This week my subway pass had to be renewed for the month of October. As I was fidgeting in line thinking of ways to make this process more efficient than a monthly queue, annoyed that the machine was malfunctioning, the transit officer said to me “Calma Americana”.
If someone had written this in a facebook or in an email, I would have been very annoyed, feeling that I was being patronized, and I would have fired back some response about how much time people waste in lines and wouldn’t the GNP for Portugal be higher if this time was spent in more productive ways”? But instead, I laughed out loud because his tone, his face indicated that he understood the frustration that I was feeling but that all would be well. I got to my place in line, renewed my pass and we exchanged pleasantries and social chit chat in Portuguese and English.
In the last month, the biggest adjustment for me has been adjusting to this—less “efficiency” and more social contact. While Portugal has progressed exponentially in wireless access since my last visit here, at the same time, face-to-face and social contact remains the primary method of communication. I finally realized that if someone was not responding to my emails, that I needed to “make a visit” or “take a coffee” or just show up at their door. Through in this process I’ve learned about their research, family and passion for their work. It’s pushed me outside my typical way of working with people, but there is much more to gained in this process than just “work”.
Senator Fulbright was prescient when he established these awards. He may not have envisioned the day when we would communicate virtually but he did realize the value of face-to-face exchanges and time spent in a place so that you could understand deeply the culture and the social norms. When I was at the Fulbright Portugal last week, I realized the scope of the work of Fulbright to bring this mission to life: it extends from preparing young Portuguese to apply to American colleges, college students to do exchanges in environmental sciences and social entrepreneurship for a summer to graduates spending a year in the US in graduate programs. I also realized the other side of the exchange beyond scholars and specialists, which are the American college graduates who spend a year embedded in a University of Polytechnic in Portugal teaching language and culture. The Portuguese watch Fox TV here and I am afraid that they think we are all crime and forensics and car chases! So these exchanges and communications are what the Senator had in mind—we are all cultural ambassadors, teaching and learning.