Pennsylvania to Portugal: The Depature

"I'm really not planning on bringing that much," I told myself. And yet here I sit, bundled by heavy coats and cardigans, with zipper-popping luggage to my side. So much for that.

But really, I must put it into perspective. We foreign exchange students were only permitted to take 44 pounds of our life with us (although, I have 50 pounds. Delta International flights allow 50, not 44, from what I read online). That is not much! Next time you pack for the beach, or any vacation, weigh your bag just for kicks. Then you'll sympathize with me. It's a good problem to have, because I am really lucky to be studying in Portugal for my senior year. 

To cover the basics: No, I never wanted to study abroad my whole life. Actually, it never even crossed my mind! My school takes in a few foreign students every year, but for some reason I didn't even realize that I could do the same thing. That is, until I found out about the Speedwell scholarship. The Speedwell scholarship is a full-paid (ballpark of $16,000) scholarship given to around 20 students in the central PA area thanks to the generosity of Jenny and Mike Messner. Jenny Messner studied abroad in Brazil, and she wanted to give as many kids as possible that same experience and global understanding. I had the pleasure of meeting her this past August, she was so radiant and excited for all of us! She even told me and my friend Cameron (the other kid going to Portugal from my area) that she is ready to speak Portuguese with us upon our return (talk about pressure!!). Just kidding... I am really hoping to come out of this experience bilingual, so if anything she acts as motivation for me. The program I am studying with is called AFS (stands for American Field Service). I highly suggest checking their site out if you're interested in studying abroad. Even if you're not in the central PA area, there are other scholarships and fundraising opportunities to explore.

I started looking into AFS in May 2016. I wanted to go to France- it has always been a goal of mine to be fluent in French, not only for fashion design, but I would love to travel around and hold my own. Plus, it's a beautiful language. I ended up in Portugal because of my age, France doesn't allow 18 year-olds to get a student visa, but strangely enough, I am totally fine with it now. (For those who really know my AFS story, I bounced from France, to Belgium, to Spain, to Italy, then ultimately to Portugal). I love Portugal though, and I haven't even arrived yet. My host family is awesome, I have two host parents and a 24-year-old host brother. I am living in Leiria, Portugal (Google it, it's so beautiful), which is a quick bus ride away from the capital, Lisbon. I am attending an art and design school, too, which I am more than ready for. My thinking is that art is more universal, and doesn't hold as strong of a language barrier compared to other subjects, so hopefully my grades won't be absolutely awful. Don't hold my accountable on that, though. ;)

I don't know much Portuguese, as I studied French all of high school. I find similarities in the language, but it is much more comparable to Spanish. Past Portuguese exchange students tell me that they're able to go throughout other European countries and understand things, luckily, because Portuguese pulls from most romance languages.

We are an hour away from New York City, where I have to say bye to my parents, who are so supportive and excited. They make it easy not to be sad. I cannot wait to meet the other kids from the U.S. going to Portugal. :)

I'll be back soon, thanks for reading!

Xo, Hollis