volunteering

From Volunteer to Expat in a Year

Sometimes I forget about how big a step I did just a year ago. But now, as my voluntary service is ending and I will finally become a real expat, it definitely is on my mind.

While realising that I’ve never been that 100% happy in my home country, Germany, and after falling in love with Portugal head over heels in June, I took some really rapid decisions and started a voluntary service in November 2014 – already with the perspectives of maybe NOT coming back. So I gave up my flat, gave away 90% of my belongings, gave 5% to friends and family and took another 5% with me.

Back then this gave me the most delibering feeling I’ve ever had and I don’t look back on a single day I regretted it.

My life changed immensely with this. I discovered a new passion (caring for youngsters), I found love, I found some small jobs, and eventually I found an employment, starting directly after my volunteering ends, in less than 2 weeks. It will be my first real job, in an area I never worked in. And, above all, it means moving in with my boyfriend and also moving TO Lisbon and finally becoming the expat that I’ve been in my heart for months.

A year of mastering the language, adapting to the Portuguese culture (which is definitely quite different from the German one…), fitting in, trying to find a way, being happy.

I’m afraid of the future, I really really am. But I believe that I will make it as good as I want it to be. Although going tons of different pathways, right now it seems as if they all led to this, and now it’s the breaking point to see, if it was the right choice.

I’m excited to, in 10 days, officially register myself in Portugal and cut all (official) cords to Germany. While all those refugee try everything to set a foot into Germany (and above of all Berlin), I leave voluntarily. Do I look back sadly? No. After all, Germany is not that far away 🙂 And the parts of German culture I treasure, I will always carry in my heart.

 

*self-motivational speech out*

(see facebook link at about / life for more photos!)

14 (German) habits that changed when I moved to Portugal

Being both within Europe, I expected not THAT many cultural differences when I moved from Berlin, Germany, to Portugal end of last year. Except for some things that I already knew, but considered prejudices, I discovered, that there is way more. The following 14 things are just an excerpt of my experiences here …

All pictures (c) NSFoto (me)

1. Regard “5 minutes” as actual 5 minutes on the clock

Although the Latin countries being not on time is a cliché – it is just as true for 90% of the inhabitants. On the contrary, Germans are known for their punctuality, and although personally not being the best example for that, I still was surprised here. If someone tells me “just a minute”, I expect them to take 10, maybe 15min, and if it takes them even longer to ask them what happened. Portuguese just regard time as something way more flexible than Germans. This does not mean that doctor’s appointments or working hours are flexible (a big mistake I made in the beginning), but nobody expects their friends to be at a bar for a drink before an hour after the supposed meeting time.

2. Drinking (American) coffees during the day at work or at home for waking up

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The Portuguese espresso is undoubtedly one of the best in the world. Like Italian? Go to Portugal and you will be even more amazed. Moreover, drinking an espresso in a café, bar, or whatever is cheap. 60c is the basic price, and going for at least one espresso daily is a common social thing and nearly expected of you. Arriving at 11pm in a bar and ordering an espresso? Completely normal.

3. Bothering about my last name. Or, even my first name. Or, real names at all

And for a few reasons:
First, nobody cares much about last names, unless to identify a person (1000s of Joões and Anas, anyone?). Going there with unique looks and a unique first name, nobody cares about my last name. Unless they wanna try how to pronounce it to make fun of the German pronounciation.
Second, because of a way lower variety of both first and last names than in Germany, nicknames here are a given. Especially amongst men, I hardly know anyone usually called by his proper first name. Ranges go from last name, simple short versions, names considering appearances, to ridiculous names know one really remembers where they came from.
And third, as 99% are even pronouncing my (not even German) name wrong when they first try it, and some even keep failing after months, I got used to so many variations, that I basically listen to everything that KINDA sounds like my name. Not kidding. I turn my head thousands of times someone is shouting Gabi (short for Gabriel) instead of Nadin.

4. My view on meals

DSC_0009 (2)Back in Germany, I usually ate a big breakfast early in the morning (7am), a normal lunch, and an early light dinner at 6 or 7, maybe 7.30. The meals consisted of a lot of vegetables, a lot of spices, rarely meat, hardly ever fish, and the food was hardly ever typical German.

Portuguese love their whole culinary – they love their food, meals (at least lunch and especially dinner) are a social event. Their whole way of eating is very different: they don’t use many spices (and even those sparcely), they have this really strange habit of eating rice and fries together, cooked vegetables on the side is a special (although a salad with the meal is normal), and they eat their food cold a lot of times because they get caught up in conversations. Oh, and a meal without meat or fish is not a meal!

5. Being focused on one language

By now I can proudly say I am fluent on a “normal conversation” level in 3 languages, German, English and Portuguese. While in the beginning, I sometimes got confused with only 2 languages, now I can now switch between all 3 within seconds, and even understand a word of Turkish from my flatmate in between. This ability gets lost as soon as I get really tired, but gets doubled with a few drinks 😉

6. Cooking daily

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Eating out is really cheap, especially compared to Germany. And I’m not talking about Fast Food, but whole meals. Plus, drinks are ridiculously cheap from my POV, so why not be a bit more lazy and enjoy a dinner out instead of cooking every day?

7. Actually answering when someone asks how I am

While Germans expect an answer when asking you how you are, and look at you waiting for an answer, the Portuguese “tudo bem?” and its variations is part of the greeting and nobody expects you to give a long answer, or even to answer at all. Seeing someone walking by on the other side of the street? “Olá, tudo bem?” and keep on walking. In Germany, you probably don’t even notice each other because you’re not really looking at who walks by.

8. Seeing my (local) friends once a week max

DSC_0223If I haven’t seen my friends here for 3 days, I’m wondering where they are. People here are socialising a lot, and going for a café or a beer daily or at least every 2nd day is part of the routine. In Germany, even living 15 minutes from one of my best friends, I saw her once a week on the weekend, if even. Completely normal.


9. Being able to go unnoticed

Forget it. Just, forget it. Apart from Portuguese people usually being pretty curious, as a blond blue-eyed girl speaking with an accent, you have all eyes on you within seconds. Especially in Berlin, it’s nearly normal that half of your friends have an immigration background at the least, here people looking like me usually are tourists. Like, 97%. That means that whenever I’m on the streets, I have eyes on me, naturally. Germany is full of tourists and foreign looking people, so nobody cares much about other people on the streets.

10. Vorglühen at home, club later

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In Germany, you meet your friends for Vorglühen at home, a bunch of drinks before usually hitting a club later in the night. But in Portugal, a jantar (pt. for dinner) is the common thing to do here with friends, family, or, even more often, both. You invite them to dinner, have some beer and wine and go to a café / bar later. And if you happen to be really into it, you hit a club in the night. Getting drunk? Not something very usual to do here in general. This is for big celebrations only, not a weekend habit.

11. Thinking of people older than me as people with a lot of dignity and trying to uphold an image

A sorry here to all Germans, but it’s a fact: The major part of Germans is a pretty uptight bunch, at least from age 40 up. Having a woman (not talking about family) that could be your grandma making jokes with AND about you all day is not something I ever saw in Germany. Yes, you see them smile and everything, but gestulating a lot, telling funny stories, even making fun of you? A very rare image and no way anyone would even think of describing a German old lady. Germans seem to reach an age where they think they have to change and go through life with more dignity, they are “too old” for that “young stuff”. But does that really mean having fun in life?

12. Not traveling

DSC_0290 (2)Traveling here is cheap. And you can basically pick a random location on the map, and you’ll find something worth seeing. I hardly ever traveled in Germany – mostly because it was expensive and I thought most beautiful things are outside of the country. This view changed, and if one day I’ll have the time and money to travel around a bit, I certainly will.

13. Not knowing the real differences between German and other European cultures

It is interesting that you actually have to leave your own country to learn more about it, but it is true. Being confronted with a culture, that seems to be so similar on the surface, but is pretty different on the inside, every single day makes you aware of what being German actually means. You learn about prejudices, you understand the small quirks of your native language, the unique things of your culture, etc.

14. Sunny days are special days

DSC_0088 (2)When at the beginning of last December in Portugal there was a day without any clouds and a shining blue sky, I was baffled. In Germany, everyone would have left their house to basically “celebrate” that day. Here, hardly anyone noticed. And I soon saw why, it is just normal.
If the temperature in summer drops below 25, it’s frio. Having clouds on the sky? A bad day.

If I Lose Myself*

… I’ll use facebook like some of the kids from my project do.

When I started using facebook, I was 17 years old, in 2008. It was the time facebook started becoming popular in Germany, and I started using it pretty early. The main reason back then was to stay in touch with a friend of mine, who went back to Egypt. It was already very popular there, so I started communicating with her over this. By the time I started going to university (end of 2009), it had become common and I used it with my study colleagues, and have never left since. Anyway, you don’t need to know facebook’s story. My point today is:

I’m fucking glad facebook didn’t exist when I was a real teenager. Or, god bless, even younger. Some of the kids from my project started adding me on facebook lately, so by now I have like 30 kids between 9 and 15 years old on my facebook. Also, here in Portugal it’s pretty common for adults to use it as well. I totally can’t imagine my parents on facebook, but here this is more than normal.
Really guys, I don’t even WANT to know what I would have posted on facebook with 13 years old, and it would have been on the Internet forever.

Let me give you some examples:

1) They usually are incredibly polite
Let’s start with a nice one. I don’t know about you, but I never commented one of my own photos just to thank everyone for the likes and comments. Let alone thanking every single person so that I end up commenting my own picture 10x.

2) They share everything they like
One of my kids shares absolutely everything he likes. Where normal people give a like, he likes and shares. Every shit. Thank god you can unfollow people without unfriending them.

3) … and they tag every person they know on that until the facebook limit is reached
Not kidding. Tagging 86 people on a picture? Nothing special. Also: tagging other people on your photos although they have nothing to do with it. Ooookay…

4) They share pictures of random people and express their feelings
One of my kids posted a picture from a girl today, with the comment: “beautiful as always! I know your boyfriend, but you will always stay beautiful!”. I mean. Wtf? Imagine an adult doing that. Imagine, for a second.

5) They add people on facebook that they feel they should know or want to get to know
Or at least that’s the feeling I got. Kids have added me on facebook, that I definitely don’t know. Yeah, they’ve probably seen me dashing around somewhere, Lousa is small. But, come on. What for? The guy that did #4 has a glorious number of nearly 2000 facebook friends. at 14. I’m very positive he adds every girl his age whose profile he stumbles over randomly. I see a lot of girls there I have only one single friend with – which NEVER happens here within Lousa. As I said, this is a small town, there are connections ALL over, they’re practically visible like threads woven through the town.

6) They message you. And have absolutely nothing to say
It has happened to me multiple times, that kids have messages me, just saying olá. There is a short exchange of tudo bem? (how are you), and then they stop texting. If you ask a question, they answer. But that’s it.

I actually think, there are a ton more I can’t think of right now. Not surprising: they younger they are, the worse. I really, REALLY wonder how they will look back on their facebook account in 5 years. If facebook still exists then.

*OneRepublic

How to be in Braga for 5 days, see nothing and get used to eating every hour

I was in Braga with my flatmate and fellow volunteer last week, one of the cities still on my ToDo list. From Tuesday to Saturday.
Guess what happened? We saw way more on our pitstop in my beloved Porto in 4h on the way there, then we saw in Braga the rest of the week. I´m not kidding. The weather was downright awful, but that was not the only reason. We had to go there for an on arrival training from the volunteering (EVS). I´m not saying the training wasn´t interesting and fun and we haven´t had a good time – but there was one big problem – it was way too tense. We started with breakfast from 8am, first activities at 9.30, coffee break at 11.00, activities, long lunch 12.30 to 15.00 (usually we ended up finishing lunch at 14.30…), activites, coffee break at 16.30, activities, lunch at 19.45, obligatory activities until ~22.00. after that, there were still activities, just not obligatory ones. I´m not kidding, it was like this. Yes, coffee breaks sound like “breaks”. But spend them in a room with 40 people who want to get to know each other and have a lot of experiences to share, and you will realise, it´s just NOT a BREAK. Just a different kind of activity.

So after arriving Tuesday at 18.00, this was the program for Wednesday and Thursday. On Friday, we only had activities until lunch and then a free”ish” afternoon. Exactly. That meant that we were divided into random groups and had to fulfill tasks, which basically meant you had to spend your day with them. I don´t call that free at all … And, of course, especially on this day, there was not a second without rain.

And you want to know the best of all this? I had one pair of shoes with me, sneakers who broke on Wednesday morning. And I had no possibility to buy new shoes … When on Wednesday night we went out and walked back in the rain, my shoes got soaked and I walked around the good part of Thursday with extremely wet and cold feet, unless I took them off and later could borrow flip flops from another volunteer. That meant, that the “free” part of Friday was occupied by completing the tasks and desperately searching for shoes. In the meantime, my flatmate, who was also my roommate in Braga, got sick. It´s an absolute miracle I didn´t get sick, although I felt like getting sick for the good part of our stay. We ended up leaving 24h earlier …

The only photos I have, show exactly what we did – ALL of them are made inside. And there are, like, 4 pictures …

volunteer´s art galery

It´s a shame. If possible, I had even wanted to go to Guimarães or Viana do Castelo while I´m so close, but that was simply impossible. I´m just glad we made that Porto pitstop, that basically saved the whole day.

What sticks in mind of Braga? Nothing, only the volunteering stuff… And a constant feeling of hunger now ôO How can Portuguese eat constantly, and still not get fat?!

Looking at my beloved Portugal travel wall now, I feel like a betrayer having Braga on there… Oh well. I think I´ll just have to come back instead of crossing it from my to do list =)

my portugal travel wall =)