“When I graduated from the IB program, I had dreams of traveling and living abroad.”
It all started my first year at Wellesley College, when I decided to take a new language course. After studying Spanish for a total of seven years, and completing the HL Spanish exam, I graduated from high school with a bilingual diploma from the International Baccalaureate (IB). I was itching to try something new, and out of the blue an upper-class student recommended Portuguese. She said the Portuguese department was new, the professor was great and he often brought pastries to class! Needless to say, I enrolled immediately.
The intensive intermediate Portuguese class was rigorous, but my background in Spanish proved to be an asset in my language learning. Two months into my Portuguese class, as I struggled to speak more Portuguese than Spanish, Professor Michael Baum came to speak with our class. He presented us with the opportunity to study abroad and complete internships in Lisbon, Portugal through the Study in Portugal Network. As a first-year student, I was eager to apply.
After submitting an application, and receiving a scholarship to offset the costs, I found myself on a flight to Lisbon from Boston to complete an internship at the Portuguese Ministry of Foreign Affairs (a parallel to the United States’ State Department).
“I loved this constant process of being challenged and learning about the world around me through living and doing.”
There is nothing quite like living in a foreign country to make you realize what you take for granted. All of a sudden, you are surrounded by a new language, a new culture and on top of that, a new city, which is overwhelming in and of itself. In just two short months, my Portuguese improved drastically as I fumbled over the words to buy groceries, order a coffee and ask for directions.
Every day that summer, I learned something new. Sometimes I discovered a new museum, or a co-worker taught me a new catch phrase or colloquial word that I could use in casual conversations. These pointers helped me receive the compliment, “Oh, you speak Portuguese very well.” I loved this constant process of being challenged and learning about the world around me through living and doing.
It is no wonder that two years later, as I considered post-graduation plans, I thought about returning to a place that had pushed me to grow both professionally and personally. There was something I missed about the way that people took three-week vacations, or how taking a coffee break also included eating a pastel de nata (the egg tart pastries famous in Portugal).
“I knew that this was the opportunity to truly expand my perspective as a global citizen.”
During the fall of my senior year, I worked to compile the materials to apply for a Fulbright scholarship. After several letters of recommendation, institutional support and certification of language proficiency, I sent my application off in October and waited patiently for the next six months.
When I graduated from the IB program, I had dreams of traveling and living abroad. Last March, when I received the notification that I would be a Fulbright Scholar, I knew that this was the opportunity to truly expand my perspective as a global citizen.
In the past eight months, I have enjoyed asking questions and being asked questions by new friends and colleagues from all over the world. Just last week I arrived home, and I wonder if I will ever live abroad again. In Portugal they have a saying, “não há dois sem três,” or “there is no two without three,” so who knows what the future will tell. Até logo, or until next time, Portugal.
Leilani Stacy is a graduate of Wellesley College, with a B.A. degree in Economics and Political Science. She currently lives in Lisbon, Portugal as a Fulbright Scholar conducting research on women-owned businesses and female entrepreneurship in the country. When she’s not having conversations with people, you can find her cooking, going for a run, or reading a good book.
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