The first thing that comes to my mind when I think of cultural difference during my semester at Nova School of Business and Economics in Lisbon, Portugal, is university culture.
The courses at Nova follow a different schedule than the ones in Bern. They start later but also end later. So, my schedule in Lisbon usually starts at 11 am and ends at 7 pm or even later. Apparently there seems to be a shift of a few hours from the Swiss timetable. Therefore, also the lunchbreak is postponed to 2 pm. At that time many students head to the cafeteria to grab something or to eat. Or they open their lunch bag in which they carry their food from home, which is, in my point of view, also characteristic of the Portuguese student. The lunch usually consists of meat, fries and rice – the traditional combination of a menu in Lisbon. Due to the fact that the courses end late in the evening, most of the students eat a sanduíche, a sandwich, at around seven. At the beginning I was not at all used to this, because my daily routine was about two to three hours in advance of the Portuguese one. But time passes and so I got used to this different schedule and started to like it.
Another difference to Bern is that at Nova we have practical classes for each course that take place in a small group with a teaching assistant and are very interactive. In most cases a group presents a topic followed by a discussion in the classroom. This therefore obliges you to be well prepared for discussions during the lesson because the oral participation often is part of the final grade. Correspondingly you must take part in a lot of group work and do many assignments during the semester and therefore all the group work places and the library are usually almost fully occupied, even at the beginning of the semester. So often you end up in the backyard of the university or in a nearby café to discuss your assignments with your group, which is not bad either.
One more thing that is different is that the lessons never start on time. I am used to classes starting on time. But maybe that is because I usually go to university in a country in which, according to a mostly confirmed stereotype, everything is always on time. However, here in Lisbon most of the students only drop into class after the lesson should already have started and then eventually the teacher comes in sipping a coffee and slowly starts with the lesson. But once the students are in class, they attend the lesson, in my point of view, even more actively than we do in Bern. The students interrupt the teacher in the middle of speaking when they don’t agree with what he is saying. This interruption ends most of the time in a discussion that strays far from the actual topic of the lesson. After 1.5 hours, when the lessons ends, students leave class without clapping or knocking on the table as we use to do in Bern. I find it kind of sad that there is no sign of appreciation towards the lecturer at the end of the class.
Last but not least the learning environment at Nova University is very enjoyable. Most of the students are very ambitious because they had to work hard to get into Nova, as it is one of the best universities in Portugal. Consequently, the library is packed with students studying and trying to forget about the nice weather outside. Another place to study is the beautiful backyard of the university where you can sit in the shadows of orange trees while working on your assignments.
I am looking forward to learning more about the Portuguese student culture but also about the Portuguese lifestyle in general.