Creating a new life in Porto Alegre, Brazil

This American expat who goes by the name Loquinha Gauchinha has lived outside the United States before, but Brazil, where she's located now, has found a place in her heart. She describes here the joys and challenges she experiences living in Brazil, as well as some aspects of her expat life in a not-so-prominent city in the southern part of the country.
 

Loquinha Gauchinha

-Where were you born?

I was born in Evanston, Illinois, raised in Crystal Lake, and spent most of my adult life in Chicago. 

-In which country and city are you living now?

I am living in Porto Alegre, in Brazil's southernmost state of Rio Grande do Sul. However, it might as well be a different country because the local culture is radically different that those in the more familiar Rio, São Paulo, or the northeast.

 

-Are you living alone or with your family?

I live alone. I joke with people, "eu fugi da casa" (I ran away from home)!

-How long have you been living in Brazil?

Almost 9 months.

-What is your age?

34

-When did you come up with the idea of living in Brazil?

I first visited Brazil in 2005. The motivation at that time had a lot to do with the Brazilian guy I was dating. I began studying Portuguese and became so infatuated with the language, the various cultures I had witnessed (in what amounted to 6 trips to Brazil in under 3 years), the music, the pace, and the hospitality of the people I met that I decided to move here in 2008. I quit my corporate job, rid myself of almost everything that didn't fit in my little suitcases, and leapt into the unknown.

After more than a year of researching (about crime, economics, transportation, even percentage of green space), I decided to start my new Brazilian life here in the south. At some point, I might move to Rio (my second choice), but I am content here for now.

-Was it difficult for you to get medical insurance before you went there or when you first arrived?

Medical insurance? What’s that? No, seriously, I looked into it before I left the States but the plans were very costly. I capitalized on the great insurance I had through my former employer and had all of my physicals and foreseeables conducted before my departure. And now, I am taking the risk of the uninsured. I am very careful when I cut fruit and cross the street.

-How do you make your living in Brazil? Do you have any type of income generated?

I have been supplementing my savings with travel writing. A recently-launched site geared toward independent women travelers found my blog and approached me to contribute. Does anyone reading this want to hear my book proposal? Ha ha ha!

-Do you speak Portuguese and do you think it's important to speak the local language?

I think it's very important to learn the local language. I studied Portuguese with a wonderful Brazilian tutor for a couple years in Chicago and I used to try to read the local news online every day. When I arrived, I had all this vocabulary and basic grammar rules floating around in my head, but putting it into practice has been another matter entirely. I felt overwhelmed for a while, because my speaking and listening skills were so far behind my reading skills. I have a tutor here, but it is only a recent development that I would say my communication ability reached "conversational". I have a long way to go.

For the most part, Brazilians have been thrilled to tell me how wonderful my Portuguese is. (See? A very congenial people indeed.) However, I have also had a handful of experiences, similar to other interviewees on this site, in which I felt frustrated that, due to a slight pronunciation misstep, I was treated as if I was wholly unintelligible. Certainly, this is universal and not uniquely Brazilian, but it's aggravating nevertheless.

-Do you miss home and family sometimes?

Sure, I miss my friends and family. Sometimes I miss weird things, too, like home-style pancakes. My saudades (something like homesickness) dissipate, though, when I consider the simple improvements in my quality of life: lots of sunshine, spare time, a pool to swim at, and all those glorious—if unrecognizable—tropical fruits.

-Do you have other plans for the future?

I haven't reached the planning stage, as I feel comfortable here for now. However, I have lots of ideas of things I'd still like to experience. I'd love to do a slow bus tour of Brazil, well, of most of South America for that matter. I've given some thought to teaching English in Korea for a year and spending the earnings on an Asian escapade. There are many countries I would like to visit on the African continent. A more "permanent" ambition, if I found the resources, would be to open a hostel someday—probably right here in Brazil, which seems to have captured my heart.

-What about housing, have you bought, or are you renting a home? How much do you pay for it?

I am renting a very small one bedroom apartment in the city center. It is a bit expensive by comparison at R$700 per month, but that includes condominium fees and it is furnished (and here in Brazil, "furnished" includes kitchen cabinets and a refrigerator, otherwise not included).

-What is the cost of living in Brazil?

Of course it depends on one's living standards. Fortunately, I am not very decadent! I splurge on nights out with friends now and then, and I joined a club that has a pool, but otherwise I keep it simple. My average monthly expenditures on the basics (rent, internet, cell, electricity, food, clothing, etc.) run a little over R$1300 and my frivolous expenses (the pool, socializing and other entertainment, the occasional movie or pedicure) are about R$500.

-What do you think about the Brazilians?

I have traveled a fair bit and lived in Ireland and England for a year. Of all my travels, I have had the most delightful interaction with the residents here. Granted, it's important to remember that I live in a city that doesn't get overrun by tourists, so the locals are certainly curious when they meet a foreigner here. That said, I have been welcomed by so many Brazilians—into their homes, to attend their weddings and parties, or just to engage in conversation at a bar. People have been quite eager to make sure I am safe and armed with the hottest insider tips to enjoy my time here!

-What are the positive and negative aspects of living in Brazil?

The flat-out positives, aside from the aforementioned quality of life improvements and good-natured people, for me are: I love the tangible passion of the crowd at futebol match; the more efficient public transport; the climate; the flowers; the pink building that is home to Casa de Cultura Mario Quintana; the fruits and veggies, ok, and the churrasco too; the variety and vastness of the country… If it weren't for my exhausting list of positives, I wouldn't be here.

 
Casa de Cultura Mario Quintana

Neither positive nor negative, but merely an observation, is that everything seems like a contradiction: the haves and have-nots; the struggle for better system and the corruption; the warm hospitality and the high crime rate; a person who is simultaneously liberal and conservative; some of the world's best and worst health care. The list goes on and fascinates me at every turn, providing another reason that I choose to live here. It stimulates the brain!

One drawback/source of frustration is that I (like so many others) find the Brazilian communication style vastly different than that with which I was raised. U.S. Americans tend to speak very directly, and the closer the relationship, the more candor is expected. I find this to be inversely proportional to the Brazilian way: the closer the relationship, the less transparent the communication. It's not exactly a "negative," because there is no right or wrong way. But it can be very frustrating at times. (My hopefully-obvious disclaimer is that this is necessarily generalized.)

-Do you have any tips for our readers about living in Brazil?

Absolutely. Be flexible.

-Do you have any favorite Web sites or blogs about anything related to Brazil?

Sonia offers one of the greatest online resources I have found for people learning Brazilian Portuguese, though for Chicagoans or people looking for tutor via Skype, I would highly recommend Marcelo Jarmendia.

My blog is My Life in Havaianas and I am a contributor at Galavanting.


Teaching in Porto Alegre

James Morgan's picture

Hi Loquinha!

I found your blog facinating, particularly as I am planning to move to Porto Alegre in the very near future. Do you have any advice on finding teaching jobs in Porto Alegre?

Any help would be very gratefully received!!

Many thanks,

James.

Yes, I have some ideas for you...

Loquinha Gauchinha's picture

Thanks for the kind words!
Drop me an email at jsuzanne74@gmail.com and tell me a little more about what your looking for. I have some expat friends here that are teaching in language schools and also some "real teachers" (i.e. former elementary/high school teachers) that are teaching at PanAmerican here. I can put you in touch with some people...
Also, when are you arriving, where are you coming from, and what's your story? ha ha ha

Hi from Australia

Cam's picture

Tudo Bem Amigos!

Loquinha,
Thank you so much for the your depiction of Porto Alegre. I am going to be in the same neighbourhood as you, well a bit north from you in Canela. Can you recommend any good schools of teaching portugeuse? Im so facinated about heading over there!

Obrigado!

small world

Loquinha Gauchinha's picture

I was just in Canela (1st time) this weekend and found it rather charming.
If you have Facebook, you should join the "Foreigners in Porto Alegre" group - there's lots of useful information on the Discussion Board and plenty of new friends!
As for portuguese lessons, I'm sure you can find someone in Canela to teach you privately though I don't have a name for you. There is a school in Santa Cruz, not too far away, that does intensive programs. I haven't studied there personally, but their website is impressively complete with tools they've developed. It's here:
http://www.sk.com.br/sk-psl.html
For further questions, feel free to drop me a line at jsuzanne74@gmail.com.
Cheers!

How Hard Is It?

shealuna's picture

I was wondering how hard it was to get a visa and what type of visa you got? I've been doing some research and it looks like while it's fairly easy to get a tourist visa, living there is another matter. How hard/easy was it really?

Thanks!

Houses

peter kolar's picture

Thank you for generously sharing your experiences in southern Brazil.

Could you please recommend a website or two listing real estate for sale near Porto Alegre? Everytime I search on Google or Yahoo, I find only high-end real estate geared toward rich tourists. I'm interested in more modest accomodations for my family, like a 3 bedroom house to buy or rent.

Thank you!

Try these

Loquinha Gauchinha's picture

www.shortstaybrazil.com
This is a non-corporate site for a Dutch/Brazilian couple that owns some great apartments to rent out. I've been inside a few and they are charming, spacious and well-situated. Tell them Jenny sent you! (I swear, I don't get anything for recommending them! I just happen to know them, and the very rare/valuable service they provide to foreigners looking for accommodation!)

For more traditional real estate organizations, you can try:
http://www.auxiliadorapredial.com.br/conteudo/home.asp?InCdTipoBusca=2
http://www.imobiliariaducati.com.br/
http://www.buzzii.com.br/home
I think you'll find, though, that it can be really tricky to arrange housing in advance and through an established channel, such as an agency, as a foreigner - without the help of a Brazilian citizen (perhaps a university contact or business associate that you will be coming here for?).

In the event that you don't have a local to help you sort through the mess, and can't afford to pay a premium for being without a contact (ha), your best bet is to get an apartment hotel for short term and looking for a place in the Sunday paper on your arrival.

Good luck!

Here We Come!

LDSpence's picture

I have found your blog and comments and answers extremely helpful. We have received less than a two week notice to relocate temporarily with our two young children. We had already been in contact with shortstaybrazil.com so its nice to hear you recommend them.

We are still looking for a part time children's program that will expose our children to the culture and language and art. I am in communication with Panamerican but would love any other suggestions that might be less formal.

thanks!

Here we come!

LDSpence's picture

Your post and responses to comments have already been so helpful. We received less than a 2 week notice about temporarily relocating there until June with 2 small children. We have already been in contact with shortstay brazil.com so it is comforting to know you also recommend them.

I would like to find a part time program for our two children to get exposure to children from POA and meet other foriegners going through the same adjustment. I am currently cooresponding with PanAmerican but would love any other recommendations, even something informal where parents and children get together weekly.

Thanks!

Life Revised

Loquinha Gauchinha's picture

A few updates on my interview...
First, to respond to the questions regarding visas: I took advantage of the amnesty that was offered in 2009. Brazil tends to offer it about every 10 years.
Second, with regards to teaching English: it is possible to find work but, chances are, pre-arrangement will be impossible (unless you're going the route of a proper international school such as Pan American). Save money, arrive, go knock on doors.
As of August 2010, I am relocating to São Paulo to continue the adventure.

Success to all of us as we chase our dreams!
"Paulistinha" (aka Loquinha Gauchinha 2.0)
http://mylifeinhavaianas.blogspot.com/