange students and got familiar with the city. Moreover, the student associations of Técnico regularly organize Churrasco’s and festivities on the campus.
Besides the university life, there is much more to experience during the Erasmus exchange and no need to get bored. Lisbon is a big and vibrant city and there is always something happening. Lisbon hosts a lot of international students, making it easy to meet new people and make friends. There is even a bar especially for Erasmus students. Each evening the city is lively and you can go out for a drink with your friends. Also during day time there is enough to do. Lisbon is a beautiful city and every time I wandered around I found new spots and saw things I didn’t see before.
Next to the city, I also got familiar with the Portuguese people and their lifestyle. Inhabitants of Lisbon are generally really open and easy-going people. Most people have a good level English and are open to have an interesting conversation. One thing I really liked about the Portuguese lifestyle is their way of having lunch. In Portugal, lunch is an important meal of the day and people take their time for this. Together with colleagues or fellow students they go to a nearby café, sit down at the terrace, order the local specialty and even drink a beer or a glass of wine with it. This was an interesting contrast with the Netherlands, as we often lunch as quick as possible in order to continue working and go home earlier.
During weekends, me and my friends grabbed the opportunity to travel around, visiting places around Lisbon. The public transport is good and allows you explore the country. When the sun is shining (and it does a lot in Lisbon), you can easily grab a bus or train to go to a nearby beach. Also, from Lisbon, you can cheaply fly to the beautiful Portuguese islands Madeira and the Azores or even to Morocco. During my stay, me and my friends made a trip to the biggest island of the Azores: São Miguel. We explored the entire island, visited breathtaking viewing points and faced some challenging hikes. At the end of my Erasmus exchange, my girlfriend came over and together we explored the rest of Portugal. We travelled to the Algarve, Coimbra, Porto and the Douros valley. Each region of Portugal has different things to offer and is beautiful on its own.
Overall, I really recommend going abroad for an Erasmus exchange semester and especially in Lisbon. It challenges you to get out of your comfort zone and build up a life in a totally new environment. I met a lot of new people and learned about different cultures. Next to that, I got to spend a full semester in an existing city of a beautiful country and had the freedom to travel around and go to the beach whenever there was a free spot in my schedule. So, if possible, try to squeeze in an Erasmus exchange semester somewhere in your curriculum. It is not only about developing yourself on a professional level, but also on a personal level you will learn a lot about yourself. And, most importantly, it is an amazing experience that you will never forget!