I had to damp down my excitement last night because otherwise I knew I’d never be able to sleep. Yes, I am like a little kid — any excitement or anticipation at all, and boom, wide awake. But I managed to sleep in the end, and now it’s morning so I can be excited because… my MOM GETS HERE TODAY!!!!!! Woohooooo!!!!

When we came here, my mom’s visit seemed like it was in the far, far distant future, one I couldn’t even conceive of reaching… which is exactly what I said when we went home in December. All these far-off milestones, which somehow get much closer when you turn your back and are busy elsewhere for a while. Before you know it, we’ll be home again… crikey.

Coincidentally, tomorrow we will have been in Lisbon for six months, so it’s the perfect opportunity for me to take a look back at our second quarter abroad.

Our first quarter ended with our holiday trip back to California after three months of living here. We were starting to feel the first semblance of familiarity, but I was still awkward, homesick, and uncomfortable. When we left, I was proud of the progress we’d made, but thrilled to go back to a place where I spoke the language and everything was easy and made sense.

When we got back to Lisbon in January, I was afraid that I’d have to start all over again, that the long cold months of winter with no visitors and no travel would make me even more homesick than before. But our trip home reassured me that it would always be there, with the people and places we love, and I could go back out into the great unknown with the knowledge that it wasn’t going to last forever. Since the day we got back, I have hardly had a day of homesickness, only twinges, and nothing at all like what I struggled with in the fall.

At the same time, this place has started to feel more and more like my home. Yes, I still have my setbacks — post office and grocery store fiascos among them — but for the most part, I am comfortable here, I know my way around, and I am no longer as silenced by the language difference as I once was. I don’t have to spend an hour in the grocery store parsing all the labels to figure out what everything is, and instead sweep through almost as quickly as I do at home. I haven’t committed any horrific faux pas at the gym, at least not that I’m aware of, and I can even hold my own when ordering a meal at a restaurant.

Even so, my language skills aren’t exactly what I’d hoped they would be at this point. When we came here, I imagined that I would be totally fluent by the time my mom arrived, and I would blow her away with my amazing conversational skills in Portuguese. Hmm. Not so much.

I do think I’ve made a great deal of progress though. I had my final lesson yesterday, since we’ll be doing too much traveling over the next few months to continue. Even before she remembered that I wouldn’t be coming back, my tutor pronounced that I’m doing well and my accent sounds much better (read: less Mexican.) She then started planning out our next sessions together before I gently reminded her that no, I was done for the moment. That made for a somewhat anticlimactic goodbye, but still, I feel like I am just getting to the point where I can speak and understand more fluidly. Of course I will probably lose that ability in no time, but hey, at least I got there.

By far the best progress we’ve made over the past three months has been in our friendships. We have now started to build a small community for ourselves here, composed primarily of Gabe’s colleagues, our doppelganger French couple, and the Princetonian family. On a more superficial daily level, I have my peeps at the gym and my tutor, plus of course the neighborhood regulars.

We were just saying last night how much we’ll miss all these characters in our Portuguese drama when we move home, which I don’t think was the case when we left in December. Back then, we had acquaintances. Now, we have friends. People in the neighborhood know and recognize us, they know we’re not just here for a week or two, and they greet us accordingly. And what a difference that has made.

Looking forward, things change significantly from here on out. First, my mom gets here, and then we do a great deal of traveling over the next few months: Morocco in a week or so, Israel in mid-April, Stockholm in late May (since we’ve now almost officially decided not to come home for my birthday — sorry guys), and then back to Lisbon in June to welcome two sets of guests. That brings us to July, when we’ll be busy packing up and saying our goodbyes before going to England for a week or two and then at last home in early August.

The list of trips and visitors tumbles out one after the other, like a chain of dominoes, and I know time will fly even faster than it already has. Looking forward from this day is kind of like standing at the top of a ski slope and anticipating the steep route to come. You know once you start, you’ll be at the bottom in no time at all, which makes you enjoy the ride even more.

Essentially, this has been our quarter of immersing ourselves in the day to day life of Lisbon. We spent the first quarter getting settled, set up, and used to all the strangeness. The next will be full of travel and visitors, and soon Lisbon will become more of a base, a place to recover between adventures. I can’t help but feel like we’re leaving just as soon as we’re really starting to get somewhere, both in terms of language and relationships. But I’m sure that all our time away will make this feel all the more like home to us — which will make it very difficult indeed when it comes time to pack up and leave in the final quarter of our year abroad.

But that is a long way off. In the meantime, we have much exploring to do and adventures to have. I hope you’ll continue to join me as we make our way through this wonderful, frustrating, enchanting year abroad.

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