If you’re interested in studying somewhere in Europe but don’t want the over-popularity of France, Spain, or Italy…if incredible beaches and dramatic cliffs sound exciting to you … then studying abroad in Portugal is the answer. While less-talked-about than some of its other European neighbors, this country has so much to offer. You won’t be the only traveler, either – the secret about studying in Portugal is out!
Food & Culture
Ancient peoples in present-day Portugal were hunters, gatherers, and traders. The Roman Empire began to expand into the area around 210, but by the fifth century had reached its decline. Alfonso Henriques declared himself the first king of the independent nation of Portugal in 1140, and in 1386 the country established an alliance with England. Throughout the 15th and 16th centuries, Portugal focused on exploration, trade and colonization. After some political unrest and revolutions against the monarchy in the 1800s, the 1900s began with military rule until the Carnation Revolution in 1974. Portugal today is a democracy.
Portugal has a rich and diverse culture that is an indication of its long history, and you will find many references to the sea (for obvious reasons). You’ll want to check out fado music, which means “fate” and is very popular. If you are a foodie, there are a few areas you’ll want to visit, especially Vila Nova de Gaia just south of the city of Porto — here is where port wine was first developed back in 1600. It is a pretty drive through the Douro Valley, and the center of the city itself is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Seafood is a staple in Portugal, especially cod and a delectable stew called caldeirada.
Portugal today retains so many of its traditions mixed in with its present-day society. Pousadas are state-operated and owned hotels, priced to fit any budget. Steeped in history, these buildings used to be old palaces, convents, or monasteries and are now a cool place for travelers to stay. (Their charm and character more than make up for the sometimes-basic amenities!) For other historical sites, visit Guimarães, where Afonso Henriques and others fought in the Battle of São Mamede. The town of Óbidos, was one of the places Henriques drove out the Moors in the 1140’s. If your fellow travelers aren’t history buffs, no worry — both locations are breathtaking in their own right.
Things to Do
glimpse at some medieval structures, ruins, churches and other buildings, plan a trip to Évora. There are a few festival celebrations in Portugal that are fun to attend, including Carnival, Saint Martin Day, and Santos Populares.
Portugal is known for its beaches, and they won’t disappoint. You may have to share the space with other travelers, but you can find amazing views and water in Algarve, Salema, Cascais, Estoril, and honestly most places along the coast.
If you’re looking for a unique activity that you’ll probably never see anywhere else, visit the Monte area of Fuchal, Madeira, where you can ride down steep hills in wicker toboggans. They have spots for two people, so you can ride with a friend, and the drivers stand behind you to make sure you don’t get off the track.
Studying in Portugal
Most study programs in Portugal are through universities and are led by faculty at that school. There are also a few courses led by independent organizations, such as CIEE’s Language and Culture program. Many options are in Lisbon, with others in Porto, Coimbra, or other smaller cities. One of the oldest universities in Europe is here — the University of Coimbra, which opened its doors in the year 1290.
You can find college study abroad programs in Portugal during the summer, semester, or even for the entire year. In general, the academic level of classes there will probably be easier than at your home university. Courses can be in English with other American or international students, unless you choose to directly enroll in a Portuguese university. In that case, the courses will be in Portuguese with other local students. When studying in Portugal, you’ll most likely be taking courses at the Universidade Nova de Lisboa or the Universidade Lusofona de Humanidades e Tecnologias.
You have a few options for housing – either a host family, a dorm with other international students, or an apartment. If you’re looking for cultural immersion and to practice your language skills, it’s best to live with a host family. Because you are constantly speaking and hearing Portuguese, you’re quickly pushed to the next level of language proficiency. Oftentimes, when rooming with other international students who speak English, you are not challenged to speak in Portuguese.
Portugal is an amazing country and a great place to study abroad. Get off the beaten path — go to what was once thought to be the end of the world, Cape Sagres, or be surrounded by the cosmopolitan action and stay in Lisbon. You’ll have an experience like none other when you study abroad in Portugal.