Our CAS Trip Leaders are responsible for bringing our Destinations to life. Aside from ensuring everything runs smoothly, our Trip Leaders are experts in their fields – naturalists, historians, artists, mountaineers – who have a remarkable gift for sharing their knowledge and inspiring young people. We are delighted to have the chance to introduce you to more of the team working to transform our trips into unforgettable journeys and realize the CAS Trips’ mission.
Today, we are highlighting one of our Lisbon Trip Leaders, Teresa Fernandes. An expert guide and inspired educator, Teresa grew up in Lisbon in a family infused with both Portuguese and Cape Verdean traditions and culture. Passionate about sharing her hometown in all its multicultural depth and complexity, Teresa helps students explore the lesser-known pockets of the Portuguese capital and interact with the fascinatingly diverse communities that bring the city to life.
Thank you for joining us, Teresa! Can you tell us a bit about your background and how your experience brought you to your role of Trip Leader?
My journey toward becoming a Trip Leader was not entirely straightforward, but I think it makes sense as I have always loved learning. I began studying molecular and cell biology in college. I was fascinated with the nanoworld that exists all around us. I still find this area of study incredibly interesting, but I realized my brain was also craving something other than hard sciences.
In search of more balance, I decided to take an art history class, and it was here that I discovered a whole new passion. Overall, school gave me the world and showed me the value of exploring different avenues of study—it made me interested in many things and eager to keep learning and discovering. Too much so, maybe, haha—for when I finished college, I didn’t know what path to pursue.
So, like many young people, I decided to take a gap year. I really wanted to do some volunteer work and ended up going to Colombia to teach Portuguese. I was 21 years old and very much this European person that comes and works for one summer. It was a wonderful experience, but it left me craving something that would allow me to build even stronger ties. So when I returned to Portugal, I decided to see what kind of opportunities were available to continue exploring my country and culture. I soon got a job with a tourism company.
And did you immediately feel you had found your calling, or what was it like touring guiding for the first time?
Yes and no. Working as a tour guide is a beautiful job. You are so in touch with your surroundings and are constantly having your curiosity stimulated. You interact with many different types of people and always encounter new questions.
Of course, though, when the pandemic arrived, it was a chance to reevaluate. Since I could no longer lead tours, anyways, I decided I wanted to invest my time, my head, and my hands in something that felt more meaningful.
I started teaching Portuguese as a freelancer and soon accumulated quite a few students. I discovered a different level of sharing knowledge that was more ongoing, and I found it very rewarding. This made me realize I wanted to get more engaged with education.
As such, I started a voluntary project working with migrant students that are here in Portugal. They come mainly from India and Pakistan, and we work together to help them integrate into their new home.
What a beautiful way to volunteer your time! And I suppose the educational component also led you to CAS Trips? Can you share how you discovered this opportunity and what motivated you to pursue it?
Actually, a friend recommended CAS Trips to me, and as soon as I learned about the methodology of the trips, I was very keen. And, I must say, it has been a very, very interesting journey. Working with teenagers from around the world has been a very eye-opening experience. These young people have given me renewed hope in humanity. It is wonderful to share in their curiosity and enthusiasm. And, of course, I love that I get to share Lisbon.
Indeed, you seem very engaged with your hometown! What about Lisbon fascinates you, and what makes it an ideal destination for educational trips?
So, I come from Lisbon, but my background is diverse. My mom is from the north of Portugal, a tiny village. My father, meanwhile, was born in Cape Verde. He came to Portugal when he was 12, fleeing a war. He met my mother in college as she had already relocated to the city. Having this type of background has allowed me to appreciate many aspects of the city I grew up in that many people do not get to see.
What was it like growing up in Lisbon with a mixed-race family?
That is a good question, and it is something I’ve been thinking about a lot. I imagine growing up in a mixed family is always more complicated because you contain multiple identities. I am Portuguese and feel very much a part of this country, but I also feel at home in the culture, music, and food of Cape Verde.
It is also worth mentioning that, due to my family background, I have encountered the sometimes racist structure of the society I live in and have experienced the micro-aggressions that occur. Many different thriving cultures are present in Lisbon, but some are considered ‘marginalized communities.’ Understanding one’s place in this framework can be challenging. Challenging but also productive.
My mixed background means I am constantly repositioning myself and working towards a deeper and more nuanced understanding of my place and role here.
My experience in art history has also helped, as I can look at history through many lenses and remain mindful that every individual sees and experiences the world differently.
It sounds like you are the perfect person with whom to explore some of Lisbon’s complexities and contradictions. Could you share some of your favorite trip activities you share with students? What makes these activities special or unique regarding educational and cultural experiences for the students?
Yes, there are two organizations in particular that I love to work with. One of them is an NGO active in Mouraria, the most multicultural neighborhood in Lisbon. Many migrants live here, and there are dozens of nationalities coexisting together. Since 2008, this organization has been helping people in this community to thrive in their adopted homes. The project aims to offer immigrants equal access to rights and services. In addition to social intervention and activism, they promote multiculturalism, interculturality, and integration through culture.
And we get to share this with students on our trips. We bring them to this neighborhood, and a resident leads a tour, explaining the various cultures that exist here, in addition to their own story and experience as a migrant. They explain things like how they have been able to build a bridge between their life in Lisbon and their homeland. It is an incredibly eye-opening and humbling experience for the students.
Afterward, we do a creative writing workshop, and the students write letters to someone from the home community of the person who led the neighborhood tour. I am always touched by the responses they have.
That sounds like a beautiful experience for the students and their guide in Mouraria.
Yes, I think it’s good to demystify the idea that these areas are necessarily dangerous. They get to see the heart, warmth, and dedication of the people living there. It makes students understand that those communities already contain so much culture and knowledge and hold abundant resources.
Likewise, my other favorite activity is when we visit “Granny came to work,” a beautiful project and collective dedicated to deconstructing the stigma of older people in our community. Here an incredible group of women has joined together to showcase their talents and find dynamic ways to continue sharing their gifts and experiences with each other and society. When we visit, the grandmothers teach students embroidery patterns and other traditional techniques.
Despite the language barrier, they work together to create something beautiful. You can see the students slide into focus as they appreciate the value of their experience. It’s an impactful and enriching way to combine two different generations.
These experiences really illustrate how impactful education travel can be. How do you envision the industry? What do you think it is important to prioritize going forward?
I genuinely believe these trips can change lives and help young people appreciate the world outside of the bubble in which they exist. I mean, I can say so from experience. When I was 13, I went to Denmark on a school trip. It was the first time in my life that I was leaving my hometown without my parents and going to a different country. That feeling of liberation and responsibility while discovering a new culture was so powerful. It is still very much ingrained in my memory.
With that in mind, I feel the most important thing going forward is increasing accessibility so that fewer barriers exist between less privileged students and the wonder and potential of educational travel. It is something everyone deserves to experience for themselves.
A huge thanks to Teresa for taking the time to share her insight! Her dedication and passion help students see Lisbon in a whole new light.
Stay tuned in the coming weeks and months as we share more stories from our trip leaders worldwide!