This week we head over to the sunny Algarve region of Portugal to catch up with newby expat family Amy, Richard and James Grace from the UK.
We’ve been here for a week and we already have friends; people we’ve met out and about and got talking to…
Where do you live now, and where did you move from?
I’m living in the central Algarve region of southern Portugal, what they call the California of Europe. I’ve moved here from a little Yorkshire Dales town, Sedbergh, with my husband Richard, son James (7), and our young golden retriever, Pixie. We were also 40 minutes from the Lake District and in the Yorkshire Dales National Park, and previously to that we lived in East Devon, and London, where Richard and I met.
Is this the first time you’ve been an expat? If not, where have you lived before? If so, what was the leaving process like?
Personally, not; I worked for a short while in Warsaw, Poland, in my Gap Year, teaching English as a Foreign Language as a classroom assistant, and in 2000 I taught English and Humanities in Hong Kong. I’ve also lived in Italy, but that was all before meeting Richard. So, this is our first time at being expats as a family.
How do you spend your time? Do you work?
After a lot of research, I secured the perfect job for me, working as Head of Marketing and Communications at Nobel International School, Algarve. I couldn’t have had a better opportunity to be honest; to be able to make the move here, where good jobs are not that easy to find, and find something that will really interest and challenge me. I’ve got plenty of experience in the field but not of marketing in another country.
What do you appreciate the most in your adopted country?
That’s easy – mostly, the people. We’ve been coming to the area for six years for family holidays with my parents and in that time we’ve met some lovely local people. The Portuguese are incredibly family friendly, warm and welcoming, and refined and sophisticated too. They will always go out of their way to help you. We also love the scenery, in-land as well as on the beautiful coast, and we like the fact that the country is forward looking, in ecological matters as well as in business. The food’s great, too!
How did you make new friends in your new home?
We’ve been here for a week and we already have friends; people we’ve met out and about and got talking to – English people with children, local business owners, and colleagues through the school I’m going to be working at and that James will attend – it’s nice that we already have some local Portuguese friends. I’ve always loved making new friends; my parents used to joke that as a child they couldn’t take me anywhere without me coming home with a new pen pal. I think you have to be open and willing to put in the time when you’re settling into a new place.
Have you started learning the language? Any tips on the best way to do it?
Yes – about a year ago, we started making an effort to bring a phrase book with us on holiday, and then for the last 3 months we attended lessons with a lady in Lancaster, UK, who has written lots of Learn Portuguese books. We made a good start, enough to be able to get by in cafes and shops. We can’t wait to learn more though – Portuguese is a difficult language to learn but I think for me, speaking French and Italian certainly helps. I would recommend combining an app such as Babbel (DuoLingo is good too, but mainly for vocabulary building), learn 5 new words every day and test yourself every week. Get out and about and just try – the Portuguese are generally really good at speaking English but if you tell them you want to try to speak their language, they will often help you.
Do you obviously stand out as being foreign? What’s your experience with this?
Probably; blonde hair and blue eyes. It is very different in Portugal to other areas though, such as southern Italy. Men in Portugal are incredibly respectful – I certainly wouldn’t worry about coming here alone as a woman. I don’t think it’s a problem to be foreign in Portugal. It’s the nation of the explorers, conquistadors; they are incredibly tolerant and welcoming as a nation.
If you have children, what are your observations on Third Culture Kids?
I have friends who would say they’re Third Culture Kids. I think it can be really freeing of limits. Third Culture Kids become genuine global citizens. Maybe it can lead to finding it hard to settle anywhere but I think it just creates tolerant, outward attitudes.
Any tips for beating home sickness?
Just use technology to keep in touch – Skype, Facetime, have quick, regular chats with loved ones; don’t make it a big deal with fixed times. Just pick up the phone as you would normally. Have planned visits back to see relatives for everyone to look forward to. Before we even came out, I booked flights home for me and James – we had a shock just as we were about to leave. My dad was diagnosed with cancer and is now going through chemo, so it has made it all the harder to leave. But he encouraged us to go ahead and so we are just talking every day, sending emails, and so far we all seem okay. For my son, we’ve let him Facetime and play games on his iPad with UK friends, to keep life normal.
What’s the most common question you are asked about being an expat?
Is this it? Do you think you’ll stay here for good?
How does the cost of living compare to where you were before? Anything that really surprised you as being particularly cheap or expensive?
It depends where you shop and how you live. Groceries seem to be more or less the same as back home. Rent is probably a bit cheaper, though it’s really hard to find long-term rental villas in the Algarve; especially if you also have a dog and need parking for two cars!
Are you settled here now? Or do you plan to move on one day?
That’s funny – you’ve just asked the question I mentioned above! We don’t intend to be serial expats, moving around the world. We plan to make a life here in Algarve (it’s not ‘the’ Algarve; the Al part means ‘the’ so that’s one way of making sure you sound like a local!). How long we stay in Portugal will depend upon jobs, education and family but for now, we are making the best go of it we can, for as long as we can.
Would you share something embarrassing that happened to you as an expat (but that makes you smile when you look back)?
When I lived in Italy, I made a classic language mistake; I made the ‘approving mmmm’ sound whilst eating some lovely fresh pasta a friend’s mamma had cooked. What I didn’t know was that in Italian, this sound is the equivalent of going ‘Moooo’, like a cow. It’s worth checking up on those little details!
And finally, if you could give one piece of advice to someone considering moving to where you live, what would it be?
Don’t assume you can just land and get a job – there are industries where it’s easier, maybe in hospitality, but it’s really worth having some plans for income lined up.
Keep in touch!
You can follow Amy at @aimsgrace on Twitter and contact her at [email protected].
Richard has a graphic design and branding agency and you can reach him at [email protected]
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