Portugal is the oldest nation in Europe. It became an independent country waaaaay back in 1143, when France, England and the other countries we know and love weren't even a twinkle in revolutionary's eye. Due to a great geographical position, the Portuguese enjoy great weather without any of the problems normally associated with tropical countries such as typhoons, hurricanes or big rains. Great weather and two coasts make Portugal a great destination both for sunbathing and surfing. Portugal is also a great starting point for travel, with cheap flights leaving Porto and heading all over. The great connections made from this piece of heaven make it easier for you to travel anywhere in Europe, either by train bus or low-cost airlines.
Moreover, Portugal has been considered one of the most liberal and open countries in all of Europe and is a hub for those who would like to see many ideas and cultures living in harmony and respect.
Porto was historically known as Portus Cale, thus giving the modern country of Portugal its name. Their wine and food make it famous, while the old architecture still amazes even the locals. Located in the north of the country, winters can go below 0 ºC while during the summer temperatures can actually go above 35 ºC.
Porto’s best school, Universidade do Porto, is composed of several colleges, such as the Faculty of Letters, Faculty of Arts or Faculty of Law. Degrees in medical areas are also available (though we would only recommend this for those who have a high level of Portuguese under their belt).
Porto is also home to one of the world's most spectacular bookstores, the Livraria Lello & Irmão. The breathtaking wooden staircase is said to be the inspiration for J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter.
Coimbra, half way between Porto and Lisbon, is the cradle of all things academic> It was the birthplace of the first Portuguese university back in 1537. It's nickname, Cidade do Conhecimento (the city of knowledge) says it all. Student traditions are very strong here, with many zany festivals and superstitions that help you mingle, bond and make lifelong friends.
Coimbra University is one of the most international universities in the country. Many international students choose it because of its similarities to American universities. It has a much more centralized campus than either Porto or Lisbon.
Beware though, Coimbrenses party hard, drink hard and study harder. There are two main official parties during college time, the Latada, in the beginning of the school year that serves as a way for first years to demonstrate their eagerness and excitement to be entering the institution, and Queima das Fitas, which is where, after your friends and family write in ribbons their desires for you in the future, you burn them in a massive and common fire. This also comes with a mass and a prayer from the town’s priest to bless you for your future doings and adventures. After the prayers and burnings, the students go on a parade, some on top of floats designed by the student body that can depict anything from the state affairs of the country to just random designs and finish the night with concerts and cheap drinks.
University of Coimbra has also been awarded a UNESCO world heritage site, a list where only other two universities in the world are listed.
This capital city's locals are dubbed Alfacinhas (“Little Lettuces”), as the city was originally known for its lettuce fields and patches (you can still see them today in the old quarters!). Strategically located close to the Atlantic Ocean it was, and still is, a very important port to both European and Portuguese economy. With easy beach access by train or car and a great public transportation network, even its famous seven hills will not be a problem if you need to work on your tan.
Lisbon’s public university, Universidade de Lisboa, is similar in to the universities of Porto and Coimbra. Student traditions also have a hold here, and not uncommon to see random groups of students dressed in strange costumes.
Other universities in Lisbon include the Catholic University of Portugal, which is centrally located and very welcoming to international students.
Planning Your Trip
Student housing is available but it is quite limited. Lisbon and Porto don’t have much of a dorm tradition while Coimbra is more like what you see in the US. Homestays are also available through many programs if you really want to be immersed in Portuguese daily life.
If you'd rather live on your own, however, you can find furnished student housing (either shared with other students or independently) through UniPlaces.
Portuguese love to socialize and that usually comes with either beer or wine in the mix. You will need to manage the fine line between your hard college lessons starting at 8am every day (sometimes even on Saturdays!) and the urge to enjoy the city all night long.
Though teachers are quite strict, they are mostly forgiving in the beginning of the year, but as the first semester comes to an end in December you are supposed to know your subject inside and out. Portuguese academic life is wild and extremely demanding of your body and mind, but you will get there. Everyone does!
While Portuguese is the official language of most colleges, those with a higher numbers of international students often conduct courses in English.Your program choice will vary on based on how comfortable you are with the Portuguese language. For some subjects (such as medical, management of law) it is harder to find classes in English. Many study abroad programs also offer courses in Introductory to Advanced Portuguese.
Social Life and Student Culture
Any popular gatherings for students in Portugal must be accompanied by one of two things: sun or beer. Up in Porto and Coimbra, you will find your fellow classmates on the street or garden studying for exams with a drink in hand. In Lisbon, students very commonly resort to the beach as an excuse for a distraction-free study environment- though they usually pack too much sunscreen and playing cards and not enough books.
Student discounts are pretty common in Portugal. Students receive discounts on museums, cinemas, plays, transportation, fast food restaurants (like McDonalds) and their own college shop. Some also offer discounts in health clubs and/or doctors if you use the university facilities (for example, going to the Dental Faculty instead of any other doctor will get you a cheaper consultation, and don’t worry: you will always have a teacher overlooking your trainee).
Does studying abroad sound fabulous but expensive? While it is true, studying abroad can mean added costs, there are still a variety of ways to offset the extra expenses. If you're not up for opening a lemonade stand, I suggest checking out the following scholarships.
- API offers a variety of scholarships for those participating in their programs - including a few great options in Portugal!
- CC-CS scholarship fund offers multiple scholarships, celebrating diversity or rewarding academic excellence for alumni and program participants.
- More Study Abroad Grants and Scholarships