The limitations to new beginnings

by Anastasiia Mazhartceva, Johanna Schmied, Lola Amato and Paula Álvarez

September is the month when young people here in Portugal start their way in university and old students go back to their routine. Inside the walls of university, a totally new life opens for the new arriving students, where they meet a lot of people, that may be connected with them till the end of the life. For us, it was also the beginning of a new adventure as students. We choose to leave our home country during several months to participate at Erasmus exchanges.

Maybe withtout to be the same after.

For many of new students, the first weeks at University are an exciting time full of new impressions. When you enter the university in Portugal it is impossible to ignore young woman and men in black cloaks or by their noisy hazing outdoors. The similarities with Harry Potter’s uniforms were so disturbing, that we thought NOVA was the real Hogwart. Except that, our courses were normal and no one used a wand to make some magic. However, these uncommon students catched our attention. Who are they? This was the first step of our journey. For foreigners, this tradition is a real curiosity that pushed us to try to understand this phenomenon.

This phenomenon is called Praxe which means “activity, practice.” The roots of the Praxe date back to the 14th century, when practiced by the clergy, which greatly influenced the design of the academic outfit but it did not attain recognition until the practice spread to Coimbra, first being named the Investidas, in the 16th century, upon the establishment of the university. From Coimbra, the tradition spread into Lisbon and Porto and other cities. Tradition, ritual, team spirit and also parody are some of the main caracteristics of Praxe. However,  in Praxe exist a hierarchy and strict rules, which demands a lot from the young students.

Why does Praxe exist – to welcome new student, help them to adapt, arrange different activities for them. The students who takes part in it after going through different challenges, prepared by elder students may wear the uniform.

Here in NOVA FCSH we had a chance to meet and talk with two participants of this tradition, named José and João. Those two young men are in their second year s of communication sciences. João represents the so called “President of Praxe Tribunal”, so he is responsible for monitoring if the things are going in the order of Constitution of Praxe. Furthermore, José is in a comittee,  which arranges activities in terms of the challenges for “freshman”. Because of following this tradition they have to deal everyday with bullying due to its fascism history and the negative side effects to students which were suffering because of the strict rules and challenges. 

Praxe has some controvirses in society, so what is the other option for students who doesn’t want to join it? This was the second question we asked ourselves to understand students life, here, in Lisbon.

Recently some group of students found another way of integrating new alumnes and called it Alternativa. Comparing to Praxe there is an initiative by students to provide a hierarchy-free, relaxed alternative to existing practices.

There, we met André who shared his story with us, accompanied by Joanna another member of their students group. 

She is from the South, while he has always lived in Lisbon but were confronted to the same difficulties: the loss of landmarks. Now they are members of the student association Alternativa in the Faculdade de Letras da Universidade de Lisboa (FLUL) where they can help other people to integrate themselves and offer another possibility instead of joining Praxe.

Events organised by AlternAtiva FLUL

Joanna and André have different path concerning Praxe, but gather in their opinion. André was a member of the Praxe when he joined university in his first year. He stayed for four months until he understood that Praxe wasn’t for him.

When I arrived at university, I didn’t know anyone, even what was Praxe. When this big group come to meet you and told you: “We are a big family, you want to join it.

However, he realized soon that Praxe in his campus wasn’t so friendly they pretended to be for him. Thus, he decided to leave the group and tried to create an organization that can keep all the advantages of Praxe. When he left in December, he suffered from indifference. Overnigh, all the students he considered as friends stopped to talk to him because he wasn’t a member anymore. But he doesn’t have any rancour.

We are not a movement anti-praxe, we are neutral and understand why people chose to join them

Alternativa was born two years later.

It began by a dinner and never ends since. The idea was to have a good time around a meal and fifty persons came to share this moment. Step by step, Alternativa grew up and illustrated itself by organizing different kind of event such as debates, recitation poetry or movie sessions. Everybody is welcomed: students (member of praxe or not), teachers and Erasmus students.

This concept knew a real success, indeed, the director allowed Joanna, André and the rest of the organization to use several places of the faculty and other universities in Lisbon took the concept and developed their own “Alternativa.”

A way to burst the bubble of solitude and choose to not follow the tradition of Praxe.

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