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In 1967, I had an opportunity to return to the Azores to visit my family for the first time since immigrating to California in 1957. After spending about two weeks in São Miguel, seeing the family and reliving old memories, I went on to Lisbon to see other family members and go on to Coimbra to attend an intensive course on Portuguese history, language and culture.
I believe I was the second student to come from California, having been preceded by Antonio Andrade, a family friend who became a high school teacher in San Jose.
The program was designed for international and Portuguese American students from the diaspora who are fluent, or at least somewhat versed in the language. The course was held at the Faculty of Letters at the University of Coimbra, founded by King D. Diniz in 1290.
It is one of the oldest universities in continuous operation in Europe and the world, the oldest university of Portugal, and one of its largest higher education and research institutions. It is organized into eight different faculties according to a wide range of fields, granting all the highest academic degrees in architecture, education, engineering, humanities, law, mathematics, medicine, natural sciences, psychology, social sciences and sports.1
On the weekends, we had an opportunity to visit various tourist and cultural sites. This gave the students from the many countries, an opportunity to interact in a non formal setting.
Our day included classes from 9:00 AM to 3:00 PM. The morning usually started at the faculty snack bar, with a typical breakfast of a galão (latté) and a papo seco com fiambre e queijo ( roll with ham and cheese) or a sweet roll. For those with a hang over from the previous nights activities, a beer was usually the norm, replacing the galão. Yes, the university snack bar serves beer!
In the cloister at the entrance to the library
During the summer course, I lived with a cousin, Carmen Reis, who lived on Bairro Silva Rosas.
There is an interesting tradition at Coimbra, that allows all students to be called by the tittle of "Senhor Doutor". One afternoon,while having lunch at a nearby café, an older women came in and saluted me by saying, "Bom dia senhor doutor", to which I replied, that I was not a permanent student and that I need not be called by the tittle. The women looked at me perplexed and said, "então passe bem senhor doutor" ( have a good day doctor). As the old saying goes, you can lead them to water, but you cannot make them drink.
My two weeks at Coimbra, gave me an opportunity to meet students from varied countries, including, Brazil, Catalonia, Netherlands, Germany, England and Ireland.
It was truly a wonderful experience. The program continues to this day, and we encourage students at the college level, to apply and enjoy this once in a life time experience.