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The darkest side of living abroad: better do not speak about it, but it still exists

I have always been acknowledged as an optimistic person. And indeed, I am. If it were not for this characteristic of mine, I would have never gone so far. For someone born in a city with less than 32,000 inhabitants, most of my close girlfriends got pregnant at 14. Not surprisingly, no one could believe when I and my sister that we would live abroad—even my own family laugh at us.

Nevertheless, it was not my optimism that brought me here and prevented me from my friends’ same destiny. It was days and nights of hardworking, of education. I remember clearly when at 12, for having nothing else to do on my holidays, I learned by heart all irregular English verbs, not even knowing how to pronounce them, because I firmly believed that it would be useful one day.

I had no real perspective that I would reach each of my dreams: travel, work, and live abroad, but whenever these dreams looked too unreachable, I used to open my books and keep going. I knew that it was me, the only responsible for my future.

My turning points

As the years passed by, I walked step-by-step towards it. First, I moved to São Paulo, a bigger city with more opportunities. There I got my first job at the age of 16 as an apprentice. At 17, I got a scholarship to study Journalism at FAPCOM; it was my life turning point. I could go on and on about how education changes one’s life, but I guess it is pretty obvious. Whatever it happened next, I owe to this chance. 

Right after, I started an internship at Sociedade de Pediatria de São Paulo at the age of 19. When finished, I signed my first professional contract in the same company that lasted six years. In 2014, the year that any Brazilian like to talk about it, I made my first trip abroad, a South Africa volunteering program. It took me two years to pay for it, as I still did not earn that much. I took the plane for the first time at the age of 23; I was so afraid that my cousin had to hold my hand during the whole trip. (Today, I don’t even notice when the plane takes off). 

My experience at SPSP was, by far, the most beautiful job experience I ever had. For years, I hesitated to quit it. However, when coming back from South Africa, I started planning my trip to Ireland. It took me two more years to pay it up. In 2016, I took all the courage and the savings I had and moved to Dublin, longing for a language experience of 6 months.  

My stay in Ireland lasted three and a half years. The reason was that, once abroad, my ambitions grew. Speaking proper English was the first goal, but then it came traveling around Europe, getting to know more about other cultures, working in my field, take a master’s degree, taking on different challenges.  

So I did everything I could to keep moving forward. I accepted all jobs found. I started as an Au Pair. Then I worked as a cleaner, as a caretaker, as a deli assistant, a waitress, babysitting, and the list goes on. I often did 14 hours a day because I knew those earnings would allow me to move forward. Indeed. 

Finally, I got the chance to work in my field, and I took it. However, I needed more, better saying, I wanted more. It was time to move on. And so I took all my savings, and I came to France to do a master’s course in France, to get to know another culture and add one more language skill.

So, what is the negative side of living abroad?

Today, I want to talk about a subject that is killing me day by day, which I call the darkest side of living abroad. It this a general way foreigners are perceived and treated. Mostly those who were coming from developing countries. Recruiters do not appreciate us (sorry to say).

As you can all see, my journey till here has not been an easy one. Of course, I had beautiful moments, and I am grateful for each of them, but I need to speak up about what I have observed.

We are welcome to take on blue-collar jobs and take on higher education as long as we can afford it. In most universities, we have to pay over double the price than Europeans. However, when it comes to getting a white-collar job with our degree, the story changes slightly. Suddenly, we do not speak an excellent level of the local language. Our job experience back in our countries does not count, or our educational background is insufficient. Even worse is that most of the time, we do not get an answer. So, it isn’t easy to know what the next right decision is to take. 

I remarked this through my own experience and counting how many of my international friends did not get an internship in France. If it is an international-oriented country, why do international students not find an internship or a job?

Again, it is easy to shift the blame on us. We are not good enough that we have not enough experience or that we do not speak French or English properly. However, is that true?

In my opinion, this is not valid. At least not always.  

When I lived in Dublin, I came across many Italians, Croatians, and Spaniards who had great jobs but did not speak English fluently. Many did not possess even the intermediate level; a great example of it was my ex-boyfriend. We had the same academic background in Marketing, but I work at a bar, and he at one of the World’s largest companies. I do recognize his achievements, of course. What I am saying is that our origins also play a vital role in it.

Most recently, I applied for a job at a company that used to represent my dream-job. I spent over one day preparing myself for the interview, which I proudly did in French. A few days later, I received a negative answer. They told me not to move forward with my application because they searched for an International profile and understood Digital Transformation.

I was flabbergasted. I could not understand the feedback, as I had just completed a Digital Transformation certificate, worked my whole life on Digital, and an internship on the same subject. I did and lived in 3 countries and traveled to more than 25 countries globally, and speak three languages (Yeah, not international). 

What became clear to me is: international profiles are native English speakers. I can live abroad for as many years as I want, but it does not seem to count. I am Brazilian; my friends are Africans, Indians, Nigerians, Mexicans, or Algerians. We come from developing countries. We do not seem to be the target. Sadly. For them.

I found a pity that some recruiters cannot see beyond people’s know-how. Although it is essential, it is not everything. Very few of them are interested in learning about our ‘s life experience. Sadly, recruiters are often either working with or becoming similar to computer robots that cannot see beyond CVs and Cover letters, unable to see what human beings they have behind the screens. 

When it comes to recruiting an international, I believe they should ask themselves what one person has done to live in France (Europe). To, finally being able to apply for this or that job position. Is that even a question?

I do not believe that a life story should hire someone, but our journeys can speak more about us than a CV or a LinkedIn page. Can we add our Cleaners jobs, au Pair experience? Not, because it is not considered relevant, even though it was those experiences that brought me here today.

How can we resume our lives to 500 words cover letter? Is that even advisable?

I have an Indian friend who is 37 years old. She left her son of 12 years old back home to pursue this old dream of living abroad. The day she told me how many years she tried to come to France and how many sacrifices she had to make to be here, I traveled back to my history when I was 12. I went home crying, and I still do many times. Unfortunately, she did reach an adequate level of French, which serves to complicate her life. But I do admire her strength and courage for persisting day-by-by in her search for a chance. I pray every night for her to succeed, and I will celebrate this day as if it was my victory. And it will be indeed.

So, what is the dark side of living abroad? Is it getting negative answers?

No. It would be too superficial. The labor market is complicated for everyone, even more at this time of COVID-19. 

The darkest side is that we have no priority. We will be the last ones to get a chance, regardless of our efforts to be here. Sometimes we have considered if it is for a particular position involving our native language skills. But we do worth more than that.

Easier said than done!

Although everyone is talking about how diversity and multiculturalism are differentials for all companies, things are quite different. Some can justify this by fear, protectionism, or patriotism. It is the simple fact that very few recruiters are interested in learning who the human being behind the scenes is.

Living as a foreigner has never been either heaven or hell for me. I had faced plenty of obstacles to improve my skills. I went beyond my limits to learn not only what I needed but what I wanted. To read in 3 languages, to tell out loud that I am not afraid of making mistakes, as long as you can understand me.

I am not Tara Westover, a genius who studied at Harvard and Cambridge (I highly recommend her book Educated). I am a very ordinary person who never got anything for free (apart from my Journalism scholarship). I had to do my way, to fight alone for my dreams. I did count on the help of many people, and I did have many open doors. They were “Yes,” “Accepted,” that pushed me a little further. And I am thankful. 

While I am waiting for the next one, I face another challenge: accepting that I am more than enough and that I am more than prepared to take on what I deserve, with no arrogance. I need to get out this “foreign complex.” And I believe the same for all international students. Our journeys till here were long and hard, but it has to pay off. 

I hope this article can help bring out an open and respectful discussion on this subject, which I consider urgent. I apologize to recruiters that take their time to thoroughly analyze a profile and give candidates proper and helpful feedback – I believe you make a crucial difference in our lives.

Thanks for reading. Please feel free to leave any comment or share your own experience. I know I touched a polemic subject, but to offend. 

PS: I dedicated this article to all my friends and foreigners who face hardships finding a job position abroad, including me.

By Patricia Costa Freire

I am Patricia, 28 years old. A Journalist doing a master in International Management at IGR-IAE, Université de Rennes 1, Rennes, France

2 replies on “The darkest side of living abroad: better do not speak about it, but it still exists”

Bonjour Pati, great post! I appreciate your honesty, you showed me something I had not seen nearly clear. Thank you for keeping up your faith, it inspires me. Au revoir mon amie! 🙂

Thanks Tillmann for your comment. It means a lot to me. I hope more people will be able to see clearly how our origins can play a role in our success. And yes, faith has always been part of be. I won’t never lose hope. Au revoir 🙂

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