Fulbrighter Micah Porter recounted his experience as a Fulbrighter in Portugal during the Fulbright Forum 2024. Thank you, Micah for your passionate testimony!

Read it here:

«It’s difficult to summarize eight months of experiences into eight minutes, but I’m excited to share with you all the tip of the iceberg. Along the way, I’ve encountered challenges that tested my resolve, discoveries that expanded my horizons, and moments of profound connection that reminded me of the universal truths that unite us all. My journey to Portugal has been more than just a study abroad experience; it’s been a lifetime of memories replete with the memories of a lifetime. And as I stand before you today, I am filled with gratitude for the Fulbright Program and the opportunity to experience this journey—a journey that has forever changed the way I see the world and my place within it.

Before leaving my hometown of Portland, Oregon, I had a particular image of Portugal in my mind—a vision crafted by tantalizing headlines in Lonely Planet Magazine, boasting of its sun-drenched coastlines, and by Digital Nomad commentary highlighting its affordability. Eager to escape the seemingly perpetual rain of the Pacific Northwest, I felt the bar couldn’t get any lower. I received a stark reality check on my first day in Sao Miguel, when the Island showcased the full extent of its meteorological capabilities. The locals have a phrase to describe this type of phenomenon: “four seasons in a day.” It’s a phrase that indicates living with a sense of adaptability, to prepare for anything, and approach life with a ready smile.

The Azores serve as the gateway between Europe and the Americas, or as I like to think of it, right above the “I” in “Atlantic” when looking at a map. It is a region that boasts a rich maritime history, with 90% of Portuguese in America being able to trace their ancestry to the islands, according to the Portuguese Heritage Society. During my time in the Azores, I was privileged to join a team of dedicated researchers, policymakers, and scientists at the University of the Azores to push forth the goals of Maritime Spatial Planning. Through dedicated interviews and open discussions with local stakeholders, our team worked to shape political decision-making in a way that will safeguard the development of the Azores for future generations. My specific role on the team, aside from serving as a resident English practice partner, involved coordinating with interviewees and hearing the firsthand stories of community members’ perspective on development, as well as project partners in Madeira, the Canary Islands, and French Guiana.

As fellow extroverts will understand, it’s all too easy to become accustomed to the sound of our own voices. Our enthusiasm and eagerness to contribute can sometimes overshadow the importance of truly hearing what others have to say. Yet, in the silence between our words lies the opportunity to learn, to connect, and to deepen our understanding of the world around us. And as researchers, we may fall into the trap of assuming that we already possess the answers, as suggested by our hypotheses. We are trained to seek evidence that supports our preconceived notions, often overlooking valuable insights that challenge our assumptions. But true discovery requires humility, openness, and a willingness to listen—to the data, to alternative perspectives, and to the subtle nuances of the human experience. When we listen for understanding rather than simply waiting for our turn to speak, we create space for genuine dialogue, collaboration, and growth. We acknowledge the complexity of the world and the multitude of voices that shape it, recognizing that true wisdom lies not in asserting our own opinions but in embracing the diversity of thought and experience that surrounds us.

The field of sustainable development is of utmost importance, especially in regions like the Azores, where the delicate balance between economic growth and environmental conservation is paramount. It’s not just about finding technical solutions or implementing top-down policies—it’s about building relationships, fostering trust, and empowering communities to shape their own futures. By listening with humility and empathy, we create space for genuine collaboration and co-creation, where local knowledge and expertise are valued as essential contributions to the planning process. Within the context of my team, this meant engaging with local fishermen to understand how fish populations have changed over time. Or with whale-watching companies, to realize how business has been affected by increased visitors. But beyond academia, being an active listener played an even more critical role in learning to become an engaged member of my new community.

Throughout my Fulbright journey, I’ve had the privilege of befriending  some of the most thoughtful and intriguing individuals—the kind of people who are quick to make an outsider feel included, who have graciously opened their homes to me when I needed a nap, and their pantries when I needed a snack. Through conversations on politics, religion, and local customs, I’ve discovered and fallen deeply in love with a culture whose depth and complexity continually surprise and inspire me.

And it was with these remarkable individuals that I found an opportunity to give back to the community of Ponta Delgada. Through Habitat Acores, an organization driven by passionate students committed to promoting conservation on the island of Sao Miguel, my friends and I facilitated local events, organized beach cleanups, and worked tirelessly to strengthen the connection between the community and the incredible environment in which they live.

This experience served as a poignant reminder of the power of active listening—not only to understand the needs and aspirations of others but also to harness that understanding for meaningful action. Together, we engaged in a mission of collective stewardship, driven by a shared commitment to preserving the natural beauty of the Azores for generations to come. And in doing so, we forged bonds that transcended cultural barriers, united by a common purpose and a profound sense of belonging.

My time in Portugal has been nothing short of transformative. I have been enriched by the warmth of its people, humbled by the resilience of its landscapes, and inspired by the depth of its culture. And I am excited to share my acceptance into the Master’s program at NOVA School of Business and Economics where I hope to continue to develop my skills in sustainability management and draw even closer to this place I consider a second home. So thank you to the Fulbright Program, to my incredible colleagues, and everyone who has helped me through this experience. I look forward to what lies ahead.»

Micah Porter conducted his research in the Azores, with a Fulbright Open Study/Research Award with the support of the Azores Regional Government