Fulbright in Portugal

Steve Doig in Lisbon August-December 2010

Lisbon skyline

Working hard…

My life here as a Fulbright professor was pretty easy for the first month — some time spent preparing for upcoming talks and classes, but plenty of opportunity to enjoy the sights, food, wines and people of Lisbon. But the real work has now begun, and this past week was very busy for me.

It started on Tuesday with the first of two days of briefings and orientation for the seven American students who are here this year to do graduate research or work as English teaching assistants at various universities across Portugal. The students are a wonderful group, bright and engaging. The program was led by Otilia Macedo Reis, executive director of the Fulbright Portugal Commission, program coordinator Paula Lemos and program assistant Carla Silva.

Carla, Otilia, me, and Paula

They introduced the students to the adventures of living and working in Portugal, right down to the intricacies of getting bank accounts and visa extensions.

A highlight that night was dinner at the Escola de Hotelaria e Turismo de Lisboa. Housed in a newly renovated building, the school is a marvel of classroom labs for every culinary and hospitality skill from cooking to bartending. It is one of 16 such government-funded schools around Portugal, a country that knows an important part of its economy is based on tourism. The dinner, cooked and served by students, was fabulous, with a crab appetizer, a fish course, excellent wine and a choice of great desserts. We even got a demonstration of opening a bottle of vintage 1995 port using a red-hot clamp around the neck, followed by a splash of ice water to crack the neck off without crumbling the cork. And the port was delicious!

The next day was a briefing for the Fulbrighters at the U.S. Embassy in Lisbon. To my surprise, I knew the assistant press officer, Maryann McKay, who led the session. She had been tasked with escorting me around Brazil about three years ago when I was on a visit there sponsored by the State Department. Maryann and the other embassy officers who talked with us were professional and genial, a smart and capable group. I was proud of this outpost of my country.

A real treat for me was a private chat with Ambassador Allan Katz. Our careers overlapped in Tallahassee, Florida, in the early 1980s, when he worked for the state insurance commissioner and I covered state government for the Miami Herald. We swapped “where are they now” stories about some of the reporters and politicians we both knew.

After a goodbye lunch with the Fulbright kids who were getting ready to scatter across Portugal, it was showtime for me. I walked over to the Universidade Nova de Lisboa, where I was the guest speaker at the welcoming session for new students in the communications school. The UNL communications faculty is rightfully proud that their students have higher college preparation test scores than those of almost any other field of study. Before a gathering of about 80 students, I spoke for 30 minutes about journalism as an important and exciting career that is facing many challenges, and how they should prepare for those challenges. I was pleased by their attention, and spent another half hour afterward talking with those who had questions.

My next big Fulbright moment came Thursday evening — my first class with the UNL journalism graduate students. The 24-seat computer lab was packed.

My class of graduate students

After an introduction by UNL Prof. Nelson Traquino, I spent the class session giving the students a broad overview of precision journalism and what I planned to teach them this semester. (Those who are interested can download my PowerPoint slides.) There was some anxiety among the students about the fact that I necessarily would be teaching in English; they were concerned that they might be graded on how well they wrote in English. I assured them that no part of their grades from me would depend on them writing proper English. After all, the most complicated thought I can express in Portuguese is “Onde fica o casa de banho?

As we finished up, I gave them some assignments:

  • Send me an email answering some basic questions about themselves and their journalism interests.
  • Use internet sources to dig up as much background information about me as they can find. I told them to dig in online public records for my address, my full name, my birthdate, my home value, etc. Do I have any lawsuits against me? Any political contributions? Am I on the sex offender lists? (Hint: NO!)
  • As we prepare to talk about getting public records in Portugal, download and read the “Legal Leaks Toolkit” for European journalists. And for a good history of journalism education in Portugal, read this academic article by Professors Manuel Pinto and Helena Sousa of the Universidade do Minho.

I look forward to learning more about them, and the next class. It should be fun!

Leave a Reply