Archives, Culture

My Experience in the Foreign Workplace



If you’re abroad for a while like me, it really only makes sense that you are going to seek some sort of volunteering, internship, or work experience eventually. Not only does it balance your time, but it helps you dive deeper into the culture and may also earn you a little extra cash (which is always a good thing).

I happened to find my internship through my study abroad program I applied for, called CIEE, but there are a million ways to find jobs wherever you are. If you are plugged into any sort of local school or team, just ask! Almost always, locals know best and can give you the right resources you need to start volunteering. This is by far the easiest, and most organic way to find something that suits you interests and needs. Hopefully if you find a place you like and visit a few times, they would be willing to take you on for more of a regular role and you can get to know the team. If you feel there is a language barrier, don’t worry! I walked into a communications role at my internship knowing literally almost no Portuguese. You’ll learn as you go, just have patience with yourself. If you can’t find something quite as organically, there are also ever increasing options to work abroad through more structured programs such as Work Away or WWOOFing 

Now, if you’re looking for paid work, this is harder to do formally due to visa restrictions and working laws, as most of you may know. My experience was completely unpaid but  most people I know have taken up informal jobs or things under the table. Some examples are nanning, dog walking, freelancing for things like social media or writing, and teaching English. This last one is huge because, especially in Brazil, people want to know English but don’t necessarily want to sit in a classroom learning formal grammar. Conversational English lessons require literally no experience and it makes it more enjoyable for your student, because it’s way more applicable. I had personal offers to do this but just simply couldn’t find the time, and honestly now am kind of wishing I had. A final option you could look into is doing online work remotely for a company in your home country. This option is great because you get paid in your own currency, so you know your worth for the job.

I have to say, you need to be careful about where and how you choose work, only for the sake of getting the most out of it. If you work for a company at home, teach formal English, or WWOOF for an ex-pat, you won’t get as much out the experience as you could working for a native. This might go without saying, but I think its a point worth stressing because even though you might have a great time or make more money with those other experiences, if you’re serious about submerging yourself you need to take the leap and go local. I personally was pretty scared walking into my informational meeting the first day, because I thought “Who am I? This gringa who is on a year long vacation and is going to try and hop in to a functioning business, totally unqualified, and try to help but in reality might really just make things worse.” And for the first few weeks, I was walking on eggshells around the office because I made up this sense that I was not welcomed. But man was I wrong! I just so happened to stumble into one of the most passionate, understanding, caring, and ambitious offices in the world, and I wouldn’t have known that had I not taken the first big leap.

Now let me tell you what I actually do! Throughout my experience here in Rio, I have had the amazing opportunity to work with an organization called Refettorio Gastromotiva, which is a global food hub focused on giving education and dignity through food. Through our Gastromotiva training program, we give young people on the margins a free culinary course to learn how to work in a professional kitchen environment. They then take food waste from a local distributor and recreate the perfectly good food into a beautiful meal each night for some of Rio’s homeless community. They are also well on their way to becoming a social business by creating their own commercialized products and hosting numerous events in our building. My favorite part is the new global movement they announced in January called the Social Gastronomy Movement that I got to help conceptualize and launch.

As a Communications and Marketing Intern I am an overall content contributor, designer and frequent translator for every type of project. This job is for only the most flexible, able to wear a different hat each day and is entirely project based. It’s ironic that my biggest challenge has been in communication. Brazilians, and Cariocas especially, aren’t the best at speaking directly. They are unclear about what they want and how they present a project to you, leaving room for lots of error and need for editing time. While I was revamping their social media platform I cannot tell you how many posts I made and then was forced to take down because it wasn’t the correct direction they were going for. I found that sometimes their enthusiasm wasn’t supported by a means to follow through and reach a goal. Specifically during the Social Gastronomy Movement beginning stages, I felt they had done everything backwards. Launching a movement without a solid website, social media presence, or branding direction I felt was a huge mistake but something that I had to learn was a cultural difference.

Ultimately, this is what I’m trying to get at. At some point in your working experience, you are going to notice that people do things differently than you, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Being at Refettorio has honestly taught me more about Brazilian life, communication, and problem solving than any classroom ever could. If you find yourself abroad for a while, I couldn’t advocate more for finding a work opportunity in that country, you will got more out of it that you ever thought you could.

If you’ve had a work abroad experience, let me know in the comments! I would love to know where you’ve been and how it went 🙂

Next to read: Brazilian Favelas and How Foreigners Should Treat Them


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