Sam Green ’15 spent the summer of 2012 in Coimbra, Portugal, studying Portuguese at the University of Coimbra. He is considering a major in Political Economy.
Why did you decide to go to Portugal?
I wanted to learn Portuguese, and programs in Portugal were a lot cheaper than Brazilian equivalents. But also, the rich history and proximity of many other European destinations drew me to Portugal over Brazil. I found out about the program at the University of Coimbra from another Williams student who attended it last summer. I’m glad I got the recommendation, because I knew next to nothing about Portugal. In fact, this was only my third time out of the U.S. and my second time to Europe.
How did you become interested in studying Portuguese? Will you continue it when you get back to Williams?
Portuguese is one of the most widely spoken languages in the world, but it is extremely undervalued in the U.S. education system. As I am interested in Latin America, Portuguese will be extremely helpful in my future studies. And, looking further ahead, it could be a valuable asset in the job market, with Brazil becoming increasingly important on the international scene.
I would love to continue studying Portuguese back at Williams. Unfortunately, there are no Portuguese classes, but I’ve thought about trying to start a Portuguese language table. I’ve also been looking for opportunities for volunteer work or internships that would involve speaking and hearing Portuguese.
What was your biggest “culture shock” as you got used to living in Portugal?
I was surprised at how laid-back the lifestyle is in Portugal. For example, it is generally expected for everyone (including, and especially, professors) to show up to class 15 minutes late. The relaxed pace of the Portuguese lifestyle means everything lasts longer, which means long days and late nights. It is common to see families with small children out past midnight, for example. And nightlife starts around 2 AM.
Do you think that you will incorporate your study abroad experience into your major, for example through a thesis or an independent study? Or even through the classes you plan on taking?
I would definitely like to study Brazil and other former Portuguese colonies. In the context of my prospective Political Economy major, it seems like there would be a lot of opportunities to incorporate a background in Portuguese into my studies.
Why do you think it’s important for Williams students to study in foreign countries? Do you plan to do more study abroad during your time at Williams?
There is no better way to learn a language or to learn about a culture than by immersing yourself in it. For example, after starting the summer with little knowledge of Portuguese, I am now at a level about equivalent to a fifth semester language class at Williams. I also feel a deep connection to and appreciation for Portuguese culture because I lived in it for six weeks.
I absolutely plan on studying abroad again during my time at Williams. The college offers so many study abroad opportunities—whether for a year, a semester, a winter study, or a summer—that I couldn’t imagine not taking advantage of them.
What was your favorite food that you ate while in Portugal?
Portuguese food is simple and hearty. A typical meal includes meat or fish, rice, French fries, a fried egg, and a basic salad. Ingredients were generally fresh and flavors were pure and simple. Of all the food in Portugal though, I think I most enjoyed having a strong coffee and a pastel de nata (a type of pastry) in the morning.
Do you think that Williams does a good job helping students incorporate their time abroad meaningfully into their college career? Or should there be more opportunities to share their experiences of foreign countries?
I think Williams Worldviews lunches are a great way to learn about other students’ study abroad experiences. I went to a bunch of them last year and learned a lot from others’ experiences. But it would be impossible for all students who have studied abroad to share their stories. I also don’t know how valuable it would be for other students to hear about my time in Portugal, though, so I think at least the most interesting stories should get shared. For example, I remember hearing about Cuba, South Africa, and Russia last year—all far more interesting than Portugal to most people.
And I don’t really know how I’m going to make my time abroad fit into my college career as a whole. It would be really nice if Williams had Portuguese classes, or included Brazil more into Latin American studies classes.