Cansado and Tuna


I think that the reason that I am such a terrible listener is that it is so darn hard! Exhausting really. It’s far easier to talk than to try to understand words, intent, meaning and context.  This week I stumbled around muttering “estou cansado”—I am tired.  That is the tense of “temporary” but I wondered if I should have made it the permanent tense, as it felt that way all the time.  A great deal of it is the language as I’m still at a toddler level of fluency, but also focusing intently and trying to respond when you are not sure what someone wants takes a lot of energy.  Maybe that is why we find ourselves so divided on so many issues.  Trying to understand what someone is telling you, feeling helpless and maybe afraid –perhaps fear and anxiety is at the root of our difficulties in understanding another’s culture and perspective.  Certainly I’ve felt those emotions this week:  “what do they want”?  “am I not giving it to them”  “what is this about” “why is this so hard”; “can’t we do it the American way”

I CAN’T UNDERSTAND YOU, WHERE IS THE STOP FOR THE BUS?” (that was late Friday, when I had a particularly bad moment).

I can see how it would make one want to either dismiss people as uninformed and ignorant or feel like an idiot. which is where I was often this week.

I started working this week at the University of Porto .  I’m squatting in Rosa’s office (she is emeritus faculty) and there is a lovely tree outside of the office and the ability to open the window to catch the breeze.  The students are returning and  senior students are mentoring the new students. They walk them around the building and explain –it is a nice model of orientation. The building is located in a campus with other schools such as medicine, engineering, dentistry etc.

The more senior students wear robes and formal attire.  It’s a bit “Harry Potter” in it is rumored that J.K. Rowling based the Hogwarts robes on this tradition.  She also wrote The Sorcerer’s Stone here in Porto.   However, everyone wears black. I’ve attached a photo.  When they gather in the courtyard in groups is is visually very dramatic and quite a contrast to the typical student attire.  I asked a young woman about the purpose and she said “it is to embody to the new students the honors and traditions and ethics of our school”.  She also complained that her shoes were hurting her feet.  They wear it this the first week and then periodically during the school year.  There are also musical groups (Tunas) for men and women.  They are similar to our student Capella groups but they sing with instruments and play traditional Portuguese music.

Check out this short article with photos if you are interested in learning more

I had lunch with a group of graduate students in education who are PhD candidates and post docs.  It was interesting to hear of their process (which is similar to our candidate process), and their dissertation topics.  One is focused on strategies for keeping high-risk immigrant children in school; another is looking at women on public assistance and their educational trajectories.   However, the outcome for PhD’s is rather grim in Portugal.  Many of them work as research assistants or jump from grant to grant.  This too is similar to us, but in the USA there is a far greater chance of finding an assistant faculty position or a position in government or research.  I don’t fully understand higher education in Portugal but my feeling after this lunch was that this is a terrible waste of human capital for this country if you have intelligent and passionate young persons who cannot fulfill their potential and use their ideas to help civil society.  Is that a uniquely American perspective on the value and purpose of higher education?

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