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Shraddha Rana is a 3rd year Undergraduate pursuing a B.Tech in Civil Engineering.
From the day the first IAF opened, I was very sure that I wanted a university internship. I was also applying outside of PT Cell. Almost all the seniors who’ve done apping must have told you how taxing it is. It really is! By the end of the semester I was getting really nervous. Also a little desperate. So when the IAF for University of Lisbon opened I signed it up even though it was a project under transportation department and I’ve always wanted a project in structures. I soon forgot about it. In the even semester as I was preparing for my last midsem paper I got a call from the IC that I had been selected. I was selected merely through my resume. No interviews, no tests. My immediate reaction was of ecstasy. But as reality dawned upon me I was worried about being removed from the shortlists of the other universities which had projects of my interest. And fortunately or unfortunately this was the only selection I had till the end.
I was a little disappointed but I also thought I’d get to explore something new. My disappointment grew when I went to give my visa interview and the lady in the office said it’d take a month for my visa to arrive! Nothing could’ve been worse. Portugal has only a long term visa for study/training so it is definitely advisable to apply for the visa as soon as you get a confirmation from the university. Also, Portuguese people a little laid back so I really had to pester them a lot to send my invitation letter (a necessary document for the visa). I patiently waited. And finally on the auspicious day of May 25 I left for Portugal. This was my first trip abroad. It was a little scary, but exciting nonetheless. But as the plane took off, the scare faded away.
The project and the university:
I went to meet my guide at Instituto Superior Técnico. He had a very endearing singing tone. He explained the project to me and it seemed very exciting. I was set to work on urban freight transportation. A small region in Oriente, Lisbon was assigned to me. I had to model an efficient system of freight transport so as to save energy and decrease hindrance with the passenger traffic. I read quite a few research papers, worked on QGIS software, did on-field data collection, surveys, modelling with real life implementation, and I realized this project had everything that I wanted from a university internship. I have started to really like this line of research. So to all the people who are let down by not getting the internship of their liking, hold on, every experience has something worthwhile to teach.
The PhD students in my lab were very helpful too. They helped me solve doubts in QGIS, brought sweets, and it was a really enriching experience discussing their line of work as well. The most important thing about a foreign internship is that you get to learn about the kind of work done outside of our country, and an internship with interns from many countries helps you garner a wide array of perspectives. My guide also gave a lot of insight about future prospects of this field and graduate studies in general. This is another advantage of a university internship. You get to interact with professors other than the ones who teach you in insti. And their views and experiences and ideas help you in having a wider view before you plan for your future.
Settling in a new city:
I had started looking for apartments as soon as I got my confirmation. There is no in-campus accommodation and the 3 hostels they have are usually booked during summers. Also, hostels that have a per night charge will be costlier for a longer stay. And you need to submit a residence proof in the visa application. So I got on to it quickly and finalized one which was at a 15 minutes walking distance from the university. There a number of apartments renting out rooms to university students at walking distance from the campus. There’s a link on the institute website as well. They are all inclusive, so there’s no need to pack utensils, bedsheets, towels etc. So I got to in a house with four other people. Three of them were Indians and one Bhutanese. We always cooked dinner together, went out drinking and dancing on weekends and watch GOT as soon as it released online religiously. They were very welcoming and helped me figure out the city.
A few checkpoints after you arrive here:
Get a fiscal number made at the nearest Finances office (Serviço de Finanças de Lisboa). It gets done immediately and costs around €10.
Open a bank account in a local bank, in the campus. I made one in Santander Totta. They have special provisions for students. Your fiscal number will help get the job done faster.
Submit the bank details and your Fiscal number to the secretary who’d have previously asked you to fill scholarship forms.
Buy a local sim card. MEO has one which gives 100 minutes talktime and 1Gb data for €5. And WhatsApp and FB is free. After you exhaust that, it’s cheaper to buy a new sim than getting a recharge.
Apply for a monthly pass at Carris. It’s the company which manages the local transport. The monthly pass can be used in metro, bus and tram. Get it done because you’d want to travel everyday, given how beautiful Lisbon is. Without the pass it costs €1.4 for a transaction between any two stations/stops
The metro line is easy to figure out and gets you anywhere and everywhere in the city. Taxis are a bit pricey but serve as the only option after the metros shut at 1 AM. Very few people outside the university speak English so Google translate became my bff. But they are really friendly. Everyone greets you with a big smile, a happy good morning/afternoon and a kiss on each cheek.
The food at the university canteen is cheaper than outside (surprise, surprise). Like most other European countries, Portuguese food isn’t spicy, but some dishes fulfill the Indian palette sufficiently well. Most of their dishes consists of a piece of grilled/baked meat/seafood, salted rice, salad, half-fried egg and fries. If your appetite is less you can save money by avoiding full meals and eating at bakeries. They also eat a lot of hamburgers, sandwiches and turkish kebabs. For the sunny/laxmi lovers, the beer is delicious here. Almost every famous fast food chain has stores here, with unlimited cold-drink refills. The supermarkets have everything you’ll need, and more. Portugal is cheaper than most west European countries, that is a plus point too. Some clothing stores are cheaper than Mumbai.
People here follow traffic signs. I couldn’t believe for an entire week that I could cross the zebra crossing without worrying about the cars! The roads are so clean. The weather (yes, let’s talk banal) is just perfect. It stopped raining the day I arrived. It’s sunny with a nice cold breeze flowing throughout the day. The sun sets at 9 PM! It feels like early evening at dinner time, so you don’t even feel guilty for staying out late on a weekday.
The buildings are all pastel coloured, cafés have seating arrangements on the footpath, flower pots on every window, stone pavements, hilly roads, parks every 5 blocks, huge pillars and statues at all roundabouts, lavender coloured canopy of flowering trees, the postcard like beaches, the view of the ocean with cable cars running above, it’s all so beautiful. I can happily roam around all day.
Every metro station has a different theme and is entirely tiled or painted accordingly. My favourite is Oriente with its superhero wall. There are these selfie machines near all metro stations. You can click a photo and send it to your email ID. It is really cool.
The night life here is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. Open air spaces with decorated canopy, the stage set up with a Portuguese band performing, stalls of food and drinks, and everyone dancing under the stars. It is delightful.
There are a lot of towers around Lisbon from where you can see a huge part of the city. The best view is from near the Tagus river. You get to see the 25 de Abril bridge and The Christ the King statue. The usual tourist attractions, museums, castles, churches, bridges are numerously spread out throughout the city. And they are more or less always accompanied by street performers. The background music makes you feel like you’re in a European documentary. The best beaches are south of the river.
June is the month of celebration for the popular saints throughout the country. We attended the St. Anthony festival parade where people from different localities were performing down the streets to win the grand prize. Every area was decorated for the party. People everywhere were savouring sardines, pork on toast, churros, farturas and beer, and dancing all night. Everyone somehow did the same steps, everyone somehow knew how to Kizomba with their partner. The entire community just singing and dancing and eating together.
I also got to watch Ronaldo score a diving header, live! It was surreal. Now I know why guys are so crazy about watching matches at the stadium. Their display screen showed the lyrics to their cheer chant and we sang along. Did the stadium wave too. The best part was that I was present as Portugal made history and celebrated their win in UEFA Euro 2016! The celebration was more pompous than any India vs Pakistan cricket match after-effects.
The weekend spent at Porto was my best weekend. Porto is exquisite. It’s the perfect tourist destination. Tons of monuments and churches, the most beautiful being the Igreja de São Francisco (Church of St. Francis) with its delicate golden coloured wood brocade. Numerous cafés by the river side serving Porto wine fermented in their own cellars. I tasted one which was 20 years old! Cruises under seven bridges create a lot of attraction. The clear, cold, blue waters of the Atlantic Ocean with its adjacent clean beaches is the best place for an afternoon chill. Buy the postcards made from cork. And have martini com cerveja.
I also spent two days in Berlin. Currywurst is the best! We did the Sandeman walking tour, and the pub crawls. Their other tours are good too, they cover all the tourist attractions. Berlin was very different compared to Lisbon. Not as colourful, but equally beautiful.
Tip: Plan all your trips in the first week itself. I am lazy so I couldn’t roam around a lot. But make good use of Eurail passes, cheap flights from Ryanair and great busses from Flixus, and the fact that your visa gets you into so many countries!
The Coldplay concert! It was out of this world. I watched Chris Martin perform just a few feet away from me. There was a shower of fireworks, confetti, LED wrist bands, awesome laser lights, balls bouncing above the crowd, the entire stadium doing the synchronised wave. It was easily the best evening of my life! Totally worth the expensive ticket 😛
I may not have gotten the intern that I wanted, but it turned out to be everything I’d expected, and more. Foreign univ intern is the absolute best. You get a flavour of research, while getting to know people from different countries and exploring new cultures. And really, it’s alright if you don’t get the “perfect intern”. Make the one you have perfect.
‘Bombay’ is Portuguese for ‘good-bay’.