Black Women Abroad: Volunteering in Portugal

This pandemic has given many of us time to reflect on our values and the type of life we want to lead. Now’s the perfect time to consider moving abroad for a short time.

That’s why I’m starting this series. I’ll be featuring four black women who have lived abroad and how they did it.

First up is Jamila, who volunteered in Sousa, Portugal as an English teacher.

Jamila in Portimão, Portugal
What inspired you to volunteer abroad? Why Portugal?

I was inspired to volunteer abroad after engaging in travel groups on Facebook and learning about other peoples’ experiences living and working abroad. I was drawn to Portugal because I had never been and it was a place that many people didn’t talk about. The program I was a part of usually hosted trips to Spain and this was the first one to Portugal, so I was excited to be a part of a brand new experience.

HOW DID YOU FIND your program? were there any costs associated with it?

I found my program by googling online teaching opportunities abroad. I would find a school name or program, then look at their reviews, timeline and application process. From there, I found CIEE. The only cost associated with our program was airfare and money needed for day to day items I may have wanted to purchase. The host family provided room and board along with meals, so there was no expense for me there. The money I had went towards personal care items and weekend travel to other parts of Portugal or Europe.

Did you find it difficult to adjust to your new city?

It wasn’t very difficult to adjust. I went into it with an open mind and excitement. I was very grateful to have such a welcoming host family and school staff. Culturally, this is natural for the Portuguese, so it was great fit for me. Though language was a barrier, we learned from each other and they did everything to make me comfortable and feel included. When I traveled outside of my town, Sousa, it was with another CIEE member who lived nearby. We had each other and used our little bit of Portuguese to make it by. 

How did you stay on budget while living abroad?

I saved to prepare for this experience and with major expenses like food and housing covered, it wasn’t too difficult to stay on budget. I wasn’t earning money as a volunteer, so it was a matter of watching money go down without any money coming in; however, I made the best of it. My money went towards traveling, including planes, trains, Airbnbs, hostels, souvenirs, and food while on vacation.

What is one of your favorite memories from this experience? What surprised you?

My favorite memory was being embraced by my host family. They were great; we would have family dinners of about 8-12 people. Since my host family’s immediate family were their neighbors, we had dinner every evening at the family restaurant, accompanied by house made wine. I remember my host cousin invited me out with her friends one evening for a drink. I taught her all about Happy Hours in NYC and she kept repeating “Happy Hour” in her accent throughout the evening as we cheered our beers and ate potato chips.

What was most surprising about my experience was how much they taught me and showed me in regard to my own life experiences. The family connection and hospitality was so great and valued. Family dinner and time spent together was a ritual that was special, important and necessary.

Do you envision yourself living abroad permanently?

I have thought about living abroad permanently, but at this point, later in life or after I have established a family in the United States first. I love living abroad, but there are things that I want to ensure are taken care of in the US first.

What advice would you give you to people considering Volunteering abroad?

My first piece of advice would be: 1) DO IT!

I would also say to think about the reasons why you are doing it. Approach it with an open mind. Compare your home life with your new experiences abroad using a positive perspective. Think about what is different in a good way. 

Black Women Abroad Series

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