Now that I’ve passed the two-year mark of life in Sao Paulo, I feel I’m qualified to dole out a bit of advice. The following are my top ten ways to survive expat life in the big SP.
- Embrace the culture. Spending some time immersing yourself in the culture will help you better understand and embrace your foreign surroundings. From Brazilian cuisine to museums and art, there are plenty of opportunities in Sao Paulo to take in all in.
- Learn some language. Even a few initial phrases will make you feel a bit more secure and confident in the city. In addition to language guides and phrase books, there are plenty of options for schools and private instructors. Or you can watch your favorite movies on the Brazilian Netflix with the language option set to Portuguese and English subtitles (or vice versa).
- See the sights. Sao Paulo is a huge city with plenty to enjoy, no matter what your interest is. The government sponsored museums, such as the Museu AfroBrasil and the Museu da Lingua Portuguese, provide amazing opportunities to learn about Brazil and take in some art and architecture. There are also plenty of park options, like Parque Ibirapuera and Parque Povo, where you can rent/ride a bike, talk a walk, fly a kite or just enjoy the outdoors. If you want to experience the country’s favorite sport, go to a futebol game at the Estadio Municipal, which also is home to the Museu do Futebol. Take advantage of as many metropolitan options to explore.
- Get out of the city. While there is plenty to do in Sao Paulo, sometimes you need a break. Enjoying a weekend at a Hotel Fazenda or even a day trip to the mountains will refresh your senses. Some nearby favorites are Juquehy and Paranapiacaba. There are even places within the city limits that make you feel as though you’ve left like the Jardim Botânico and Parque Estadual da Cantareira.
- Make some Brazilian friends. Once you’ve gotten a little control over the language, seek out some Brazilian buddies. The best way to do this is take a class. You’ll have an opportunity to interact with the natives and most are very forgiving and helpful when it comes to Portuguese. Just don’t take something in which your well-being might depend on communication, like sword fighting or trapeze art.
- Keep it low key. After a few weeks, or even days, you might start to notice that many Brazilians dress to impress. Don’t feel like you need to compete. Your American status makes it OK to walk around in yoga pants with a baseball cap on your head. At least that’s what I tell myself.
- Stay connected. Imagine the expat life twenty years ago when there wasn’t the technology to easily keep connected to your homeland. Lucky for us, today you can call friends and relatives in the U.S. with a free Skype account or a low cost Vonage phone. WordPress and Blogger allows for you to communicate your experiences for your friends and family to enjoy. You can also stay on top of the latest publications with an Amazon Kindle.
- Find the humor in the hardships. In almost every harrowing situation, you can choose to laugh or cry. I can’t tell you how many humiliating or frustrating experiences I’ve had (although I hope you will read about it in my upcoming book American Expat Guide to Sao Paulo). Sometimes it is not easy to see the funny side of things, but as long as no one got hurt, you can manage. I always remind myself that humor doesn’t come from rainbows… it comes from under rocks.
- Know that you need help. The expat life can be a bit lonely, especially if you are the independent type. There are organizations, such as the International Newcomers Club and the American Society, designed to help you not only adjust to the lifestyle, find professionals and vendors that are reliable and speak English, and recommend restaurants, but also meet people in a similar predicament and make new friends. For a reasonable membership fee, take advantage of the assistance.
- Contribute. Nothing is going to make you feel better about your experience than giving back to your new community. Whether it is volunteering to play with the little ones at an orphanage or serving sodas at a charity even, contributing will make positive memories for a lifetime. The International Newcomers Club and American Society are great resources for finding out about volunteer opportunities.
Hope this helps those that have newly arrived to Sao Paulo.