Opinion, by Pia Granjon Lecerf
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – This week I met a lady; let’s call her Elisabeth, not her real name of course. From the first day I saw her, she looked always happy, untouched by the downsides of early times of expatriation; let’s not be too naive; if Elisabeth feels sad, she probably tends to let go of her feelings when she is by herself or with people very close to her.
Here are some details related to her situation: It is a first expatriation for Elisabeth and her family. Back home, they were living in the same house than her in-laws. Elisabeth was not working at home and isn’t working here either.
When she arrived, a furnished accommodation was waiting for her. They had chosen it to be between Elisabeth’s husband and the school. Her husband was working and she stayed about one month with the children in her new environment before school began.
The children spoke just a few words of English when they arrived. They were enrolled in an English speaking school.
Some factors have for sure helped for the adaptation, like the fact that there is no change in Elisabeth’s working habits, that the accommodation was ready to live in and furnished which are good adaptation factors, her children adapted fast, but she never felt them being very low spirited, even from the very beginning when they didn’t know anybody and weren’t speaking English. Her children’s integration was highly important to her.
On the other hand, other factors are helping less, like the two children who were not speaking the language they will have to face every day at school, or the local language, also the fact that Elisabeth was by herself and isolated with the children for one month when she arrived, or that she had no language organized or that nobody helped her find Portuguese lessons.
Obviously an individual situation is always far more complex that this and I am sure there are many points, positive and negative that aren’t showing here and they would have to be pondered by Elisabeth to take their real weigh in the equation.
I noticed as well that Elisabeth is curious; she wants to know the new cultural environment which is offered to her. She is proactive: she uses local means to go out and discover. She feels her life here far richer than the one she had back home, the international environment is something she really enjoys.
Once she began to build her social network from the school community she felt very happy because she wasn´t isolated anymore. Yes, she didn’t have help for language lessons, though I think that being partly responsible for your own sake gives a much stronger positive self-feeling than being too much assisted. Having to search, move… makes you feel alive and you can’t complain about others being the reason for your sad situation.
I am convinced that the very first parameter that helped Elisabeth in succeeding fast in her adaptation is the fact that the parameters of her new Brazilian life met undeveloped and probably unknown to her desires that her life back home had not offered her.
Her capacity to be proactive is obviously a very important factor as well: she worked on building a social network. So I would say, there are actions to be done, attitudes that help for settling quickly and no such thing like one magical recipe.
Pia Granjon Lecerf, life coach