Living abroad: three advices to make your life easier

My husband is american and after we got married I went through a lot of adjustments when moving from Brazil to the US. Some were easier than others, but I learned a lot from each experience I had. I thought sharing it may help others on adapting to a new country, language and lifestyle. Here are my three advices to a smoother transition:

1. Stay in touch with your roots

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Stay in touch with friends and family is such an easier thing to do nowadays. Whatsapp, Imesssage, Skype, Viber and FaceTime are some of the technological tools and apps we all can use in our favor to talk to those who we love and know us better. They might not understand your difficulties entirely, but including them in your new life is always a way to reassure yourself that you don’t have to loose the relationships you already have to create new ones.

Something that took me a while to realize, also, was the importance of local food on our daily life. Discovering Brazilian grocery stores became a habit and I try to restock on sweetened condensed milk (to make brigadeiro) and frozen cheese breads every opportunity I have. Having that one comforting treat once in a while is a way to maintain cultural traditions I had ever since I was a kid.

Finally, since I love to read, I started purchasing more and more books written in Portuguese, so I can still practice my mother tongue and keep up to date to the literary scene in Brazil. When I get tired of speaking and writing in English, I find comfort on reading the best Brazilian prose I can find. Some people also purchase Latin TV channels that include TV stations from their countries, but to me the investment was never justified. I don’t really enjoy Brazilian TV as much as literature, so it didn’t make sense.

2. Find other expat friends

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Getting to know expats who are living in the same city as you and networking with other foreigners has two huge advantages: they can help you understand how to position your peculiar point of view about your new country’s culture as one of your professional strengths and they are very likely to understand everything you struggle with when you first arrive. Plus, there is no better people to mock your new country’s weird cultural traditions with. They probably share the same views.

3. Keep yourself busy

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Finding something to do with your free time is such an important advice. When I first got to the US, I couldn’t work because I was still waiting for my visa, so I stayed home for longs periods of time. The feeling of being an outsider was deepened by my loneliness, and that wasn’t helpful at all. Being so dependable of a car in Ohio was tough, but after I bought my own I started driving our dogs for parks and dog parks and getting in touch with locals that were doing the same. Having a silly chit chat while exercising my dogs was a much appreciated way to interact with others, exchange recommendations for local restaurants and grow my social network.

Those encounters are great, but more important than that is having real friends. I was lucky to become good friends with my husband’s friends, but I missed having my own. Does it sound selfish? I guess I needed a life support system that was independent from him, his friends or family. Finding a job and meeting people with common interests here in Charlotte definitely changed that feeling. Studying, attending courses and local networking events or finding local communities online, these are all things one can do to meet new people and develop new friendships. The other day, somebody posted an invitation for women to play volleyball at a Charlotean park every thursday night on a local facebook community. I thought it was a great way to connect with others. If only I could make it.

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World Cup in Brazil triggers home sickness

World Cup starts today in Brazil and I’ve been counting the days for the first kick since the beginning of June. Everywhere I look, somebody seems to be posting something about protests, celebrations, preparations. I can feel online the exciting atmosphere, the anxiety, the unsatisfaction with the contradictions between hosting an amazing event we would otherwise love and the social cost of it, the desire to have a great party. I can feel the joy of being part and making history spreading around my country. It’s such a great feeling, I can only imagine how people must be on the streets and in the bars. I really wish I could be there for that.

Seeing so much of Brazil on American TV is also not helping with my homesickness. ESPN aired yesterday a pre-world cup show displaying teams from different nations arriving and setting up, players already hurt due to training sessions. What hit me the most was a specific section of it about Rio, with a singer telling the story about how Garota de Ipanema (The Girl from Ipanema), from Vinicius de Morais and Tom Jobim, was written.

 

Apart from being internationally known, this song is a national icon of some sort. It is a popular example of Bossa Nova, a Brazilian musical genre that mixes elements of samba and jazz. It is undeniably one of those songs that transmits the feeling of the waves going up and down on the shore, the summer breeze striking your neck, a glass of beer by the local bar,  and, in the good old days, a cigarette on the corner of your lips. The sound of people playing soccer or beach volleyball on the sand. Its the sort of music that mimics the hips of woman strolling down the road, the way her dress jiggles, the man’s laughter while discussing Neymar’s potential with the bartender. It brings in the sunshine that bathes Ipanema daily, bringing that sense of freshness, loving and tender belonging.

Lastly, it’s the type of song my American husband knew by heart and sang it to me last time we went to Rio, six months ago, while strolling down Copacabana on our way to Ipanema. Hearing the song has the power to take me back to that perfect moment we shared and vanished away. The memory remains, in all it’s sweetness. Yes, no song remains the same after a personal experience with it enhances it’s meaning. And, yes, it only reinforces the “saudade” I feel for my home country today.

#GipsyFeelings

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Moving to different countries and states brings a very specific mix of feelings, from extreme enthusiastic anxiety to deep self doubting despair. It all starts with the notion that you can do it, it won’t be a challenge, on the contrary, it is a change much needed. New opportunities ahead, new horizons, a clean slate, a fresh fresh start. Its all very exciting, you can feel butterflies on your stomach, you research everything you can about the new city and you start to believe it is way better than the place you live now. Sometimes that is totally the case, but after moving you also realize that you might have been too hard on your criticisms and too enthusiastic on your praise.

The first time you visit, if you’ve never been, is as awesome as you would expect. Maybe better. Each restaurant or bar discovery is treasured, you start picking your favorite local spots and soon your choices will give hints of your taste, your social persona, your identity. It is very cool to see the neighborhoods with tourists eyes, get to know them, form an opinion and choose your new home accordingly. Having local tips, reading local news and blogs always helps.

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Packing is always a hustle. The troubling thing is, most of the time, we decide we need to take with us more stuff than we actually need. It is a good opportunity to let some things go, maybe that old high school jeans that doesn’t fit anymore, the one you keep just to make sure you stay on your diet. It helps a little bit, but no results so far, years have gone and the button still doesn’t close. Let it go!

Lastly, as moving day comes around the corner, you get that rush of worries: what if it doesn’t work out? What if I don’t fit in? What if I can’t find a job or make new friends? What if? Truth is, “what if’s” are conjunctures we conceive when we take risks, when we fear the consequences and doubt our decisions. There’s no way we can know if all the “what if’s” will become reality, not unless we decide to live, face the challenges and the fears. That might not be easy, but for some reason you thought a change was necessary, so stick to your instincts and give it a try. It might actually surprise you!

More authenticity, less excuses

by Marcele Folgati 

While talking to my single friends, I could observe a common feeling amongst them: they are not happy about being single and they blame men’s behavior for that.  Ok, we understand. But let’s think about it, go a little deeper into the matter and maintain an open mind?

It is a fact that many men nowadays don’t want a relationship, perhaps because they are afraid of women, or maybe they are immature, they even might not want a relationship and that’s it. But my focus in this text will be the women’s side and the phrasing: “I am single because men don’t want anything serious”. Who never heard anything like it?  I see things in this attitude that worries me. My first worry is the idea that being single is something bad, which is not. The second is not being the owner of your own frustration. We have the right to be sad, hurt and skeptical, who never got involved with the wrong person and had to seek her friends for comfort? Even the wrong person taught us something, it is part of a phase of your life. Truth is, there is no right or wrong, at that time the wrong seemed right, didn’t he? What we have to deal with, in truth, is our choices and consequences.  When deceptions seemed to happen over and over, feeling like history is repeating itself, it is time to stop and think on what we are seeking for, and what sort of men we are attracting. Change the pattern in ourselves might be a good way to find new ways to relate to others.

We, the women, own our lives and only we have the power to decide what we want, from the jacket we choose to use on a colder day to the type of relationship we want to have, a friendship or a sexual  or an emotional relationship. We are responsible for our choices and we need to be conscious of that.

There is a text published in a facebook page from Brazil that ended up going viral. On it, a girl (let’s call her Martha) states that the more time she spends being single, the more she wants to stay that way — Super well-resolved, isn’t she? No! After that statement, Martha explains how disappointed she is with the number of unfaithful guys she knows, men that don’t respect their girlfriends. However, the other day, she was involved with a guy that received a text message from his girlfriend saying: “I love you so much, I can’t wait for us to be together forever”. The guy closed his cell phone and continued to kiss Martha. Again: let’s think a little more about it? Even if Martha didn’t know about his girlfriend, when she chose to stand by his side after reading the message, she became as responsible as he for the situation, right? But to our protagonist, the problem wasn’t hers. She completes: “I felt relieved for being there just for being”. That’s the point: why would she consider herself exempt? We need to understand that being responsible for our choices is, in fact, freeing. Instead of doing that, Martha, like so many others, prefers to hide behind the “mistakes others make”.

The key to live intensively is to surrender yourself, and there is no surrendering without the willingness to embrace the vulnerabilities of life. In order to do that, it is important for us to not approve behaviors that might go against our values. I am not talking about false moralism, but about respecting yourself. If for Martha the indifference of a guy towards his girlfriend is shocking, I ask myself why she sustained that behavior? Why did she kept kissing him? It is said that men betray more than women, but I believe they betray equally and one doesn’t do without the other.

Going back to the beginning, your happiness cannot be conditioned to others. “I’d rather be alone because I am afraid of what I see around”? Why not staying single simply because being single is also very good? It is a phase in our lives with more freedom, filled with uncertainty and delightful surprises.

Let’s live! Surrender yourself. After all, being single, dating, engaged or married, we are all, always — again, ALWAYS! — subject to the twists of life and our would may be turned upside down overnight and what we thought was right escapes to our control. It is good when it is like this, simple. I’ll finish it up with a song I used to hear all the time in  my teens: “Girl put your records on, tell me your favorite song… Just go ahead, let your hair down…”.

BIO:

Marcele Folgati is a Brazilian journalist, one of my closest friends, and she kindly agreed to write (again!) a piece for quirksmag. For that, I am extremely grateful. 

If you liked this text, please visit Marcele’s last text, Punta del Este: where beach and countryside come together. 

A change of life

Every time I go back to Brazil, it takes me a few days to readapt to the crazy, busy, metropole type of life Sao Paulo provides to its citizens. Traffic suddenly becomes a big concern, since driving 9 miles can take 1:30 hours during peak hours, usually from 7am to  10am in the mornings and from 5pm to 8pm at night. You plan your life geographically,  avoiding to go places because you might get stuck in traffic for so many hours that it is just not worth it. Thankfully, that’s not something I have to worry about in my new town.

IMG_0476It has been less than a year since I actually moved from Brazil to Columbus, and it surprised how quickly we adapt to good things. For instance, my house in Brazil used to have walls all over for safety reasons and my suburban american house only has trees and, well, imaginary lines. The streets had public lights, also for safety reasons, but nights here are so dark I spent three months feeling scared to take my dogs outside to go potty. Eventually, I grew out of it, thankfully. Not only that, I realized how beautiful the sky gets when you can see it without the intervention of street lights and tall walls. It is so quiet here, I don’t miss the city noises at all.

Suburbs trumps Sao Paulo in two other topics: quality of air and friendly neighborhood, almost like a community. Quality of air is a no brainer, since Sao Paulo is one of the most polluted cities in the world, and I feel the difference everyday. But the way our neighbors welcomed us, bringing us cupcakes and banana breads, introducing themselves and offering to help us in anything we might need, that was a surprise. We always hear about how friendly and welcoming Brazilians are in comparison to other countries, and for some reason I thought it would be difficult to break the ice. After the first months I could tell that our neighbors were more friendly than any other I had the chance to meet in Brazil. I witnessed the couple that lives across the street taking out the trash for the family next door, feeding their cat while they were away for summer vacation. I also realized they talked about groundhogs and how to get them away of both their yards without endangering other houses. Everybody says Hi, for the very least, when they drive by. Small gestures that make all the difference when it comes to adapting to a life in a new country.

Back to Business

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Coming back from vacation in Brazil has been a little crazy. As soon as I landed, I was getting ready to job interviews, rewriting my resume, searching all kinds of jobs I think I would enjoy doing. This is the last step of moving in to the US: finding a job. It has been a good and emotional experience. I have been to interviews where the interviewer would suddenly ask “I am picking up an accent, where are you from?”, to which I would uncomfortably reply “I am Brazilian”, realizing he didn’t even take the time to look at my resume before inviting me in. There has been times I was a little unsure of myself, a little off my game and I completely embarrassed myself mumbling around and acting all nervous and shy. That has happened to me before, and it is something I really pay attention not to do, but sometimes this doubtful voice takes over and it is a mess. What can I say? I am human after all. I have been to places I had absolute no desire to work at, simply for the experience of having job interviews in English and for the luxury of being able to choose my future. I also have been to places just because, well, I want and need the money.

A friend of mine suggested that, because I had language skills and education knowledege and I had worked with translations before, I should just advertise myself on Craigslist as a Portuguese Teacher and English/Portuguese Translator, which I did. I liked the idea of language teaching, it suits me. Rookie mistake. In a week, I only got two weird emails replying for the add. One offering me a part time job, with no description at all, saying I should contact someone named Bruce asap. Scary thoughts rushed through my mind, and I didn’t talk to Bruce. If he was for real, I would imagine he would be more informative in the first place.

The second email was even worst. Here is what I received:

Hello,

I am {not disclosing name}, I came across your ad on Craigslist that you need a suitable job, well am in need of a cleaner for my newly rented apartment asap, so if you are interested in the job just mail me for the job details.I believe and understand you are an intelligent person and can do with cleaning job?

Now, I mentioned on the add my name, the fact that I am Brazilian, my expertise and that I was looking specifically for a Teaching/Translation job. I don’t know what would prompt someone to say something as rude and pretentious as “I believe and understand you are an intelligent person and can do with X job?”, implying that a) She/He was doing me a favor by offering me a job; b) I might be intelligent enough to do a cleaning job (and if I didn’t take the job, well, perhaps I wasn’t that intelligent after all). I couldn’t help but wonder if the fact that I am latin would have anything to do with her/him offering me a cleaning job, or if I was just reading too much into it. Sometimes, I have to say, having so much experience working with discourse analysis can make people a little too critic, reading things that people might not have meant to say. I told myself I wasn’t going to say anything, but swallowing that quietly was harder than I thought. That phrasing on that email bothered me for days. Just to be clear, what bothered me was the person’s attitude towards me, not the job she offered me.

So, one day, I sat down and decided to write her/him back. I decided I wanted to get some closure on this matter, plus I deserved to give a voice for that part of me that was having trouble keeping quiet. I needed to stand up for myself, so here is what I wrote:

Hello, X.

I think you are intelligent enough to understand that I am actually looking for a job as a portuguese teacher or translator. It is incredibly rude and pretentious of you to assume that because I am seeking for a job, you would be doing me some sort of favor by offering a different position, and in addition add that I might be intelligent enough for that.

Hope to never hear back from you.

Juliana

I really tried to keep it civil and polite. I really didn’t want to start an email discussion, only reason why I said “Hope to never hear back from you”, I just wanted to let her/him know how I felt.

I wonder if other people, after receiving the same email, would feel and behave the same. Readers, what do you think? Did I overreact? How would you feel if something like this happened to you?

PS: After that, I had another job interview and I was hired. So, that was resolved. I found something that challenges me, a job way out of my comfort zone. We’ll see what happens now. Feeling goosebumps, I’ll start monday. Cross your fingers, please!

PS 2: I apologize for abandoning the blog for a while, but I hope you guys will understand that I had a busy schedule the last few weeks because of the trip to Brazil and job searching. Now, we are back to business! Hurray!

When two forces collide

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Flores Raras (in English, Rare Flowers, although I believe the movie has been called Reaching For The Moon in the USA)  is a brazilian movie about the relationship between the american poet Elizabeth Bishop and the brazilian architect Lota de Macedo Soares, a movie I would dare to say I could only watch while visiting Brazil. Few opportunities I had while living in Ohio to watch foreign movies, mostly because they are not available in any theatre in a radius of 40 miles from my house. Even movies like this one, mainly spoke in English, would have a tough time to find its way to ohioan theaters.

The movie is not perfect, it actually has many flaws, one of them being the sometimes overly butch interpretation of Lota, performed by brazilian actress Gloria Pires, while trying to portray somebody confident, impetuous and strong minded. Lota’s character is a dissonant contrast in comparison to the brittle Elizabeth Bishop, performed by the australian actress Miranda Otto. Bishop is characterized as an alcoholic whose self esteem and confidence only grows during her 20 years relationship with Lota, despite their cultural and social differences that sometimes get in the way. This period is when her poetry reaches its full potential and the poet won the Pulitzer Prize, in 1956. It is also an intricate political and historical time for Brazil, something that is brought to light a few times during the narrative.

The relationship between the two women is beautifully portrayed, alternating delicate,  tender, loving scenes, with sexy scenes without appealing to the vulgar, cheap elements of sex, trying successfully not to become a source of harassment, or a porn movie.  According to the director, Bruno Barreto, that was one of the concerns during the shooting.

From my point of view, their encounter is much more interesting from the creative, professional point of view, like a collision between two gigantic forces from different natures and cultures. In their own way, two courageous, bold women who defied conventions by assuming their own lifestyle. In that sense, the movie satisfies my literary curiosity by showing a little bit about Elizabeth Bishop’s life, which is always interesting.