American Expat Living in Brazil - Interview with Jeanie

Published: 29 Jun at 9 AM
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Filed: Interviews,Brazil
Jeanie is a thirty year old who loves to bake, sew, and read when she's not binge-watching Friends on Netflix. She also loves to run, but since arriving in Governador Valadares, Brazil, she's found it a bit too hot. She emigrated from the United States, where she was in the military for over ten years, when her mother-in-law became ill. She's enjoying traveling around this new country and figuring out how to raise two small expats. Her experiences are shared in her blog Casa De Melo. Jeanie's expat blog is called Jeanie De Melo (see listing here)

Visiting Palácio Anchieta
Visiting Palácio Anchieta

Here's the interview with Jeanie...

Where are you originally from?
New Joisey! Okay, New Jersey, right outside of Philadelphia. Although I grew up in Upstate New York and Connecticut, I've never thought of those places as home.

In which country and city are you living now?
Governador Valadares in the state of Minas Gerais, Brazil.

How long have you lived in Brazil and how long are you planning to stay?
We've been here for almost a year and will be here for another four or five years. We'd like to stay until both of our children are in school.

The view from Convento da Penha
The view from Convento da Penha
Why did you move to Brazil and what do you do?
I was in the US military as a laboratory technician specializing in fuels for over ten years and my family moved here when my mother-in-law was diagnosed with stage four cancer. Now I'm a stay at home mom!

Did you bring family with you?
My husband, the Brazilian, and our two children.

How did you find the transition to living in a foreign country?
The first two months were much harder than I expected them to be. We lived in a large Brazilian community in the States and I had been learning Portuguese for seven years, so I thought it would be a simple transition. The lack of familiar food and being surrounded by Portuguese, and only Portuguese, all day was exhausting.

Was it easy making friends and meeting people; do you mainly socialise with other expats?
I would love to meet other expats in my city, but I haven't met any! Brazilians are incredibly friendly, so it's been very easy to meet people, but it's a different culture from what I'm used to (obviously). I haven't been comfortable enough to be my crude, outspoken, and slightly obnoxious American self yet. It's also very difficult to be witty in a second language and I'm self conscious of appearing rude.

Palácio Anchieta
Palácio Anchieta
What are the best things to do in the area; anything to recommend to future expats?
There is a mountain in our city that is (so the legend goes) the number one paragliding and hang gliding location in the world. I haven't done either of those things yet, but we did drive to the top to experience the amazing view. There is also a shopping district in the center of the town that's great. I won't say this city is danger-free, but it's a very safe space to socialize and shop in.

What do you enjoy most about living in Brazil?
There is a certain feeling that comes with figuring out how to use things like the post office, clinic, and even enrolling kids in school as an expat. I knew how to do all of these things in the States but now I have to figure out how to do them differently and on my own. Understanding something like how to purchase the reusable (and cheaper) bottles of Coca Cola that are common here make me feel a sense of pride and accomplishment. It's really the little parts of being an expat that I enjoy the most.

How does the cost of living in Brazil compare to home?
In just the year that we've been here, inflation has skyrocketed. I used to buy potatoes for around R$2-3 per kilo and now it's R$6. Comparing costs is a very strange thing. I like to sum it up by saying that if you're spending US dollars in Brazil, life is very cheap. If you're spending Brazilian reais in Brazil, life is very expensive.

Enjoying a hammock at Santa Land
Enjoying a hammock at Santa Land
What negatives, if any, are there to living in Brazil?
Jobs aren't plentiful and the pay is cheap. I haven't been able to find work because despite learning Portuguese for seven years, I don't speak it well enough to help customers. I tried to teach English out of my home, but no one has money for classes. It's a difficult financial time for Brazil and no one is immune.

If you could pick one piece of advice to anyone moving to Brazil, what would it be?
Give yourself time to adjust. Don't expect it to be easy from the beginning.

What has been the hardest aspect to your expat experience so far?
This may sound silly to someone who hasn't lived in our somewhat remote area of Brazil, but it can be surprisingly boring. There is only one good park and there are no public pools, aquariums, or zoos. I don't feel comfortable taking the kids for hikes because I'm unfamiliar with the wildlife and dangerous insects and plants. It can be difficult keeping two small kids occupied. In New Jersey there was always something for the family to do.

When you finally return home, how do you think you'll cope with repatriation?
I don't think we'll have a problem with repatriation. It's much easier to live in the United States than it is to live in Brazil. We'll be moving back to the area we left, so we have a large support system and a large Brazilian population to greet us. I do expect to be shocked by the level of consumerism and waste. In our area of Brazil, consumer goods can be very difficult to come by. One time we had to drive to four different hardware stores to find the type of screws we needed. And sometimes I have to wait a few weeks for the grocery store to re-stock the baby formula we use.

The view from Ibituruna
The view from Ibituruna
What are your top 5 expat tips for anyone following in your footsteps?
  1. Take your new country for what it is, try not to compare it to your home country.
  2. Be prepared for homesickness and frustration. Whether it's dealing with bureaucracy or struggling with the language, it will happen. It's a part of the experience and you'll get through it.
  3. Bring your favorite boxed foods. Ranch dip mix, peanut butter, whatever. If you move to a remote area, as we did, these things will be impossible to find.
  4. A Kindle and Netflix subscription have been surprisingly helpful in staying any homesickness. I used my library card to check out e-books on the Kindle and I'm able to watch tv and movies in English with Netflix.
  5. Bring a MagicJack with you. I have a United States phone number through my MagicJack and I can call my friends and family any time for free. (We'd like to Skype, but the connection is often too poor).
Tell us a bit about your own expat blog.
Casa De Melo covers some of my experiences in Brazil, life as an expat, and everything in between. I share photos of trips we've taken, discuss culture shock, and give advice about parenting in a foreign country. Before I moved to Brazil, I read a lot of expat blogs and received a lot of great advice. I like to think that one day a future expat will read my blog and it will make their move that much easier.

How can you be contacted for further advice to future expats coming to your area?
You can contact me through my blog!

About the author

Expat Blog ListingJeanie is an American expat living in Brazil. Blog description: Expat life in Governador Valadares / Minas Gerais / Brazil.
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