iXperience | Rafi Khan
1. The warmth of the people
Before I even landed, I was struck by the friendliness of Portuguese people. Clara, the girl sitting next to me on the plane, discovered that I was a tourist visiting for the first time, and gave me an aerial tour of the surroundings and neighborhoods of Lisbon as our plane circled the city for landing.
That interaction set the tone for every other: from hostel receptionists to business owners, waiters to bus drivers, people seemed to operate under the assumption that life is just better when you’re a nice person. Seems obvious, but a lesson that many in the crowded cities of America could take to heart.
Lisboans live with an appreciation for life’s simple pleasures, but also dream big and have a sense of ambition—a very cool combination.
2. Cost of living creates a lot of opportunities for exploration
A 15-minute Uber: 5 euros. Dinner from the grocery store: 5 euros. A ride in the excellent subway system: 2 euros. A beer at a bar: 1 euro.
The basics in Lisbon are so affordable as to leave a lot of opportunity for exploration. And there’s so much to explore, from surf lessons on gorgeous beaches, to train rides to mountaintop castles, to road trips to the winelands. Not to mention the cuisine is delicious, diverse, and enjoyed with generous amounts of delectable wine. Nightlife is varied, from outdoor restaurants that host people chatting late into the night, to night clubs catered more for the dancing crowd.
And the city is kept safe: the biggest safety risk, even later at night, is of pickpockets.
3. Vibrant ecosystem of tech companies
A low cost of living does not necessarily mean a struggling economy. Portugal did see some dark days after the Great Recession, but now, due to startup-friendly government policies, boasts a thriving ecosystem of small and medium sized companies. Most people are embracing growth and gentrification, which seems to be creating economic opportunities for many Portuguese. The city hosts offices of both startups and multinational corporations such as Microsoft, Accenture and Novabase.
This also means there’s ample opportunities for iXperience students to have considerable influence during their internships, and contribute and learn in a big way.
4. Fascinating blend of new and old; history and modernity
As the city hurtles into the modern, technology driven world, I would bet that many of the traditions and values will come under fire—but not quite yet. Walking around, I noticed a lifestyle in which people primarily walk or take trams, intimately know their neighborhoods, and enjoy a much slower pace of life. Similarly, Portugal retains a close connection with its long and illustrious history, remnants of which can be seen in museums and public plazas alike.
It will be interesting to see how the tension of the growing economy and increased gentrification will play out in the next few years.
5. Simply existing is extremely rewarding
This one is more personal and hard to describe, but being there is simply…nice. The city is surrounded by a beautiful ocean and ample nature. People spend a lot of time socializing and enjoying life. It seems you can have a fast-paced, energetic lifestyle, or one that’s more relaxed—or a combination.
That, to me, is one of the most important parts of study abroad: to not only experience a culture that’s different from that you’re used to be, but to be intentional about what you take back with you. For years, students have come to Cape Town and taken back with them some small aspect of the culture. I’d be proud to have our students incorporate more of Lisbon in their lifestyles, wherever and whatever that may be.