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Lisbon Conversation: Part I


Lisbon Conversation

Jelly Bucket speaks with BGWS MFA Graduate Assistant Ellen Mitchell about her 2017 Summer Residency in Lisbon, Portugal


Q. So, how did you make the decision to attend the 2017 Lisbon summer residency?

A. Well, it was a gradual process that began in December 2016, when I decided to apply for summer admission to the MFA. I was already in the Graduate School as a College of Education continuing certification student, and requested permission to take a Spring 2017 writing workshop as a guest in the MFA, pending admission to the program. I heard about an upcoming Lisbon information call from BGWS Program Director Robert-Dean Johnson. He led the call via Ventrilo, and patched in an MFA alum currently living in Portugal to give us a feel for the practicalities, logistics, and benefits of the residency. All the details and steps were presented very clearly, and it sounded like an excellent opportunity.


Q. How did you handle the logistics of arranging your trip?

A. First, I jotted down the dates of the residency, along with the course numbers and credit hours involved. I found it compelling that I could satisfy a semester’s worth of required MFA coursework in three intensive weeks. I also noted the EKU Study Abroad Scholarship application dates provided on the call, and followed up with that right away. Then I contacted the Financial Aid Office and Scholarship Office to see what other sources of funding were available for summer graduate study. By late April, I received positive news from the Study Abroad Scholarship program. In the meantime, I shopped ticket and lodging prices using Google Flights and AirBnB, both of which I highly recommend.


Q. What about getting a passport?

A. I already had a passport, but if you don’t, be sure to allow a good 6 weeks for delivery. Current fees are roughly 135USD, valid for 10 years.


Q. Any tips on how to save money when planning?

A. As you might expect, it pays to book your flights and lodgings early. Ideally, reserve your flights 6 months early to get the best price (the day after Thanksgiving is one of the best times to get low fares online for summer travel). I reserved my ticket in March using Google Flights to map the best price. Airlines such as Delta offer bonus rewards in the spring, in anticipation of summer travel, so be sure to shop around for mileage program offers before you buy. Be creative and think outside the box. I helped fund my trip by putting my belongings in storage for the summer while I travelled, to avoid paying rent while I was away. If you have options, use them!


Q. How did you choose a place to stay?

A. Quiet, cost, and safety were my main concerns. Having lived in a big city before, I was already comfortable using an urban metro system, so I saved money by commuting 20 minutes from an AirBnB in a residential neighborhood to our classes at the Cultural Center, in the historic quarter of Lisbon. This saved me about 350USD total. For my 3-week stay, I paid 25EUR a night for a private room with private bathroom in a Portuguese family’s home, including kitchen and laundry privileges. It was just what I needed. There are also many lovely shared housing and studio options in the historic districts via AirBnB. My fellow BGWS students stayed near the Cultural Center and they all had good things to say about their lodgings. There is a range of hotel and hostel accommodations available through our partner program, Disquiet, and I heard nothing but good feedback about these, too.


Q. Was it stressful getting around a new city in a foreign language?

A. Not at all. The Lisbon metro system is very simple, safe, and easy to use, with signage in English, and costs less than 5USD for a round trip, so even with commuting costs my AirBnB was a value. The metro system provides uniformed bilingual agents at the ticket machines to answer any questions you my have. Cabs are very popular, easy to get, and cheap, compared to New York or Paris. I don’t speak more than a few words of Portuguese, alas, but Lisbon residents are very internationally-minded, open to foreigners, and enjoy speaking English with Americans. After many years in north-central France, where there is often a reluctance to speak English, Lisbon was a big breath of fresh air, so friendly and relaxed! I was also pleasantly surprised at the low cost of living there, compared to travelling in France or Spain, for example. The grocery and dining out were actually cheaper than here in central KY, and the food is excellent. I balanced my food budget by treating myself to lunch and occasional dinners out with friends during much of the week, then cooking for myself on the weekends and evenings when I stayed home to write.


Stay tuned to Jelly Bucket next week as we ask Ellen to delve into the merits of the Lisbon Residency course content, and cultural splendors of Lisbon!

Published on September 06, 2017

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