I Couldn't Take Brazil
São Paulo was a ruthless and merciless environment for a novice
job seeker. I soon learned that teachers of English were a dime
a dozen in São Paulo. The continued bleak outlook for the Brazilian
economy and the rising crime and unemployment rates conspired to
finally force me to face reality: we were going broke.
I read with keen interest
John Fitzpatrick's article regarding looking for employment in Brazil
("For Job Seekers Brazil Is No Eldorado - www.brazzil.com/p108may03.htm).
I, too, followed a similar career path, but with very different results.
Hopefully, my experiences will shed some needed light on this area, which
seems to be one perpetually shrouded in mystery and misinformation.
To begin with, I am
a naturalized American citizen, born in Brazil, who came to New York in
1959 with my parents. I was raised in the city, went to school, graduated
and worked there most of my adult life. After many frustrating years in
the financial sector, and certainly after the birth of my two daughters,
I decided on a major lifestyle change and immigrated with my Brazilian
wife and family back to the mother country.
John's excellent advice
to learn Portuguese is an absolutely essential one. Let me just reiterate
it: don't expect to get by on your high school Spanish. You will not make
yourself understood, you will not understand the local lingo, and you
will offend many Brazilians by attempting to converse in the wrong language.
Luckily, I still spoke enough Portuguese to survive.
In 1996, I left New
York for São Paulo, and spent the next four and a half years living
and working there. Obviously, I fit into the second category of a professional
who went to Brazil with no job, a spouse and two children to care for.
We were luckier than most because we had my wife's family to help us during
this transition period. In addition, we owned our own apartment, out of
which I gave EFL lessons.
I obtained my carteira
de trabalho (work permit), permanent residency and CPF (a document
used for financial transactions) without too much hassleagain, I
have to say I was luckier than most immigrants, who, like the general
populace, are "treated like dirt" by most Brazilian agencies
Before my move, however,
I had prepared myself for the transition by spending two years in pursuit
of my teaching certificate at the New School in New York. I was taught
by some of the best teachers in the country, people with master's degrees
and PhD's from NYU, Columbia, Cambridge and the like. I passed my course
work and was highly commended for my efforts by all of my teachers. One
would think this background, along with my previous Wall Street experience,
would have entitled me to "streets paved with gold" in São
Not so. I must concur
completely with John's truthful assessment of the hazards of job hunting
and living in the big abacaxi, as I like to call it. São
Paulo was a ruthless and merciless environment for a novice job seeker.
At the start of my teaching career, I had a few students at home, but
in order to supplement my meager earnings, and to pay for my ever increasing
light, phone, gas, energy, food, school and insurance bills, I had to
seek some type of regular full-time employment.
I interviewed for
and obtained entry into Cultura Inglesa, a well-known English language
school. Imagine my surprise and dismay when I was told I would have to
undergo a two-month training program (unremunerated, of course) after
having completed TWO YEARS of one in New York. Besides the personal humiliation
of having to prove myself all over again, and despite my teaching certificate
in tow, I gamely plugged on. I even gained entry into another teacher
training program at the Alumni School in the Morumbi neighborhood.
Teacher for Two
Unfortunately, I couldn't
handle the stress and travel of "training" in two places at
once, so I dropped out of Alumni and opted to teach at Cultura instead.
After completing their so-called training, I waited a month and a half
until Cultura sent me to teach at a local branch right in my own neighborhood.
Sounds great, right? No, not really. The hourly wage at the time was a
miserable R$7 an hour, with an additional R$2 for expenses.
I realized to my horror
I had wasted three and a half months of valuable job search time in a
fruitless pursuit of permanent employment with an entity that was paying
paltry starvation wages. I also learned, much to my bitter chagrin, that
teachers of English were a dime a dozen in São Paulo.
I abruptly left Cultura
after only two days and went looking for teaching positions in the pages
of the local newspapers. As the Brazzil article so rightly pointed
out, São Paulo is not the U.S. (or Europe, for that matter) when
it comes to finding work via the want ads. Networking with relatives,
friends and acquaintances is the preferred and more results-oriented method.
Again, I lucked out,
and through an ad in the Estadão newspaper, I was able to
secure a teaching position with a multi-national accounting firm in downtown
São Paulo. The salary there was about R$30 an hour and I enjoyed
the challenge of teaching adult learners rather than the bratty, spoiled
and inattentive Cultura school kids.
When the Brazilian
economy started to sputter in 1998, I lost more students than I gained,
so I was forced to find additional work elsewhere. An English teacher
in Brazil never just "teaches." He or she must learn to adapt
and find other odd jobs (called bicos) to survive. After heavy
word of mouth, I was able to get some translation work for several companies,
in addition to doing work for a colleague at HBO of Brazil. I got into
the subtitling/dubbing sideline through her, and even urged my wife to
get involved in it, as well. She took the HBO course, which led nowhere
because of the recession.
In point of fact,
the work was scattershot at best. Sometimes, I would get two or three
films to work on, other times I would get nothing for weeks. When I did
get work, I would spend many days, nights and weekends at the computer
terminal, away from my family, friends and relatives, while I was involved
in the transcribing process. The pay was decent enough, but I still needed
to teach to pay the bills, plus I really wanted a less ephemeral and time-consuming
This was not to be.
When the HBO work eventually dried up due to the devaluation of the real
and the still stagnant economy, I hooked up in 1999 with another colleague
who was a full-time lawyer and EFL teacher, and started teaching mini-courses
for her students. I would serve as a substitute teacher for when my colleague
traveled, and was even able to teach my own courses, which I had developed
based on the American legal systemI had been a certified litigation
paralegal in the U.S. for several years.
While these courses
were reasonably successful, the continued bleak outlook for the Brazilian
economy, the rising crime and unemployment rates, and the loss of more
and more of my students due to financial hardships, conspired to finally
force me to face my own ever-mounting personal financial problems: we
were going broke.
Time to Go Back
My decision to return
to the U.S. and start afresh in Raleigh, North Carolina, was an extremely
painful and heart-rending one, but one I resolutely made with my family
in the hope of securing steadier employment and a more secure financial
foothold than I ever had in Brazil. Our relatives offered to help us through
our difficulties in Brazil, but I could no longer impose upon their generosity.
Besides, I had my own children's welfare and future to think about.
Reluctantly, but with
much optimism, we left São Paulo in January 2001 for Raleigh. Since
then, I have worked for three different corporations here, some better
and some worse than the ones I worked for in New York. I was even laid
off last year due to downsizing (welcome to the U.S.A. reality!), but
quickly found a job with a CRO (contract research organization).
Raleigh and the surrounding
Research Triangle Park area is a constantly expanding and vital center,
well-known for its medical, pharmaceutical, research, and university facilities.
I think my family and I chose wisely. Without a doubt, my daughters will
be better off, school- and career-wise, than they would ever have been
in São Paulo.
In summation, I tried
very hard to make a go at teaching English. But no matter how many new
students I found, I would inevitably be forced into looking for new ones,
or new lines of work, just to make ends meet. This was the sad, hard,
and unmentioned reality of teaching in Brazil. I don't wish to discourage
potential adventurers out there, but I sure wish I had someone to point
these things out to me BEFORE I made my decision to return to São
Still, it was a most
remarkable learning experience, and one I heartily recommend to young,
single persons with the requisite courage, patience, flexibility, and
stamina for the teaching lifestyle.
As a postscript let
me also emphasize the long distances involved in traveling to and from
one's various teaching jobs, usually done "in-company," and
the extremely precarious state of São Paulo's public transportation
system. These must be taken into account at all costs. If at all possible,
avoid the city buses, especially during peak hours, which are packed and
crawling with lice and other unpleasant infestations. The subway system
is much safer, much cleaner, and tends to get you (more or less) to where
you want to go in much less time.
There's also the inordinately
long working hours you must contend with, commencing around the ungodly
hour of 7 AM or so, through a working lunch somewhere around 12 noon to
2 PM (and oftentimes later), and then regular afternoon and evening classes
ending at about 10 PM. In-company evening classes generally go from 6
PM to 7:30 PM, although I've heard of later starting and closing times.
Oh, and don't forget
Saturday mornings and afternoons, too. You'll want to keep those hours
available, as well, in addition to what's called in the trade as janelinhas
or windows, in case of student cancellations or teacher illness. You'll
want to use these mostly for make-up classes. It's a rather busy and lengthy
work schedule to test the mettle of only the fittest teaching souls. Better
pray that it doesn't rain in the midst of all this, which will tend to
throw a spanner into the works (monkey wrench for you native American
English speakers) and bring the heavy São Paulo traffic to an endless
an American citizen born in Brazil, was raised in New York City where
he also graduated and worked in the financial sector. In 1996, he
moved to Brazil with his Brazilian wife and two daughters. The experience
lasted until January 2001, when the packed and came back to the US.
You can email the author at JosmarLopes@msn.com