Portuguese Naval Academy Study Abroad Experience
POSTED ON: Friday, January 3, 2020 10:44 AM by Midshipman 2nd Class Adam Kuper
Below is a personal reflection from Midshipman 2nd Class Adam Kuper from his study abroad at the Portuguese Naval Academy fall semester.
An Age of (Self) Discovery
Glancing at his watch reading July 7th 10:20 AM, but less worried about the time and acting more so as a means to calm his nerves by nature of a mundane habit, MIDN 2/C Adam Kuper had finally acknowledged the reality of what his life had become. No longer was he the kid with the odd Philly vocabulary, or the well-respected future of the US Navy that everyone saw when he was in uniform, but instead a foreigner, an “estrangeiro”. This was obvious though, for MIDN Kuper had zero knowledge of the language upon arrival and was essentially throwing himself into the fire, only to rise from the ashes and see the man he had become. He knew that by thrusting himself into an uncomfortable environment, he would become vulnerable to failure, but in return spur a growth and maturation. Despite understanding the positive development that would arise through such failure, he was beginning to second-guess what he had done.
It was as the too small wheels of the plane were touching down on the runway of the Lisbon airport that questions quickly arose within: was this pit in his stomach the result of the gravitational pull resulting from the plane’s descent or the nerves that began to overtake him? Was this making myself uncomfortable thing smart? At that point, answers would serve no purpose or benefit, for he was there, in Portugal, really doing this!
Therefore, he woke up each day determined to learn the language, understand the culture and its history. In doing so, he embarrassed himself in fumbling with the right Portuguese words to speak to a pretty girl, and accepted the admonishment from an older woman for sitting in the red seats on the bus. Apparently, the red seats were only for senior citizens. This goes to say that in learning about a country and its culture, mistakes and embarrassment are inevitable. It is then how MIDN Kuper responded to these experiences that he found tangible progress in pursuit of his goals to understand the culture. Furthermore, in undergoing these moments of failure by his lonesome, he grew to look inward. As opposed to blaming others and surroundings for life’s many shortcomings, he blamed himself and took value from each experience. In such maturation, he learned how to love the man he was becoming, but also reprimand the man for when he was wrong. He was building a lifelong foundation of trust with himself and all the while learning to better respect the needs of his individual. Never was this more apparent than on a typical night out in the Baixa-Chiado neighborhood of Lisbon.
Strolling through the cobblestone streets and past the vibrant colored houses of Baixa-Chiado, while catching echoes of guitar strings escaping into the night from the cavernous-like taverns, MIDN Kuper and his culturally diverse group of friends searched for a bar with music that would suit the tastes of the majority. After some time, the group settled on a Cuban bar packed with people enjoying the fantastic nightlife Lisbon justifiably boasts. As the night wore on, the bar played Spanish song after Spanish song, as everyone, seemingly except for MIDN Kuper, joyously partook in singing along.
Maybe it was his unfamiliarity with the Spanish music, but MIDN Kuper was quickly overcome with a feeling of sheer loneliness. In this moment, never did he seem so detached from the heartbeat of the world and the environment around him, almost waking him up to the individual being. Understandably, this experience facilitated a deep reflection, one surrounding just how ironic it was to feel so isolated in an environment so physically packed with others.
In trying to understand the uniquely sobering feeling, he began considering just how often people act in a manner meant to coincide with the movement of the majority. Because humans are social creatures by nature, MIDN Kuper and most others find themselves striving to fit in and ingratiate themselves into the popular culture and “social scenes” such as bars and clubs. Consequently, they at times push aside our individuality to engage in these social settings, further failing to respect the needs of their individual. Therefore, this moment proved pivotal for MIDN Kuper in letting him know that he often needs to honor his individual desires and allocate time for his own thoughts. Because of this moment and many other profound experiences like it, MIDN Kuper recognized the importance of both a natural and forced reflection throughout his life-changing journey abroad. He, in a country spearheading exploration and ushering in an age of discovery, discovered more about himself than he ever had at any point in his life before.