At Least Ten Reasons to become a Portugal Global Volunteer

Are you considering becoming a Global Volunteer?  Wondering which program is best for you?  I’ve volunteered six times, in five different countries: St Lucia, Vietnam, the Cook Islands & Mexico, where I volunteered twice, and most recently Portugal.  I’ve done blog posts about four of them, describing how each program was wonderful in its own way,  and oh, so very rewarding.
Because I get sucked into all of the “top 10” lists, I decided to do one that will encourage you to consider spending two very worthwhile weeks in that fantastic part of the world known as Portugal.

  1. Highly motivated, interesting students:
    My assignment was English conversation at the Polytechnic Institute of Beja,

    My group, seven of the twenty four members of our class

    where I spent evenings chatting with adults who already had an impressive grasp of English, but wanted the opportunity to practice and to improve their pronunciation.
    Three of us taught together, breaking the students into smaller groups after the first forty five minutes of the two hour nightly class.
    Other volunteers taught at the high school,  middle schools and the prison.  Some tutored restaurant owners and staff.
    Interestingly, we each thought that WE had gotten the best assignment, which leads me to the next reason.

  2. An Incredible team Leader:
    Joe has been leading teams to Beja, Portugal for many years, and his extensive experience really shows.  He quickly sized up the 10 of us and figured out which volunteer best matched which assignment.  He’d give Match.com a run for their money, if he ever decided to get into the dating business!
    Joe knows all Beja’s historical sights, the most fun restaurants, the best excursions for the weekend, the cultural events, where you can get your laundry inexpensively done…everything you need to know to thoroughly enjoy your non-volunteering hours.

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    Our leader, Joe, in the black tee shirt, left front

  3. Interaction with the Community:
    When I say that Joe knows everybody in Beja, I’m not exaggerating.  One night, we enjoyed dinner with Beja’s mayor and councilwoman.  And yes, those are gifts the councilwoman is holding.

    What was in the bag?  Lots of local goodies, including my favorite–chocolate from the shop down the street.

  4. Lasting friendships:
    Laurie, Jeanne and I met when we volunteered in St. Lucia in 2012.   P119E0249.jpg
    Although Jeanne and I volunteered together in Mexico in 2017, this was the first time since that first meeting that I had had the pleasure of spending time with Laurie.  Having her as my “partner” at the University made it even more fun!
    The best part?  I now have SEVEN new volunteers who I would be thrilled to see on a future assignment.
  5. Shared Experiences:
    It almost felt like I was back in college.  Because we pretty much took over the first floor of the Hotel Bejense, I knew just about everyone in every room on that floor.  There was always someone to play with, just like back in the dorm.  IMG_5699Want to have a chat over a cup of tea?  No problem.  Just walk down the hall, to the breakfast room and along the way, you are sure to bump into a buddy or two.
    The hotel also had a cozy lounge, in which we gathered every night to share our experiences, before heading off to dinner.  As you can see, experiences weren’t the ONLY things we were sharing!  Our fee for Global Volunteers covers our housing, food, transportation to the work site but not wine.  Again, no problem.  We took turns purchasing wine, cheese and other snacks to make our evening meetings more enjoyable.
  6. Serpa Cheese Festival:
    Okay, so there is no guarantee that a future program will take place during the Cheese Festival.  We just happened to luck out.  (That cheese in the photo above was purchased at the festival by one of the volunteers.)
    There were LOTS of free samples of cheese AND wine AND chocolate!
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    Not only that, but we got to experience “Cante Alentejano”.  Okay, so I will never make my fortune as a videographer, but this 33 second clip will give you an idea of this very stylized art form.

  7. Evora:
    Global Volunteers are free to travel during the weekends.  Because public transportation is reliable, comfortable and inexpensive, we took the bus on Sunday to the beautiful city of Evora, spending the day enjoying all that it had to offer, like the Roman Temple,
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    the Chapel of Bones.
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    and even more music!
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  8. Beja:
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    There is so much to say about this lovely place that I devoted an entire blog post just to Beja.  Click here if you want a closer look at this delightful town.   It is so worth visiting.
  9. Lisbon
    It is also impossible to list all that Lisbon has to offer as one entry in a 10 item list.  So, Lisbon ALSO has its own post.   But here’s the best part:  It is SO easy to get from Beja to Lisbon by bus.  The bus station is just a short walk from the hotel.  I was surprised that it was so inexpensive–just 14 Euros to ride in comfort with access to free wifi.   Notice the stop in Evora.  
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  10. Venture Outside of Your Comfort Zone:
    Why not stretch your limits?  Try something new and exciting?  You may make new friends, accumulate lots of memories and experience another culture in a way that is not possible when you are just passing through, visiting the usual tourist sites.

Beja, Week One

Our first week in Beja has concluded, and what a wonderful week it was!

I’ve been asked many times about the kind of person who does a Global Volunteer project, so here’s a brief description of the 10 fantastic people with whom I’ve had the pleasure of working, complete with a visual.

Cisco (front row) is the first Australian Global Volunteer I’ve ever encountered. (He could possibly be the first Australian in Global Volunteer’s history). We all LOVE this extremely creative and talented guy. A graphic art designer by training, he has done so many other things, it is hard to believe he is only 31 years old. I suspect his Beja students are most impressed by his disc jockey experience, but I love hearing about the awards he won while working on a Disney cruise ship. He is “bloody ripper”. (Yes, Cisco is teaching me to speak Aussie).

Also in the front row is our fearless leader, Joe. It feels like EVERYBODY in Beja knows Joe. Coming here for ten years, leading two teams per year (February and September), Joe knows all of the assignments, and has done an amazing job matching us up so everyone is happy.

Joe has sampled just about every eating establishment in the area, so we are enjoying a wide variety of delicious cuisines.

Weekends are usually free time, however Joe very graciously organized a guided tour of Beja on Saturday morning, followed by an excursion to the Serpa cheese festival in the afternoon. Sunday we spent the day visiting the historic town of Evora.

My dear friend Jeanne is in row 2. Jeanne has decades of middle school experience, so she was paired with Heidi ( back row), who is a first time volunteer. Any trip with Jeanne is guaranteed to be fun. Her positive outlook on life is the gift that keeps on giving.

Next to Jeanne is Cindy, from Connecticut. She is a retired Spanish teacher, who has spent last week working in a variety of schools with Dale (last row, Heidi’s husband). Cindy has done a number of GV trips, and is returning to Queretaro, Mexico this October. For those of you who wonder if you could volunteer as a single woman, Cindy is your role model.

Laurie is between Cindy and me. Jeanne, Laurie and I all met Continue reading

One Month Travel With One Carry On??

Packing is one of my biggest travel challenges.  I always intend to travel light, but sometimes I get carried away at the last minute.

I’ve been able to go for two weeks with just a carry on.  But a month?  Can I get everything I will need into my trusty eagle creek carry on and my backpack?  I’m going to try.   I hope others find my attempt helpful.  If not, at least this post will allow ME to remember what the heck I stuck in my bag.

For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been “auditioning” my clothes to see whether they dry quickly, are versatile enough for weather that will vary between the 40’s and 70’s and, most importantly, can be crammed into my bag.  I’ve tried out different combinations to see how comfortable I am at NJ’s current cooler temperatures.  My discovery is that lightweight pants, when paired with silk long underwear work out just fine.

For past trips, I have either used local laundry facilities or I packed enough to get me through the entire trip.

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In Pokhara, Nepal, doing the laundry was a cultural experience.  The promised “tumble dry” only works if the government doesn’t shut off the electricity for several hours every day.  Bet you know what happened while I was there.

THIS time, my plan is to wash as I go.  I don’t normally hand wash clothes at home, so I gave it a whirl.  I wanted to see how long it took for different items to dry, and I was also curious as to how my duds would look after I had sloshed and wrung them out.  The verdict:  I figured my technique needed a little work.  Then I remembered a tip from a fellow traveler.  She nixed the wringing, instead opting to gently squeeze, then wrap her garments in a microfiber towel.   She swore her clothes were dry by the next morning.  So, I ordered a microfiber towel  from Amazon and gave it a try.  My technique still needs work.

Because I expect to do a lot of walking, I wanted to make sure that I had comfortable shoes.  I found a pair of Sketchers that should do the trick.  Air cooled? Memory foam?  My feet may be in better shape than my head.

I have super sensitive feet, so I am reluctant to put all my toes into one basket–or one pair of shoes– so I’ll be wearing my trusty Keens on the plane.  Yes, I WILL wear those Keen sandals with a pair of socks, and YES, I DO know that is a huge fashion faux pas, but hey I’m old enough not to care.

Here’s how I started out:IMG_5673

Then I had to make some choices.  One white knit top and pink bathing suit – out.  (I found another bathing suit that squishes up smaller)  Hanging toiletries bag, replaced by a zip lock bag, which also freed up space for my hair dryer and adaptors.

There are those that swear by rolling clothes, so I thought I’d give it a try.  Some might think I am REALLY obsessive compulsive, to take everything out, and try to put it all back without rolling.  Others would realize that I am completely committed to the scientific method.  YOU can pick whichever explanation you prefer, but I’m going with the latter.

Want to know the result of my “science” project?  Both methods produced the exact same result.  Conclusion?  Do whatever brings you joy.  I wasn’t going to take everything out and roll it up again.  I’m not THAT crazy, so I left everything packed flat.  Here’s what made it into the bag.

  • 6 long pants – 1 corduroy, 1 jeans, 4 quick drying (one lined, three lightweight)
  • 6 long sleeved cotton tops. 1 knit, plus 2 short sleeve shirts
  • 1 pajamas and  1 long underwear set that can double as pajamas
  • 2 long underwear bottoms and 7 underwear, 2 bras, 8 socks
  • 2 scarves
  • hair dryer (which I can use to dry clothes, if needed)  and toiletries
  • laundry kit
  • 1 Sketchers black air cooled shoes, with memory foam and flip flops for shower (or if I’m lucky, pool)
  • index cards (for teaching). According to our team leader,  former volunteers have left supplies behind, so i don’t need to bring a white board or other teaching materials.
  • 1 waterproof windbreaker with hood

Plus, of course, I’ll have the clothes I wear on the plane, like my fleece and the zip up sweater that would have fit in the bag if I had unzipped the expandable part.  (But then, it might have been hard to get the bag into the overhead.)

My back pack will carry my money, credit cards, passport, travel info, iPhone, iPad, chargers, my mobile “pharmacy”, camera, , pens, snacks, sun glasses, water bottle and travel pillow.

Total weight of carry on–26.5 pounds, something I can easily hoist into that overhead bin.  I think I’m all set.  We shall see.