(Mal)Adjusting to Expat Life

Hi all,

I´m 28 years old, Australian, married, and currently living in a small city called Itapetininga, in Sao Paulo.  My husband is Brazilian, which is my reason for moving here.

I have been here a little over 3 months now, and in that time i´ve managed to learn enough Portuguese to converse with locals, go shopping alone, and i am slowly working up the courage to drive around my city by myself (i have zero sense of direction). I´m also working part time at one of the local English schools here.

My husband and his family are super supportive, and all of the people i´ve met so far have been lovely, but i have never felt more isolated in my life!!! In a city of 180,000 people, I am the only foreigner (that I´m aware of). And its a close knit commmunity, so if there was another expat here, I´m sure i would hear about them!

i was such an independent, determined, vivacious person in Melbourne, but here i feel almost completely dependent on my husband; as i´m not confident to go to the bank or travel to larger cities alone. I have lost confidence to make friends, because i worry that i won´t understand something or that i cannot express myself properly in Portuguese.

I suppose my question is, is anyone else in this situation? I am so lonely here, and sometimes i just want to chat with people going through the same feelings and frustrations as I am.  EVERYTHING here is different to my hometown of Melbourne, and finding the silver lining is becoming increasingly difficult. I don´t want my difficulties and frustrations to cause problems in my relationship or take a toll on my physical/emotional wellbeing.

Any thoughts/advice/shared experiences would be greatly appreciated! :)

Dear Aussie,

What you're going through, as difficult as it is, is temporary.  Soon, you'll be able to understand what people are saying, and how to speak in such a way that you are understood.  Brasilians are SO appreciative when someone tries to speak Portuguese, and they'll tell you, that you speak really well, even if you don't. You'll always have an accent, but that makes you interesting.  Everyone will want to practice their English on you, and ask you:

Are you liking Brasil?
How long have you been here?
Why are you here?
Do you plan to go back to your own country?
Are you working here?

The feeling of isolation is going to disappear faster than you can imagine, because you'll form relationships with store owners, bank tellers, people waiting in line - everyone.  And there will be lots of hugs, and people delighted to see you, even if they just saw you the day before.

I have a friend who a Brasilian psychologist, native Portuguese, but fluent English, and she can certainly help you adjust and give tips on how to fit in, even though you are a gringa.  But I really think that once you have a routine and things become familiar, you'll do great.

I used Portuguese in 10 Minutes a Day (book and cd on amazon), Learn Everything Portuguese (book and cd on amazon), and Transparent Language Premium - Brazilian Portuguese (CD).  No taxes, usually, on books coming into Brasil.

Feel free to contact me if I can be of any assistance.

Um abraco,



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Hey there, I'm from South Africa and also live in a smaller city São José dos Campos
about two ours North of Sao Paulo....I've been here just over two years, also with a Brazilian wife. I also went through the whole english school thing for two years at different schools, making peanuts......now we just do private classes / skype classes and english immersion events. 

It's pretty normal what you are going through, I would say be prepared for two years of hell to adapt......suddenly at the two year mark things got a lot better.
I know what you mean about the independence thing, I started to get mine back at about the one year mark and now I feel almost as comfortable as I did at home.
Driving is a big thing, I started driving here about 3 months in and it helped a lot with a feeling of independence, also funnily enough winning a bicycle in a bingo was also a big thing as it is very liberating to wiz around these quiet interior cities. Also getting inlovled in some kind of hobby is great too, I am a scuba diving instructor amongst other things, and I started working part time at a local shop, first I got to go on free trips and now I actually teach diving classes in Portuguese, this helped a lot with confidence and I met some cool people who actually became real friends.
One thing was I had to do 3 weeks of training in São Paulo for cultura inglesa about 6 months after been here, that made me a lot more independent, also exploring the whole region by car created a feeling of freedom too, I remember when I first got here not even knowing how to leave the city and the claustraphobic feeling this created , where as now I know the whole North coast of Sao Paulo right up to rio quite well.

Hi Steve, thanks for your input :)

I´m hoping to start private classes soon... have you found that to be a better option than English schools? do you teach from your home or another place?

I think i was expecting to adjust and feel at home here way earlier than i actually will. its nice to know that its not just me; that others felt uncomfortable for this amount of time...and most importantly, that things will improve!

What is cultura inglesa? I´ll look into it now :)

thanks again!

Cultura Inglesa is the top English school in SP state, it's the one school you can actually have a "career" at so to speak, but they work you hard and are SUPER demanding, especially with retention rates, making you phone students and parents about progress and lots of training in Sao Paulo.

Personally I hate working at English schools, I did it almost two years and recently left Cultura Inglesa , NEVER again, Schools pay low and demand a lot.
We also go on inglish immersion weekends which pay like R$600 for just the sat and san, inbox me if you are interested in that kind of thing.
My wife and I teach in Company and mainly on Skype, occasionally we teach students at our house

Let's look at the bright side -- moving to Brazil and not knowing much is a pretty good way to find out what it's like being a Deaf/Mute.  (Not too bad) .... But, that being said, the Portuguese language for me sounds angry and vulgar. (With that kind of attitude, it should come as no surprise to anyone that I'm still at Beginners level on Babble.com).  Actually, I take back what I just said about the language -- because I discovered a Brazilian singer who knew how to make it sound beautiful: Elis Regina. ............ so, maybe I'll keep plugging along on Babble and just sing instead of talking.  As for other things about Brazil, believe me, I wouldn't trade this for my "Old Country" no matter what ..... Did I mention it was the United States???  Scary place right now.

They're right...give it some more time.  Things only get easier the more you understand.  Don't be afraid to ask for help from family.  Tell them that you would like to get out and socialize more.  I bet you will quickly find yourself included in lots of social activities and introduced to lots of new people!  And of course, this will only speed your understanding of Portuguese, getting around town, and who is who in your city. 

I happen to be an introvert, so all of the social stuff in Brazil wears me out pretty quickly and I start looking for a quiet place to escape!   :D

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