Editor’s note: This story pairs with another titled “Brazilians thrive at BYU’s English Language Center, gain American-style education.”
Emerson de Lima wasn’t expecting the culture shock he experienced when he arrived in Utah in May 2016. Strangers weren’t as friendly and open as they were back home in Brazil.
Yet, he knew the homesickness and communication struggles during the first two months would be worth it as he often fought the idea of boarding a plane home.
“My motive for coming to the US was to learn English so I can return to my country and get a better job,” Lima said. “If you speak English with your job, you will get a larger salary.”
Utah continues to be an attractive state for Brazilians who want to learn English and improve their economic standing. Still, Brazilians face challenges as they weigh the pros and cons of the economy, education and culture in the US.
“I know people who gave up everything to come here,” Lima said. “Then they came and saw it wasn’t as easy as people said. People think coming to Utah means that everything will be marvelous and easy, but it’s not like that. Just because it’s the (LDS) Church headquarters doesn’t mean it’s a lot easier here.”
According to the Migration Policy Institute, there are an estimated 336,000 Brazilian immigrants living in the United States as of 2014. However, other unofficial sources project the number to be much higher due to many Brazilians who visit on tourist visas and stay after they expire.
The Brazil Honorary Consulate of the Utah Governor’s Office of Economic Development estimates 16,000 of those Brazilians live in Utah.
Finding a place in the business world
Lima, 33, worked in publicity and marketing in São Paulo before moving to the US. He plans to stay another three or four months before returning to Brazil. He said the US economy is a huge motive for people to come, mainly because of the price of basic necessities.
“Here you can rent a house a lot cheaper and it already comes furnished,” Lima said. “Here you can buy a basic car for $2500. In Brazil, the same car would cost R$20,000 (about $5850).”
Lima also talked about the price of an iPhone, a desired commodity among many Brazilians.
“Here you can work for two weeks and have enough money to buy an iPhone. In Brazil, it costs R$4000 (about $1174) so you have to work several months to be able to pay for it,” Lima said.
Though salaries in Brazil lag behind, the average American work day for immigrants proves to be much longer. Finding a job isn’t so easy either.
“In Brazil, you work eight hours by law,” Brasília native Bryan Pinho said. “In the US, especially if you don’t have documents, you’re going to work 12–16 hours a day.”
Pinho, 26, has lived in Utah since 2012. As the US economy thrives, he has seen how the political and economic crisis in Brazil has had a large influence on Brazilian immigration to Utah.
“Five years ago we didn’t have that many Brazilians here,” Pinho said. “Now they’ve split the Portuguese ward in three and each ward has over 250 people. There are tons of Brazilians moving up. They don’t see opportunities down there so they try their luck to come up.”
There are now Portuguese LDS wards in Mapleton, Orem and Saratoga Springs, with several more in Salt Lake City. There are also six elementary schools in Utah offering Portuguese immersion programs.
Upon graduating from BYU with a masters in information systems in April 2017, Pinho plans to work for two years before beginning an MBA program.
“At the beginning, I wasn’t that sure it would be a good experience (coming to the US),” Pinho said. “With English, I notice a lot of doors are open now to work everywhere in the world. You can choose. If you work hard, you can get a good job and have a comfortable life.”
Pinho said bachelor’s degrees from other countries are not widely accepted by the Brazilian government and in order to be competitive in the job market, he’ll need a masters.
“Companies like to see that you know how business is run in the US and that you understand them,” Pinho said.
Gaining a quality education
Eduardo Pinto, 24, from São Paulo, moved to the US to live with his sister after returning home from his mission a year and a half ago. He has been taking English classes for several months and enrolled in LDS Business College (LDSBC) last month to study accounting.
“I never imagined that I would be here, having classes in English and going to an American college,” Pinto said.
After LDSBC, he plans on attending Brigham Young University or the University of Utah.
“Not a lot of people have access to a good education in Brazil,” Pinto said. “There aren’t as many opportunities. Unless you come from a rich family and study at a good school, you will not get a good college degree.”
21-year-old Greiciane Silva said she felt Brazil’s education system had her “doing circles.” She saw many people in Brazil who were satisfied with their qualify of life, but she wanted to progress.
“My dad changed his situation and that’s why I’m here,” Silva, a São Paulo native, said. “If you get to the comfort zone, you stop. I need to keep working.”
She plans to work and have a family after graduating from BYU. Silva’s goal is to not only be fluent, but accurate with her English.
“I don’t want to be a ‘foreign’ person forever,” Silva said. “To get to that point, you have to pay the price. It’s a process.”
Finding new perspectives through cultural challenges
One of the biggest cultural differences Lima noticed is how Americans focus more on work and family than their neighbors and those around them.
“You get to know somebody in Brazil today and tomorrow they are going to your house and become your good friend,” Lima said. “Here people are colder and they aren’t as open. To become friends with someone here, it takes a long time to build confidence.”
Despite economic, educational and cultural differences, the American experience has been eye-opening and life-changing for Lima.
“I give my country more value now because I’ve seen the positive and negative,” Lima said. “My country is not as bad as people say. Brazil has lots of good things, but still has a lot to learn from the U.S. If every country could learn from each other, we would have a better world.”
Lima said he will apply his experiences in the U.S. to his life in Brazil and hopes others will do the same.
“It doesn’t mean anything if you tell someone about it,” Lima said of living in the US. “They have to come see for themselves and make their own conclusions. Some people love living in the US and love living in Utah, while others don’t. It depends a lot on the person and what they want for their life.”
Click here to watch an interview with Lydia Amorim, a BYU student from Brazil, as she discusses her experience in Utah and why she believes Utah is an attractive place for Brazilians.