As I walked past the Departures sign at Sydney Airport, I looked over my shoulder to give my family one last wave and smile. Although excited for my trip ahead, I was a bundle of nerves. Would the program ‘Empowering Women in the 21st Century’ be interesting? Would I make amazing, like-minded friends? Would I gain a richer understanding of women’s rights and gender equality? Would I even be able to work out my connecting flights!? Little did I know that all these questions would be answered with a big YES in only a few days.

Arriving in Lisbon, I was immediately struck by the magnificent beauty. Cobblestone streets mixed with brightly coloured buildings, historic cathedrals, trams winding down narrow streets, and picturesque sunsets; I am still convinced I was in Europe’s most beautiful city. Scootering back to the hostel on motorised scooters after class, we would stumble upon historic treasures in the streets; street art, pastel de nata (Portuguese tarts, of course!), and many buildings covered by intricate, hand-painted tiles! 

Scootering around Lisbon!

Rooftop view of Lisbon

An average week would involve morning lectures at ISCTE – University Institute of Lisbon. Being taught by international guest lecturers and leading academics in the fields of gender studies and human rights, these lectures contained fascinating content. Each day would focus on a different theme within gender; gender and inequality, gender-based violence and human trafficking, gender and migration… the list goes on! And the best thing about these morning lectures? The giant table of morning tea organised by our academic coordinators, consisting of different flavours of cake, fruit, more pastel de nata (believe me, you never get sick of them!), and fresh, homemade sandwiches. In the afternoons, we would visit Portuguese international and non-government organisations to witness first-hand women’s experiences in Portugal. These research visits were so informative and interesting, and provided a practical component to the theoretical content we would learn that morning.

My favourite research visit was to Espaço Júlia, a specialised police station in Portugal that focuses on victims of gender-based violence, including domestic violence. It was so interesting to learn about the different legal frameworks and protections survivors of domestic violence are awarded in Portugal in comparison to Australia, and to hear of the inspiring work of these officers and case managers. Another research visit I loved was to Village Underground Lisboa, which functions as a coworking community and international platform for culture, artists, and creativity. Featuring double decker buses and old shipping containers recycled into offices and restaurants, this place is a must see! 

Village Underground Lisboa

Most afternoons, a group of us would go exploring in Lisbon. These afternoons were so much fun as it enabled us to witness the lifestyle and culture of Lisbon as well. I would definitely recommend going to Alfama Markets in Lisbon; a major flea market open on Tuesdays and Saturdays filled with endless antiques, jewellery, hand-painted tiles, and clothing for cheap prices! The street art here is also incredible, and definitely provides many gram-worthy moments! Oh, and did I mention the incredible chocolate cake they sell!? 

Street art at Alfama Markets, Lisbon  

On weekends, we had sight-seeing tours and day trips around Portugal, including trips to Sintra, Évora City, and Monsaraz. These tours were incredible as they allowed us to explore the lifestyle of Portugal whilst taking in its breathtaking beauty. One of my favourite places to visit was the Palácio da Pena in Sintra! Bordered by bushland, this stunning palace peers out through the fog, composed of bright colours and historic architecture. Another highlight was definitely catching a flight to Porto with a group on one of our free days. Porto was absolutely stunning and we definitely felt Harry Potter vibes, just as J K Rowling supposedly did when she visited Porto! 

Cathedral in Porto, Portugal

Livraria Lello, Porto - a bookstore that inspired J.K. Rowling to create Hogwarts Library 

Another place I loved was the little medieval village of Monsaraz, Évora. Suspended in time, this historic village is one of the oldest in Portugal. We spent our visit walking along the rooftops of the city, admiring the Monsaraz Castle in awe, and spotting Spain over the river Guadiana! It was absolutely breathtaking and photos did not do it justice!

Monsaraz, Portugal 

Watching the sun set over Spain in the distance 

One of the highlights of my trip was experiencing Lisbon’s nightlife with my fellow students! It was such a different experience to start clubbing after midnight, unlike Sydney with its lock-out laws! We danced the Saturday nights away on Pink Street on Rua Nova do Carvalho and would drink cocktails bigger than our heads!

Drinking giant cocktails on Pink Street, Lisbon 

However, all of this beauty, whilst exquisite, did not compare to the people I met on this program. My fellow students were all hilarious, like-minded, and incredibly genuine people, and our group became close instantly. Whether it was cooking dinners together in the cramped hostel kitchen, trying to speak basic Portuguese to locals, doing our assignments at the laundromat, or exploring everything Lisbon has to offer, the friendships I made with my peers were stronger than I ever expected. The hardest thing about this program was not the intensive academic program or learning to be independent. It was standing outside the hostel on the last day with packed bags, long faces, teary hugs, and solemn drives back to the airport.

Some of the incredbile, life-long friends I made <3 

 Despite discovering Portuguese chicken does not exist in Portugal (biggest plot twist ever), this trip did not disappoint. Besides, Portugal’s traditional chicken, Frango chicken, was tastier than Portuguese chicken anyways! If you are considering attending this program, I could not recommend it more highly! Although daunting at times, this trip is so rewarding and you are constantly supported by AIM, the helpful and friendly academic coordinators at ISCTE, and your fellow students. So, hit apply and give it a go! Pastel de nata is waiting for you!  

By Louise Press


Have you been to Lisbon, Portugal? What's your favourite thing about the city?!




My name is Louise Press and I am studying a Bachelor of International and Global Studies / Bachelor of Laws at the University of Sydney. My interests include reading, dancing, and travelling the world! I am also incredibly passionate about social justice and human rights!