Accepting a Fear of Change

A walkway in Portugal alongside red building Relocating to a foreign country isn’t for the faint of heart, even if the choice is an English-speaking country, there’s cultural shock. No matter what you’ve read in the popular International Living, life in an unfamiliar territory, is a reality check. You’re not on vacation.

Over the years, thoughts of living abroad, were ignited with what-if conversations with friends over Anthony Bourdain’s televised international travels, a growing library of tourism magazines, and balancing tight budgets for two-week European vacations.

An important decision came after I took a trip to Paris about eleven ten years ago. My mother, who was terminally ill from cancer, visited me in Oregon. It was bitter-sweet as her time was slowly losing ground. Mom, her caretaker nurse, and I spoke about her determination to see me, her eldest daughter. It was enormously difficult accepting my mother’s situation, because of her years of chain-smoking cigarettes. Mom, many times, talked through fatigue and ongoing chest pain. I soon comprehended her mission was to impart her life’s legacy. She talked about lost ambitions and goals, while we sat on the porch watching the world in my gentle neighborhood of vintage houses and abundant gardens. She warned, before it was too late, not to postpone my dreams. The threads of these conversations wove us together tighter than one of my grandmother’s homemade quilts. Mom’s hopes ended too soon for both us. I leaned of her desire to move away from a small Ohio town and live in New York City, travel, and to study classical piano. Mom finally settled her dreams into one basket, late in life, and relocated to California with my sister, where me and my aunt (Mom’s sister) resided.Narrow road between buildings in Portugal

Several months after Mom died, our conversations still permeated my heart and brain. I took her advice and traveled to my always favorite city, Paris, and lived in the Bastille Neighborhood. It was this experience I tucked away and swore I’d repeat on a more permanent basis.

Fast forward, United States’ energy and environment morphed drastically. It felt more foreign than Europe. The assessment and challenge to find a new home outside of my comfort zone, obsessed me. Endless research looked for a country culturally welcoming, affordable, exceptional high marks for safety, healthcare, and culinary cuisines. I finally found a useful need for Facebook, to connect with like-minded people who lived outside the U.S. Portugal won after visiting the country several times. With a real estate agent, attorney, and ample funds transferred to a Portugal Bank—a top floor apartment with city views was purchased without a loan. But don’t break out the champagne, there’s no elevator! Upstairs, past my two neighbors’ (one French and one Portuguese) units, is a twenty-nine-step trek, giving a remarkable workout if you run up. My apartment, in an authentic, charming Portugal neighborhood, has multi-ethnic cafes, art galleries, grocery stores, excellent public transport, lots of tourist sites like the short walk to the bookstore Livraria Lello. Hint: J.K, Rollings wrote in there before she was famous and the bookstore was revamped. As you enter, Harry Potter’s school library’s staircase, stained glass, and shelves replicate Livraria Lello’s.

As I started this piece, I pointed out to the reality check anyone feels, even if you’ve moved with family or for employment. The personal dilemma creeps up the moment you start exploring. Brace yourself, you’ll hear very little spoken English from pedestrians: The words, “Fala English?”… translated: “Do you speak English?” are a good starting point for asking questions. Even though most food severs, taxi and Uber drivers speak English, a high school’s graduation requirement, the best way to learn any language is with a tutor (they are reasonable in Portugal) or accessible Duolingo. Portuguese isn’t an easy flowing language like the other romance languages. My sunshine comes by leaning and practicing new words and phrases each day!

Apartments alongside a Portuguese village roadThe oldness of Europe is in your face as you journey about. Finding my way around is with comfortable shoes, because narrow sidewalks have small, uneven tile inlays, some built on inclines (not as bad as San Francisco). I don’t have a car. The purchase price, fees, and taxes are enormous. Gasoline prices are high. I don’t have a garage to store a car, and if I did, I’d rent it out as a parking space!

The other day I was in a small bookstore and a woman from Amsterdam, almost in tears, spoke to me. Here is a bit of our conversation: “My name is Leah and I’m a teacher. Tell me, how is it that many profound African American books from authors and poets are banned? My husband and I took our son and daughter to Washington D.C., and heard Amanda Gorman’s The Hill We Climb. I’m shocked that her book was banned.” *

I followed Lisa’s expressive eyes, while clinging to my own soap-box thoughts killing me. We hugged. I replied I had no answers, just hostility.

She said, “To be a lifelong learner, you need to have a curious and humble attitude, seek feedback and mentorship, and pursue relevant learning opportunities. Do you have Ta-Nehisi Coates’ book “Between The World and Me”?

In that, we shared another point, because I had a copy as well. I explained the book was a father’s legacy to his young son about the police violence, in the United States, against Black people. Sadly, students at Chapin High School alleged a teacher made them feel ashamed for being White. The book was banned. Pen America called this an outrageous government censorship.

“Yes, ignorance is a bad disease,” she said as she left.

I walked home, passing non-threatening people. I thought, being alone in the world isn’t the way of life, reaching across waters creates bonds that transcend fears of not knowing the language.

I’ll be sharing more of my time in Portugal and travels throughout Europe. The pros and cons, the challenges and triumphs. Life is too short to live an ordinary life.


* That was actually an error by the AP saying it was banned. They later corrected that headline error, but the mistake had already gone viral. What actually happened is that at one elementary school in Florida, a parent complained about the poem among other books. In that district, they kept the book but restricted access to students in upper grades.

 

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Alley S Greymond
Alley S Greymond
7 months ago

I’m so glad to read how you’re doing in Portugal. Cheers to you!

Marly Moil-Lazenby
Marly Moil-Lazenby
7 months ago

You describe some of the same experiences Troy is living through. Hugs to you and Tom.

Calvin Harris H. W.,M
Calvin Harris H. W.,M
7 months ago

I like this article it is like a travelog on the beginning of a new life path.

Robert K Rouse
Robert K Rouse
7 months ago

Thanks for the update.

Last edited 7 months ago by Robert K Rouse
Donna Pizzi
7 months ago

I don’t recall you living in the Bastille neighborhood of Paris after your mother passed. Love to hear more about that, having lived in Paris for 1.5 years myself. I know the culture shock I experienced moving to France, believing naively that I would BECOME French. But no, I was always Americaine! No doubt you & Tom are experiencing interesting “adventures” as you adapt to your new country. How is the search going for a new town? New home? Less steps? Sending big hugs to you both. Keep writing. It is your balm and our delight, as readers.

Michael Conner
Michael Conner
7 months ago

You have definitely arrived, Cheryl. Being a stranger on foreign soil breaks down the old patterns and life becomes viewed through a fresh lens. One feels more vulnerable and sensitive to the most subtle nuance. A kind of solitude permeates like a sustained note to the point where your true voice begins to kick into high gear. Muse and Magic prevail.

Phillip Lott
Phillip Lott
7 months ago

Wow Cheryl, that was a really good story! I look forward to more of your stories!

Terrie
Terrie
7 months ago

Nicely done!

Ani Ferguson
Ani Ferguson
6 months ago

Hi Cheryl, I can relate both as a domestic (US) nomad and international scout. I’ve not been to Portugal nor speak the language which I find intimidating.
I too want to live there for many of the reasons you describe.
I’m so happy for you and Tom that you’re making it happen.
Cheers congratulations

Zoe Robinson
Zoe Robinson
6 months ago

I enjoyed reading about your impetus to live in Europe as well as the adventures you are experiencing in your new chosen country of residence, Portugal. It’s good to have a fellow traveler friend who mirrors in words my own experiences moving back to Europe, for me to Greece. All the best to you and Tom.

Steve Durham
Steve Durham
6 months ago

Cheryl! I loved this entry. In my interactions with expats and soon-to-be expats, the unmistakable vacation vibe is so noticeable. As if, they can forever spend days exploring backstreets, visiting museums and parks, etc. For most people, the vacation begins to become tarnished when chores like bed making and grocery shopping are NOT done by someone else. I came wanting to become a native as much as an immigrant can. I’m learning the language (slowly, it’s not an easy language!), we have our favorite restaurants (no Michelin stars attached), I eat without switching my fork to my right hand to move food from my plate to my mouth, and we look for bargains on clothes, home goods, groceries, etc.

Life here is immeasurably better than in America. At least it is for us. Healthier food in restaurants, virtually no crime (the current government corruption scandal, notwithstanding), a blood pressure calming pace of life, easy going acceptance of gay men, etc.

My move to Portugal is my Third Act and I plan on exploiting it for all it has to offer!