The Newly Arrived Expat Struggle

Golden Afternoon Light

I have read about a hundred articles and blog posts about how to settle in and build a life in your new community when you move to a new country. Most of them have a few helpful nuggets of wisdom such as “Take some classes”, “volunteer”, and “Get out into your community”. These are things I already know and am working on.

The problem is that nearly all of these articles assume that we 1) moved to a place with a big expat community, 2) have kids and 3) go to church.

The advice is all about contacting those who have come before you and hanging out with them, and/or making friends with the parents of your children’s new school mates.

Well, we live in a city of half a million people and as far as I can find there is only one other expat here, who we will hopefully meet up with soon at a local pub. There is no ready made circle of like minded friends who have already figured out life in my little corner of Brazil, no group of English speakers with whom I can ask questions, get involved or just chat with about the area. No others who have found the hidden gems of the area, the good dry cleaner, the dentist who speaks English, the unpublished weekend craft market or the secret source of good peanut butter.

We have no kids living at home, so there will be no teacher meetings, birthday parties, school functions, or time spent getting to know the other parents while we wait for the little ones to gather their backpacks after school.

We are not church goers, so that’s out.

We don’t even have pets, so there will be no random friends made at the local strip of grass that serves as the dog park, or in the veterinarian’s waiting room.

I don’t have a legal work visa, so there will be no friends made in the work place for me.

These things would all be great advantages and would speed up the process for me, but they’re not completely necessary. OK, so I don’t have any kind of built-in resource for making connections, but I’ll still be able to make them. It will just take longer, and take way more effort on my part.

Effort. The hardest part is summoning up the effort.

It feels like those days when I had newborn babies. It took so much effort, preparation and planning to just leave the house some days that I just didn’t leave the house some days.

Every time I walk out the door I have to have some idea of where I’m going. I’m still at that stage with my Portuguese where I’ll need to look up a few specific words to handle whatever objective I’m out to tackle for the day whether it’s a trip to the dry cleaner or a scouting mission to the plant shop. Living between three countries over the last two years means that I have to make a focused effort to remember what language to use just to say good morning to the neighbors. I suck at small talk even in my own language, so it’s a ridiculous and awkward struggle to do it in another.

We’ve been back for a week and a half, and I can only indulge my inner hermit and stay in the house for so long. The time is coming when I’ll need a regular life outside these walls. I’m looking into some classes, I’ve talked to the sindicate of our apartment complex (kind of like a maître d’) and she’s on the look out for other expats, and for prospective English students for me. We’ll soon meet up with our friends whom we connected with last time we’re here, and we’ll soon meet up with our one and only expat contact. We’re getting there, and the wheels are starting to slowly turn.

There’s a big city out there to get to know, and a life waiting to be built within its boundaries. It’s going to take a while though.


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About akil3655

A Scotsman and his American photographer wife traveling the world and writing about it. Tales, reviews, photos, interviews and crazy goings on. Because you never know what's going to happen.

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31 Responses to The Newly Arrived Expat Struggle

  1. jim October 8, 2013 at 2:54 pm #

    You have the skills, we know that. You know that. It’s just a shame you have to do it all over again! I have found the owners of small businesses/boutiques to be a good source of light conversation and inquisitive musings. All the better if they speak just a bit of English. Good luck. I really enjoyed your reports of local wanderings and descriptions of local finds from your last place of residence in Brazil. Good luck venturing out of the house.

    • akil3655
      Twitter: kiltandacamera
      October 8, 2013 at 3:02 pm #

      Thanks, Jim! Good tip about the local shop owners. That reminds me that I did strike up a conversation with the Asian food store owner when we were here before. She speaks some English, and is from South Korea. I’ll need to go talk to her again.

      Here we go!
      akil3655 recently posted..The Newly Arrived Expat StruggleMy Profile

  2. Amanda October 8, 2013 at 3:26 pm #

    You know, you are kind of stuck in the middle of two cities with large expat communities (Campinas and SP), but yet you dont have any around you. I remember when I first moved to SP I had no one but my husband and his friends who are all doctors, so trying to have a conversation with them was impossible. I stayed inside mainly because I didnt want to make the effort of going out on my own either. Its difficult in a country where the culture is so much different than the one you grew up in. But now, I almost cant stand to be in the house too long.

    Start privately teaching english, or find schools there where you can teach. Most prefer you only to speak English with your students and your baseline knowledge of your native language is already enough to get you a job (sans work visa). I found that while it may not be my favorite thing to do, it has given me an outlet to get out of the house and meet new people. And they all have interesting stories to tell.

    You know, if you ever go to Campinas, or would like to, my husband and I travel there at least once every few months to meet up with his friends who live there. Next time, I will let you know and maybe we can meet up there.


    • akil3655
      Twitter: kiltandacamera
      October 8, 2013 at 3:42 pm #

      Thanks, Amanda! I’d love to meet up. Let me know when you’re headed out and we’ll try to make it. For now, we still have no car so getting out to Campinas is a bit difficult. Once I figure out which bus to take I’ll try to make it over for some of the coffee mornings too.

      I got my English teaching certificate while we were in the UK, and I’m already planning to start teaching. Our apartment complex is quite large and I think it won’t be too difficult to pick up a few students right here, which will give me a good start on connections for more.

      Just like last time we lived in Brazil, we’re actually happy to be away from the expat bubble. Neither of us want to be only surrounded by English speakers while we’re here, so the more Brazilian friends we make the better. Saying that though, we’ve made some really fantastic expat friends, and hope we have a chance to make more. :)
      akil3655 recently posted..The Newly Arrived Expat StruggleMy Profile

  3. Ann October 8, 2013 at 4:13 pm #

    I read this post with great interest and empathy. I’m not sure which is hardest: being in a city of 20 million people or in a small city like yours. The biggest difference is that there is a huge ex-pat community here, which is a lifeline for people who tap into it. Teaching English would be a great way to make connections, and you already have your certificate, so that’s a plus. Do you have any fun skills or talents that you could share with people in the community? That would be less stressful than teaching English. If you’re heading into Sao Paulo, give us a heads-up and we’d love to connect with you. Good luck, and know that we’re rooting for you!

  4. ladyfi October 8, 2013 at 4:23 pm #

    It’s quite a lonely period, but Brazilians are very warm people so I hope you’ll start venturing out more and soon…
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    • akil3655
      Twitter: kiltandacamera
      October 8, 2013 at 4:34 pm #

      Ladyfi, I’m on my way out the door now. I have a very exciting afternoon of dropping off the dry-cleaning and buying a cilantro plant planned. ;)

      I agree with you about the Brazilian people, and we’re looking forward to getting to know a few more of them.
      akil3655 recently posted..The Newly Arrived Expat StruggleMy Profile

  5. Laura Shimizu October 8, 2013 at 5:35 pm #

    Hi Peg. I´m so sorry to hear about the loneliness/boredom/frustration of moving to a new town. I am sure it´s only a matter of time. Many people already mentioned you teaching English, but having students with advanced level for conversation only is the best. You get paid to talk! I used to teach conversational English where we went out to the market, to a cafe, we cooked together, we played baseball. It was part of my methodology: “real time English” I called. They loved it and were always satisfyed with the possibility of learning while having fun. Some can even run errands during “class”. Besides, teaching grammar is so tiring. I did the same when I moved to America the first time, but we exchanged lessons at a cafe. You may not find an organized expat community in your town, but surely you will find some people. In my little town of 30,000, there are so many hidden foreigners (Irish, English, American, German) besides Brazilians that lived in the US or Europe. Once you get to know one person, you will meet many. Perhaps you should pay a visit to a language school just to meet the instructors. They can become your friends, since they too may be missing some native English speakers. Good luck!

    • akil3655
      Twitter: kiltandacamera
      October 8, 2013 at 10:15 pm #

      Don’t feel too bad for me, Laura. We’ll get there! I did do some conversational English classes with more advanced where we used to live, and it was definitely more fun. It just felt like going out for pizza or a meal with new friends. I’m looking forward to that.

      Checking with the English schools is a good idea. I’m sure there must be more expats than just us and that’s a good way to find a few!
      akil3655 recently posted..The Newly Arrived Expat StruggleMy Profile

  6. Alex October 8, 2013 at 6:25 pm #

    Yeah, sounds a little tough to get connected to an ”expat” community if there is only one other in the city :P. Who knows though, they could be hiding in the woodwork.

    Haven’t you already lived in Brazil? I feel like I’m hallucinating because I know I’ve seen a blog of yours somewhere else. Or maybe I am just hallucinating, wouldn’t be the first time :P.

    Anyway, I wish the best of luck with the connection to other people, whether that be other Americans, Expats, or Brazilians.


    • akil3655
      Twitter: kiltandacamera
      October 8, 2013 at 10:10 pm #

      Yes, Alex, we did live in Brazil before in Rio de Janeiro state, which is why I know we’ll get past this early difficult part and why we speak Portuguese. I used to blog over at “The Tao of Me”, but switched over to this one when we left Brazil last time. Everything in my life had changed, and it was time to start a fresh blog. :)

      Thanks for the well wishes!

  7. Mallory October 8, 2013 at 6:45 pm #

    I know it’s really rough, Indaiatuba was really. really. really difficult for me. My only advice is to get to Sao Paulo city as often as you can, you are very close, about 30 minutes without traffic (30 minutes from SP, 30 minutes from Campinas, you’re right in the middle! I will give you the address of that awesome Mexican restaurant in Campinas). There is even a train from Jundiai that comes directly into Sampa (only 3 reais, hehe) and there are THOUSANDS of expats in the main city. Americans, British, French, South East Asian–when i lived outside the city i would come at least 2 or 3 times a month. I have a group of friends from all over the world; next time we have a weekend party i’ll send you a message. Metro and buses in SP are really easy once you get over the figuring it out hump. Shopping is better here, restaurants are better, tons of people to meet, lots of markets. Honestly the Sao Paulo interior is a very tough place for foreigners to live, I don’t think i could have done more than 3 years. Second advice– get a car! You will feel more free once you have a car.But until then, take the train!

    • akil3655
      Twitter: kiltandacamera
      October 8, 2013 at 8:13 pm #

      Mallory, definitely let us know about your weekend parties. I’d love to come! The train station here in Jundiai is really easy for us to get to, so once I get my courage up I’ll definitely be hopping over. Brian is really protective (gosh, I get robbed ONE TIME without him), so I know he’d prefer if I didn’t go alone, so I’ll have to talk him in to going with me. ;)

      I’m really glad that we’ve lived in Brazil before, and that I have enough Portuguese to be independent here. I think my situation would be 100% harder if this was my first time here.

      It will take me some time, but learning the metro, getting a car, getting more familiar with the area and getting to know more people are all going to make this another good experience. We loved living in Brazil before, and I know we will again.
      akil3655 recently posted..The Newly Arrived Expat StruggleMy Profile

      • Mallory October 9, 2013 at 12:11 am #

        Yes! On the weekends you and Brian can come together! One of my best friends here is from NZ and her husband is from Britain, they have a couple of little kids and host some fun lunch/dinner parties. You guys come together and take the train. I keep pushing the train so much because the line that comes from Jundiai has a station 15 minutes walk from where i live! So if you guys come we can wait for you at the station and we can take you to the “expat” events together! Also, if you come during the week alone i can pick you up at the station and we can go somewhere. I am doing a lot of catering and usually end up shopping in Liberdade (the Japanese district) at least once a week, I know you would love it. This same friend i have is the founder of an expat event called “SP Night Market” and every month they have a market (i sell food at!), a business social and a meet and greet. most events are in the evening during the week so it will be hard for you to get here, but the markets are usually on the weekend so you should come to those. they’re fun with music, food and places to lounge about. Anytime before you have a car you are also welcome to stay at my place– we have a guest bedroom and no kids. So nice place to crash. Chin up! I had a really good friend live in Jundiai for about a year and she had a great time, she said once she had a car she would go to Sampa almost every week. Also with the night market — if you want a project they are always looking for new people selling things. If you ever wanted to start a cottage business, like homemade items, you can sell them there! most of the vendors are gringos, and you get to meet a lot of people. And i think you know Megan, right? She lives really close to me!
        Mallory recently posted..For The Love of CakeMy Profile

  8. Life with Kaishon October 8, 2013 at 7:03 pm #

    I really adore this instagram image. So pretty. I would love to follow you on instagram if I can find your button : ).

    I hope that you will be able to acclimate sooner rather than later to this place where you are stationed for a while. What a grand adventure to be on with your husband. It seems like a movie.
    Life with Kaishon recently posted..“Kindness is a language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.” Mark TwainMy Profile

    • akil3655
      Twitter: kiltandacamera
      October 8, 2013 at 8:19 pm #

      Thanks! I was really happy with how it came out too. The afternoon light here looks just like this almost every day. I love it!

      I definitely signed up for an adventure when I fell in love with Brian! Brazil, the US, Scotland, England and now back to Brazil, and we have no idea what the future holds. Hopefully lots more places, and lots more time together to enjoy them. :)

      I am @kiltandacamera on Instagram. I’d love to see yours too if you don’t mind sharing!
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  9. Molly October 8, 2013 at 7:58 pm #

    I am sure you will get there in the end but moving to a new community is hard work regardless of where really.

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  10. Mary {My Life in Scotland} October 8, 2013 at 9:24 pm #

    When I first moved to Scotland it was like that for me. For over 5 yrs I didn’t know any other Americans. We do speak English here so it was easier. But, it was still hard. I actually remember a week where I didn’t step outside the flat. Not once. Not even to get the mail. I was in a pair of perma-pj’s. Hard year.

    No matter all the advice, you just have to go through it. you’re going to be okay. you know that. I hope it doesn’t take long to make some friends. At least south americans are super friendly!!

    Good luck to you!
    Mary {My Life in Scotland} recently posted..Stuff You Can’t Get In Scotland {Food Edition}My Profile

    • akil3655
      Twitter: kiltandacamera
      October 8, 2013 at 10:07 pm #

      Thanks, Mary! I try to make a point not to spend more than two days straight in the house because my introvert hermit tendencies would let me stay inside for weeks. I’ve done it, and I own the perma-pj’s to prove it! Thank goodness for yoga pants, lol.

  11. Katrin October 9, 2013 at 7:49 am #

    A lovely picture … I wish you all the best.
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    • akil3655
      Twitter: kiltandacamera
      October 9, 2013 at 10:34 am #

      Thanks, Katrin. :)

  12. Jade @ Tasting Grace October 9, 2013 at 3:08 pm #

    We found a similar challenge when we moved to Thailand, since the vast majority of people we met (who would be staying longer than a few months) were either missionaries or sexpats. Eventually we started to meet other people who were more our speed (via language classes, or hobbies like rock climbing, and my coworkers). It’s still isolating compared to our social circle back at home…but we did find people to hang out with. I’m sure you’ll find others in time too.
    Jade @ Tasting Grace recently posted..Momma ChatMy Profile

    • Jade @ Tasting Grace October 9, 2013 at 3:09 pm #

      P.S. Gorgeous photo, by the way!
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    • akil3655
      Twitter: kiltandacamera
      October 9, 2013 at 3:13 pm #

      Sexpats? :D I haven’t found any of those yet either, lol.

      It’s a bit hard to be one of those expats who will leave. As far as we know, we’ll be here for five years, which is long enough to put down some roots, grow some plants and make a lot of good friends. It will be hard to leave!
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  13. Megan C. Stroup October 10, 2013 at 5:21 am #

    This is a great post. You made some really great points about being an expat without an expat community, which I’ve never really considered. My mom is an expat in Switzerland, but she works for an international corporation there, so many of her co-workers are also expats and they all speak English in the workplace. I know it was hard enough for her to adjust with all those benefits, so kudos to you for stepping even more outside the box! Good luck adjusting. :)
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    • akil3655
      Twitter: kiltandacamera
      October 10, 2013 at 2:25 pm #

      Thanks, Megan. Yes, it’s harder, but the benefits will make it worth it. We know from experience that we’ll have a much more “Brazilian” experience, meaning our circle of friends will include more Brazilians than expats, more of our activities will be in Portuguese than English, and we’ll get to know more about Brazilian culture than if we had that bigger expat community. I’m not saying our expat friends are not important, because they can be life savers! But that living outside of that comfort zone will give us a much more colorful and diverse life. I can live with that. :)

      That doesn’t mean I won’t complain about it occasionally though, because sometimes this stuff is hard.

  14. Saskia Ghirotti October 15, 2013 at 11:18 pm #

    Wonderful post which I can totally relate to! I moved to Brazil in May and have been living in São Paulo. But my husband and I have a farm in rural MG where we are now moving to. No one around me speaks English and a lot of my work is on our farm together with my husband and one employee. The chances for me to interact with others is minimal. To branch out I am quickly finding a lot of English students, going to yoga with my neighbour, who does not speak english, and soon I will be diving into the job of running a farmers market in the local tourist town. Although I do not yet speak fluent portuguese, just diving into things seems like the best way to meet people. I hope that you can do the same!
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    • akil3655
      Twitter: kiltandacamera
      October 16, 2013 at 1:23 pm #

      Thanks, Saskia! I have spent the last week diving in. :) Went to dinner and beers with new friends last night, and will start the acro/yoga class next week. I’ll also be working a few days a week at Brian’s job teaching English. Full steam ahead!

      Although I’ll spend today home alone nursing my sore throat and cold. Sniff, sniff. lol.
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