Question: How difficult is Brazil?
Answer: If it were a test, the answer key would only get 70%.
Back in 1997 I made my first trip to Brazil. I spent two months in Campinas and Riberão Preto, cities in the state of São Paulo, learning Portuguese and becoming acquainted with the culture. It was an amazing, life-altering experience. After that, all I wanted to do was move to Brazil after graduating from the university. What youthful naiveté.
In 2001 this dream finally became a reality. I married a beautiful Brazilian woman and settled down to teaching English and starting a family. It didn’t take long for the dream to go bad. I wouldn’t call it a nightmare, but it was no picnic.
When I moved to Brazil that time I arrived on a tourist visa. I had all my documents ready to submit to the Federal Police to switch status from tourist to resident. There was just one problem. Brazilian bureaucracy isn’t that simple. It took nearly three years for my paperwork to be processed. During that time I was unable to obtain most of the documents I needed to carry out the simplest actions. I couldn’t sign rental agreements or have a bank account in my name. We had to do all of that in my wife’s name.
Then there’s the money situation. Had I not been receiving some support from American churches to do mission work, we would not have lasted 3 years in Brazil. Before I moved to this country my wife’s family told me I could make a decent salary teaching English. Not so. For over a year I hardly worked 20 hours a week, and I was paid by the hour. Now, in 2014, the pay has only increased by R$2.00 an hour. In other words, almost no difference at all.
This time around we tried building up savings. My wife moved to Brazil ahead of me with the kids and we sacrificed a year so I could fund our transition. I’m now a digital project manager who has worked with Wired.com and Scholastic. I’m certified PMP and ITIL-f. Yet, none of this seems to matter. I find myself teaching English and handling (a very interesting) project for an Australian tech company, but so far no Brazilian company has called me in for an interview.
I know that I’d have much better chances for full-time employment in my field in São Paulo, Rio or Belo Horizonte, but I’d really rather not live in any of those places. Uberlândia’s a pretty decent city. Not too big, too crowded or too crime-ridden. The weather is beautiful, the food is good and the people are generally easy to get along with.
The urge to “escape” from Brazil comes up every so often. Faced with perplexing red tape, sky-high taxes and poor job prospects, New York starts looking pretty good. Yet, I stay. For now.
The same can’t be said for many.
Recently, Mikkel Jensen, a reporter from Denmark who came to Brazil to cover the World Cup, decided to pack it in and head home. He recounts his reasons why in the Facebook post I’ve included below. It’s in Portuguese, but the gist of it seems to be that Brazil’s corrupt officials are using foreign journalists to promote the country while at the same time steamrolling over citizens. The injustice seemed to be too much for him, and Mikkel thought it best to leave rather than be used.
I don’t blame Mikkel, but I also don’t agree with him.
There’s much good to be found in Brazil, and if a clear-eyed reporter sees fraud and injustice, then the best thing he or she can do is report on it. Without people standing up and telling the truth, nothing will ever change. The powerless street kids he talks about need people who will hear them and share their stories. If money is being stolen from government coffers, it needs to be known. If NGOs are shutting down under pressure, let’s find out why.
Again, I don’t blame Mikkel for leaving. I might follow him out the exit if my situation doesn’t improve within the year. This just increases my respect for those who come, stay and make a go of it. Click here for a list of freelance reporters who aren’t giving up on Brazil.
Early Reflections on My Move to Brazil
Should I Stay or Should I Go?
Uberlândia: Digital City?