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How do you build a life in a new country?

Carolina de Souza

‘I never thought that I would live in another country,’ says Carolina de Souza, shaking her head. She and her partner Guilherme had good jobs at the same Brazilian online services and hosting company, and had just bought an apartment together. She had the life she had always dreamed of: the car, the nice clothes, the serious job in a large company…

They had watched friends leave Brazil and move to Europe, giving them the belief that it was possible to move. Guilherme applied, unsuccessfully, for jobs overseas. But when Carolina was assaulted on the streets of Sao Paulo, he applied again, and this time landed a position with in the Netherlands.

So, six months after the assault, Carolina landed, with her cat and dog, to join Guilherme in Amsterdam.


‘People were calling me “crazy lady”’, she says. ‘It was difficult. My mom, she cried a lot.’

Carolina didn’t speak English, had never heard a word of Dutch, and had only the vaguest notion of what the Netherlands was like. And she had no idea of how to adjust to living in another country. In her first week, arranged a workshop for partners based on The Mobile Life: a new approach to moving anywhere.

‘I didn’t understand anything at all,’ she laughs, ‘but I went to pay attention and try to recognise words.’ She recorded everything and grabbed the opportunity to take the book home.

‘I saw this beautiful presentation, I saw the book, I saw the history of Shackleton who did the expedition. And I thought, OMG I need to read this book. The Mobile Life was my first book in English. It was a big challenge for me and at the beginning it was difficult to understand. But I put in my mind that I need to read this book and I want to apply it to my life.’

Map of a new life

It was January 2016. The wall in her living room became the master plan that would get her life back. ‘The same day of the workshop, I set up my maps. Guilherme helped to translate the chapter on how you fill your three maps – who I want to be, how I want to live and my physical map.’

Her goal was to get a job, and for that she needed to learn English: Carolina invented some creative ways to keep herself on track. First, she took a language course and studied six hours a day for six months. At the same time, she applied for, and got, a volunteer job helping at a yoga centre. ‘To be honest, at first I couldn’t understand what the teacher was saying, so I watched what the people were doing. But by the second class, I could understand more. I saw a lot of progress.’

She would take her dog for a walk on the street and ask people questions that she knew the answer to, like ‘can you tell me where the grocery store is.’ By recording herself, and the answers she got, she watched the development in her own fluency and accent, and her ability to understand the responses. ‘I have videos of myself reading, or practising for interviews for jobs. It’s terrible! But I could see my progress and what I still needed to learn.’

Keeping herself motivated was not always easy. Carolina is a talkative, highly social person; although she recognised that it was a good way to learn to listen, her inability to express herself – to contribute to a lively conversation – made her really sad. She was deeply disappointed by how slow and difficult it was to find work. At her lowest point, Carolina went back to the book and realised that her expectations were perhaps too high.

By anybody else’s standards, she achieved miracles: despite the stream of rejections to her many job applications, six months after arriving, she landed herself an internship doing the type of work she had done in Brazil. Then she got another short-term contract, this time with Now, 1.5 years after arriving in the Netherlands, she has a job she is happy with, a long-term contract, and a social life she enjoys. Not everything is perfect: she still wants to improve her English, and she and Guilherme are adjusting to lifestyle differences between Amsterdam and Sao Paulo.

‘What I learned from the book, The Mobile Life, is to be a project manager for my own life. Now, I’m living a dream, a dream that I never dreamed of having.’

What advice would she give to other first time movers? ‘To be realistic with your expectations, set up your goals first, establish a time-line, and go for it. And never give up. That is my philosophy.’

Get more tips from The Mobile Life: a new approach to moving anywhere:

Interview by Diane Lemieux


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