Probably the most frequent reaction I heard when announcing my plan to spend a research year in Portugal – more precisely in Porto – was: “Oh, you’ll have good weather all the time and long siestas after lunch.” All right, I will admit that the prospect of spending some time in warm southern climes was not altogether unpleasant. But the real reason was the team of dedicated researchers working there very successfully in the area of production planning, and I anticipated some rewarding co-operation and a lively exchange of ideas. In addition, there are many production companies in northern Portugal engaged in numerous co-operation projects with the universities.
Place of Research
With a suitcase full of good resolutions and expectations about my work in the following year I set out for unknown territory. And it was truly unknown, since the Iberian Peninsula had been a big white patch on my personal map of the world. But already upon leaving the airport I felt first doubts as to whether I had really landed in a warm southern spot. It was raining cats and dogs at just 16 degrees centigrade – and that in mid-September. But I have to admit, bad weather was to remain the exception. Only the winter months with five weeks of incessant rain and 5 degrees, once even with black ice and the first snow Porto had seen in 23 years, put a little damper on my spirits.
Starved after the meagre fare during the flight, I was taken to the university’s restaurant at the Faculdade de Engenharia by Bernardo and José Fernando, my new colleagues and co-operation partners. While the restaurant is like a first-class canteen with waitress service and nicely laid tables, the serving staff lives by the motto: “The longer the wait, the greater the appetite”. Thus my first lunch break turned into more than a two-hour affair. Reason enough for us to go there again only three times in the course of one year, although the eating places available around the university are pretty limited.
Speaking of lunch breaks: contrary to general expectations, the daily schedule in Porto is not much different from central or western Europe. Owing to the fact that the sun rises a little later here, most people start working at nine in the morning, although meetings and classes at eight are not all that rare. At seven in the evening the parking lot is still full and – despite the predictions of my friends in Vienna – lunch breaks are seldom longer than one hour. The only thing that gave me a little problem initially was the long stretch between lunch at around one and dinner which seldom starts before nine o’clock.
Otherwise I was surprised by the similarities between the general mindset in Portugal and Austria. People say Austrians love to grumble and moan but they are not inclined to get hung up on details. The Portuguese are pretty much like that: always a little dissatisfied with themselves and the world, but still very relaxed. The big difference is their open and friendly social demeanour. During my entire stay I met only friendly, courteous and helpful people both within the university and outside. There was hardly a weekend when I was not invited by colleagues or friends to join them for outings, parties or simply for dinner.
This positive environment also had a beneficial impact on my work, of course. The opportunity to dedicate one year to my own research without any administrative or teaching duties – and that together with colleagues who are just as motivated and who devote a lot of time to our shared projects – is simply marvellous and incredibly motivating. The regular discussions with colleagues have given me many new insights and raised countless questions – discussions which you often lack the time for back home.
My stay in Porto is now coming to an end and I will return to Austria in two weeks. I will take home many new questions (perhaps more than I initially brought with me), projects and ideas for my research in the coming years, and a co-operation network which has grown far beyond the confines of Portugal due to this year of intense research. I will certainly go back there, if only to meet my new friends and colleagues or to complete the list of Port wine cellars to be visited along the Rio Douro.