OUTLINE: Lilia Skhiri is a 25 years old student from Tunisia who is currently doing her exchange studies at Católica-Lisbon School of Business and Economics (CLSBE). She has fallen in love with Portugal ever since she first visited in 2014 and she kindly agreed to answer some questions about her personal and academic experience here in Lisbon. She shares some very interesting experiences and her perspective on the Portuguese culture which makes of this interview a good read! Enjoy Lilia’s story of Erasmus in Lisbon.
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GETTING TO KNOW LILIA: MORE ABOUT TUNISIA AND HER FIRST TIME IN PORTUGAL
Hi Lilia! First of all thank you so much for answering my questions! To start out with this interview I would like to first know a little bit more about where you come from and then ask you about your experience in Portugal.
So, can you tell us a little bit about your home country?
I am from the capital of Tunisia, Tunis. It is an Arab country, mixed with French culture (since Tunisia was colonized for 60 years by France). It is a collectivist society, conservative to its traditions that are influenced by the Islamic religion. However, Tunisia is actually the most “open minded” country in the whole Arab world. I did not change any of my habits (way to dress or to party) when I came to live in Portugal.
It is very interesting to learn more about your country, we do not find many Tunisians here in Portugal! When did you get here exactly? And what was your first impression about Portugal and the beautiful city of Lisbon? Any important moment that marked your arrival?
I came to Portugal for the first time in August 2014 and intend to stay until July 2016. But If I find a job/internship here, I will stay longer!
The day I arrived to Lisbon I got an unwelcoming experience when I was still at the airport. My landlord had rent my apartment to someone else. I and a friend of mine were in panic in this city that we did not know, but fortunately the kindest family I have ever met hosted us for 10 days until we found an apartment. During those 10 days I was in total immersion to the Portuguese habits and mentality, the lady took us for tours around Lisbon, helped us to find the apartment and to equip it.
Also I did not feel homesick because of the weather which is similar to my hometown, but also because of the values that Portuguese are attached to (family, conviviality, generosity). Besides the first incident I had a great image of Portugal.
EXPERIENCING THE PORTUGUESE CULTURE
That is an amazing story! I am so glad that after that drawback you could really experience the Portuguese hospitality and generosity. That was an interesting first week. Now that you have been for a while, have your first impressions changed? How?
My first impressions changed with time, of course. After all this time I feel more and more that Portugal is similar to Tunisia in terms of shared values. People have the collectivist way of thinking and are very family oriented, which is also true in Tunisia. Also, I came to learn that they stick to traditions like being late, and a “take it easy” attitude.
(I could not help but laugh!). Those are some really spot on Portuguese stereotypes! I must say I myself fit into that description.
All in all, it seems as if you have really fallen in love with Portugal, which is great. What are the most positive things you have experienced here?
The most positive things that I have experienced in Portugal are its unique lifestyle and no racism at all or any kind of discrimination (according to my personal experience at least).
Those are some great points! However – and I am sure you saw this one coming – I also need to ask you: what were the most negative things you have experienced in Portugal?
Thankfully, there were not that many negative experiences. For me the worst ones have to be related with the whole process of searching for a decent apartment and the fact that I had to be with a Portuguese person to be able to negotiate with my landlord!
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ACADEMIC EXPERIENCE AS AN EXCHANGE STUDENT IN CLSBE
That does sound rough… I hope that those really were the only truly negative experiences you have had so far. Now I want to ask you a little bit more about your time here in Lisbon as a student… How has your academic experience been so far? What surprised you the most?
My academic experience was tougher than I expected. I had this naive idea that studies here might be easier than in any other European capital, but I was impressed by how demanding it turned out to be. Also, I am in one of the best universities in Portugal and knowing that I had the hope that the administration would be live up to that status. Unfortunately there is a clear lack of management and communication, at least at CLSBE. The quality of the teaching was a good surprise, but the student services really let me down.
Being at the same program as you are at CLSBE I can relate with what you are saying. I hope that, although more demanding than you thought, you feel like this exchange was a good decision! And what about Portuguese people? Have you got along with them easily? Many cultural barriers?
In my opinion Portuguese people are extremely helpful, generous and easy to access, always available to help you. I had the opportunity to work with them, and during group works I felt like my ideas and opinions were taken into consideration and I always felts involved. I also created friendly relationships with some. Besides group works and university life I found it difficult to have a more personal relationship with a colleague that is not related to work. For example I have never gone out for dinner or for a drink with any Portuguese person that I met at college. I have this feeling that they do not want to mix up personal and study life with internationals. Concerning cultural barriers I do not think that I found a lot of them. People are curious about me and I am curious about them.
THE BEST PART OF THE EXCHANGE PROGRAM: WHAT TO DO OUTSIDE OF COLLEGE
That is a very interesting answer. I have felt at times that Portuguese people in general were easy to work with but it was harder to make a connection with them, being someone from another country. I hope though that eventually you will find some awesome Portuguese friends! My following question is related the previous one: do you enjoy your social life here in Portugal? Which kind of activities do you like to do in your spare time?
I come from a country where access to culture is very limited, where going out for a drink or for dinner may be considered as luxury (because of the expensive prices). So I can be easily satisfied with what I find in Lisbon.
In my spare time and when the weather allows it, I go for a walk/run/biking along Rio Tejo.
When I have more time I enjoy visiting museums/monuments/”jardins” in order to know more about the country’s history (which is not easy to have access to, at least for me).
Night life is very rich and I do not deprive myself from it. I also love to walk around and discover small typical shops/cafes.
I try to keep myself informed about when and where there are special events (not Erasmus events but more underground ones) like “feiras”, concerts, exhibitions… I try to search on facebook groups or media that share those kinds of events.
It is true that Lisbon is extremely rich in terms of culture and amazing places to visit and is frequently host of amazing events! It is great that you are taking advantage of all of that! Now, to finish this interview, I just want to ask you one more thing: If you had to describe your experience here in Lisbon in one word, what would it be?
That is a GREAT word! Thank you so much Lilia! Good luck with everything and see you soon!
INTERVIEWER Margarida Morais
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