This is a question that I have been repeatedly asked. It is part of the standard procedure when doing introductions here; after what is your name, where are you from, what are you studying, undoubtedly the next question will be why did you choose Portugal? Clearly it is part of social niceties, as there are only so many questions you can ask a complete stranger- particularly if you do not speak the same language. Yet this has got me thinking… is there a certain mentality regarding Portugal? How is it seen through the eyes of Europe? Given the nature of an Erasmus exchange, I have met lots of people from many different countries, somewhat creating a ‘cross section of Europe’; and most of them were surprised at an English girl’s decision to study in Portugal.
Anyone who pays attention to current affairs will know that Portugal is struggling both economically and politically. Just last weekend there were protests across Portugal about the up and coming budget cuts which are predicted to be the worse yet. The public sector will be hit the hardest – holiday pay will be cut for the next two years, amounting to a loss equivalent two months salary for each worker. Here in Coimbra both students and locals marched through the main square holding placards saying ‘No tax on democracy’. As a result of the protests last weekend, unionists have agreed to a general strike in November. Yet it is unclear how much an effect this will have on the government’s austerity measures as these harsh cuts are part of a regimented programme to pay off the 78billion euro bailout Portugal received in May this year. So, to put it bluntly, it is not the best of times to be living in Portugal.
Bearing this in mind, I return to my original question, how is Portugal viewed by the rest of Europe? The most common answer will make reference to the current economic crisis, football fans will probably mention the likes of Ronaldo and Figo, and there may be a few sun lovers in there who will talk wonders about the Algarve. So unless I want to get a tan whilst playing football- as appealing as it sounds- Portugal, in the eyes of many, is not the most practical of destinations for an Erasmus student. Interestingly Finland had a similar point of view amidst the finalisation of the Portuguese bailout. In April, a mere few weeks before the bailout was confirmed, the Finnish parliamentary elections took place. The True Finns party, who are anti-euro and consequently anti-bailout, gained 39 seats of the 200 in the Finnish government. Finland is the only country that requires its parliament to approve a ‘bail-out package’. Therefore, with the new nationalist party having a voice in parliament, there was huge speculation that Finland was not going to support the bailout. Portugal, anxious to get the bailout it needed, tried to convince Finland and the world of its worth. The Mayor of Cascais, a rich area in southern Lisbon, made the following video and showed it at a conference in Estoril. I doubt its role in convincing Finland to support the bailout, but it does show many reasons why Portugal is a great, interesting country. Now every time I am asked the question, why did you choose to study in Portugal? This video comes to mind. Enjoy.