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Teaching English In Brazil: The Dream is Possible

Teaching English in Brazil with access to beautiful places like Ipanema Beach.
Imagine teaching English and visiting Ipanema Beach on the same day.

One of the most enigmatic countries in the world, Brazil is unlikely to leave you unimpressed. The positive stereotypes are true: soccer is a national obsession, women wear impossibly small bathing suits (so do men), and the scenery is breathtaking. The negative stereotypes are equally true: poverty is rife, urban pollution is serious, and the crime rate is bad and soaring.

But these facts about Brazil are less known: It is the world's fifth largest country both in size and in population. It has the world's 7th largest economy and growing (as of 2014 according to the International Monetary Fund). It has the second-largest African (descent) population in the world after Nigeria. It has the second-largest Japanese population in the world, after Japan. Same for Korean and Lebanese. While Brazil has traditionally been cited as an example of racial harmony, the truth is less sanguine. Money talks louder than color here, but it so happens that, for the most part, the darker your skin, the poorer you'll be.

I lived in Brazil as a student at the Univ. of Sao Paulo in the country's largest city, home to almost 20 million people. My time there left an indelible impression on me. I had no idea I would ever return.

Fast forward 15 years. The job interview in Manhattan was for a position in a prestigious hospital opening a new wing for international patients. Multilingual applicants were highly regarded, but I didn't get the job.

In the aftermath of my rejection, while walking around Little Brazil (as W. 46 th St is known), I picked up the local newspaper for the Brazilian community in New York In the classifieds was a simple ad for a native English speaker to teach English in a small town in the southern Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul.

I got home, called, and had a job offer within ten minutes. Not because I could speak Portuguese but rather because my affinity for Brazil was apparent in my conversation, as was my enthusiasm for teaching English.

I was sponsored for a work visa, notoriously difficult to secure. The application was rejected three times due to insufficient previous teaching experience; a visa was only procured after the school's director went to the capital , Brasilia, and handed my application to the head of immigration and waited right there in his office until I was approved. I was thus issued my CPF (Cadastro de Pessoa Fasica), the Brazilian equivalent of a Social Security Number.

Brazilians are very savvy people. They quickly perceive who is there to teach and who is there to earn a bit of pocket money for the next leg of an adventure abroad.  In a society accustomed to people with ulterior motives, Brazilians do not suffer foolish foreigners gladly. Empathy will take you far, and a mere modicum of interest in the people you are teaching will win you loyalty and kindness unlike anything at home.

I had arranged a job before my arrival, but most people just go on a visitor's visa and start contacting schools once in the country. There are English schools in even the smallest of towns, so your choice depends on the kind of environment you prefer for your teaching experience. For once, the big city does not necessarily offer better job opportunities. In fact the reverse may be true; in a small town where real live foreigners are rare, you will be regarded with respect and gratitude for choosing to forego life in the big city - still the dream of so many country Brazilians. Indeed, Rio and Sao Paulo are very cosmopolitan cities with many resident native English speakers as well as Brazilians who have lived abroad, putting you at a distinct disadvantage professionally. Also, distances in these cities are huge; I can't tell you what a pleasure it was to walk to work in five minutes in my little gaocho town of Sapiranga.

Where to Go in Brazil

Like all the large countries, Brazil has regional differences that may influence your choice of location. For example, The Northeast is the most African part of Brazil, with a colorful history and a languid, happy attitude toward life — despite the hardships of poverty. "The South" refers to the three southernmost Brazilian states of Parana, Santa Catarina, and Rio Grande do Sul, generally considered the most advanced region, with a cooler winter climate and stronger work ethic than the rest of the country, thanks to the masses of European immigrants who have come to Brazil since the 1800s, mostly from Italy, Germany, and Eastern European countries. It is not at all uncommon to see blond men and women with German or Italian last names who still speak Old German at home four generations after their ancestors arrived. It is also not uncommon to see mixed-race people with chocolate skin and light-colored eyes.

Ever since the collapse of the currency, the real, in December, 1999, it has been more difficult to earn a good wage by Western standards. Salaries in Brazil are low in the rural areas, higher in town — where expenses are also higher. It's easy to pick up private tutoring on the side, bolstering your income considerably; I was able to double my income through private tutoring.

The Jobs

Despite the odds, it is possible to arrange a job beforehand. That stalwart of ESL websites, Dave's ESL Cafe, occasionally has ads for positions in Brazil; I even saw one recently for a school in a little town in Rio Grande do Sul. If you're interested in living in Sao Paulo, the heartbeat of Brazil and a world city with restaurants, entertainment, and shopping to rival major cities anywhere, check the website of the Sao Paulo newspaper O Estado de Sao Paulo. Simply type in "English" and see what comes up. If you can teach computer skills, you will be in high demand at computer schools. Rudimentary Portuguese will come in handy for this.

You will undoubtedly have more luck if you research where you want to go in Brazil first, then contact schools in that area directly instead of waiting for ads to appear on worldwide websites. This way, you stand out as a proactive teacher with some knowledge and a particular interest in that place — a good first impression.

Most people, however, do work under the table. This does involve risks, not the least of which is being reported to the police by a rival school that doesn't like having competition. For the most part, you will not be taken advantage of by the school since you will be an asset to it in attracting business. There are a few national chains in Brazil: SKILL, and Fisk are among the biggest, but not always the best. As franchises, they are individually run and management style is subject to the professionalism of the owner.

Nothing irks Brazilians more than to be lumped together with Spanish America; indeed, the Spanish had a completely different colonial experience from the Portuguese (as in killing the natives instead of marrying them). Do your homework: as in any country, the more you know about it before you arrive, the more warmly you will be received, the easier will be your assimilation, and the more help you will be offered.

Unfortunately, online resources in English for jobs in Brazil are few. Be weary of any ad that sounds too good to be true.

For More Info

International ESL Job Sites with postings for Brazil:

These are just a few; there are many others.

Brazilian English Schools:

Editor's note: See Teaching English and Living in Brazil for more information.

Related Topics
Teaching English in Latin America
Living in Brazil: Articles, Key Resources and Websites

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