Portugal, 1990

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Name: Maria Margarida Marques Ribeiro

Home institution: Instituto Superior de Engenharia do Porto

In 1990/91 I was a student in the last year of the two years of the first Higher Specialized Course in CHEMICAL ENGINEERING - ENERGY MANAGEMENT IN THE CHEMICAL INDUSTRY, at ISEP. This diploma combined with the Bachelor's Degree that I concluded in 1987 gave me the Degree in Chemical Engineering.

At the time I worked during the day in a chemical Industry, as quality manager (since 1987 when I finished my Bachelor's Degree) and had evening classes in ISEP. One day I was invited to develop an Erasmus project in Gent.

This would be my first flight. My biggest trips until then were to Sevilha and Vigo in Spain, by car.  At the time it wasn´t easy to travel abroad, flights were very expensive. The only opportunity that I had to get inside an airplane was by courtesy of some airport workers because I lived near the airport. 

The first problem with that invitation was that I was working in my training area, it was a job that I loved and it wasn’t easy to say goodbye to it. So I applied for an unpaid leave showing that my training in Erasmus could be also important for the Company.

The second big problem was to convince my parents that the Erasmus project was important for my curriculum and personal skills. I needed their support for this great adventure despite my 25 years.

On the 9th March 1991, I boarded on Pedras Rubras’ airport (with a teacher from ISEP, since I was the first ISEP Erasmus student) to come back only at the end of July 1991.

I could not dream of visiting home during all the Erasmus period. Some important dates had to be spent away from home (for example my birthday, my relatives’ birthdays, Easter).

At the time internet and cell phones were still very rare and expensive, and in addition there was no telephone line in the house where I stayed. The only way to “kill” homesickness was to use a phone box on a street near the house or through letters written and posted.

Homesickness and the anxiety of being away and not hearing from my family as often as I wished were the most important challenges to overcome. Comparatively the other challenges turned out to be less difficult.

Despite the huge impact of the arrival (no bed sheets, a completely dirty room, no cleaning supplies, etc) I stayed in the house that the school arranged for me. It was in Bassevelde Street, number 4, within a 5 minutes’ walk from KIHO (Catholic Industrial institute) and about 10 minutes from downtown. My first task was to minimize that negative impact and so I went out to buy cleaning products, a broom, a mop, a cloth, a disinfectant liquid, and... a pair of bed sheets! Without this I would not “survive”!

After that everything went just fine. We were quite fortunate to be the first students to be welcome into KIHO in the frame of Erasmus program (Me from ISEP, Maria, Luis and Bennett from the Polytechnic School in Girona). We were welcomed and somewhat cherished. Our group was more like a family, in which we supported each other and enjoyed ourselves. I never felt alone until the day they returned home (about a month earlier than me).  The ground literally ran under my feet. It was urgent to overcome this new and difficult challenge. So, I strengthened my heart, grabbed more and more work, and counted on other friends.

In my Erasmus I felt that time stretched. Routines were broken and I could use all the time for myself, without the various household chores I usually did at home (for and with my big, big family).

This is my Erasmus story that I lived intensely every day. I have worked very hard on the project that was assigned to me and meanwhile I have travelled (in Belgium, Germany and Netherland), had a lot of fun, and learned many other important things.