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Adapting to a new culture

Learning a new language is so much more than learning vocabulary and verb conjugations. It’s learning about a new culture – a new way to live, think, eat, dance, etc. Adapting to a new culture is an eye-opening experience that teaches us a lot about our own cultures and how truly influenced we are by our environments. Can you imagine how different you would be if you grew up in a completely different culture? 

In this episode, we talk about our experiences with culture shock, how we adapted and what we learned. We hope you enjoy it!


  1. Pay attention to the moments you find yourself judging others for doing things differently than you.
  2. Question yourself about your own beliefs.
    • – Why do I believe this difference to be better, worse, right, or wrong?
    • – How did my environment and culture influence my beliefs?
    • – If I had grown up in a different situation and with different experiences, would I think and act differently?



Hello. Hello. Hey, everyone and welcome to another episode of Improve Your English, Improve Your Life. My name is Foster. I am your co-host and as always, I am here with –


Jackie! Hi, guys. I’m Jackie. So happy to be here with you guys. And today we have a really interesting and fresh – and I say fresh because it’s recent in our minds – topic to talk about today. So I’m really excited to get into this.


Hot off the press.

hot off the press = traduz-se para algo como “(saindo) quente da máquina de impressão”, é uma expressão idiomática equivalente a dizer “(saindo) quente do forno”.
– I’ve just finished my new project! Here it is, hot off the press!


Hot off the press, yes.


So Jackie recently returned from Brazil and it was just, like, a family vacation. Like, how many days were you there for?


We were only there for a week during the boys’ Spring break, so a short trip, but it was great.

Spring break = “pausa de primavera”, é um período curto de férias que só dura uma semana e acontece na época da primavera nos EUA.
– I can’t wait for Spring break! I’m going to travel with my family.


So perhaps to give a little context, I… Hmm. So, Jackie, you lived in Brazil for much longer than I did, but I lived in Brazil for a few years, and I have not been back since… I want to say 2016 or 17.


Oh, wow.


So, like, maybe that’s not right, but it’s been a long time. It’s been years. So, I’m really curious to know, how was your experience returning to the “mother country”?


To “the mother country”? It was like the second “mother country”! We had a wonderful time. And so to give a little bit of context as well; I lived in Brazil for ten years and that’s also where my children spent the first… Well, in Gabriel’s case, the first seven years of his life and with Leo, the first four years of his life. And almost exactly it will be three years next month. But about three years ago was when we moved to Florida and…


Wow. Three years ago…


Mm hmm.


Now I’m thinking three years ago next month is when we initially moved to Portugal.


Oh, really? What a coincidence! Very cool.


Okay. Sorry, I interrupted.


No, that’s okay. I went back at the beginning of 2020 pre-COVID with my husband just to be present during his green card interview. But it was a very, very quick trip. Basically, go for the interview, come back. But our children had not been back before we went last week and it was interesting. So a few things that came up while we were there is that first I felt like we had never left. We just fell right back into place with our family and friends and we visited all the parks and restaurants and all that stuff that we used to go to all the time. So that was a really good feeling; it was very comfortable. And I think a lot of people when they leave home, for example, and they come back, a lot of people might feel like, “Oh, nothing has changed”. That’s… that’s good. You know, people get older and there are some life changes, but you still feel like you can just kind of fall back into place, which is really nice.

fall right back into place = expressão que significa algo como “se encaixar de volta no lugar”
– Things were a bit complicated this week, but I’m sure everything will fall right back into place soon.


Yeah, yeah. No, I can totally relate to that, so…


Do you feel like that, Foster? Like when you go back to the States or can you think of a time where you were away for a long period of time and then you went back?


Yes. Every time I return to the US, it’s always kind of a… really a bizarre feeling because, I mean, I’m from a very small town in South Carolina, so literally nothing has changed, except for me and, like, my family.




Yeah. It’s kind of a head-trip.

head-trip = lit. “uma viagem-cabeça”, uma experiência que é intelectualmente estimulante
– I love going to that museum. It’s such a head-trip!


Yeah. And I think what is the head-trip is exactly what you said is everything appears to be more or less the same, but you notice changes within yourself. And, and that was something that really came up when I was in Brazil last week. I kind of fell back in time and a lot of emotions came up. It was a bit of an emotional roller coaster at times, but not in necessarily a bad way. But it just reminded me of some of the struggles that I had, some of the amazing moments that I had, the differences – the cultural differences between Brazil and the U.S., how I changed and adapted in a way to feel more comfortable with these differences. And I think this is something that every single person that moves – it could even be a different city within your country. There’s a different culture, just depending on where you go. In South Carolina, you can go to a different city and feel like you’re in a new culture, even. We all kind of go through…


I moved to New York, I lived in New York for, like, a year in my twenties, and honestly, I think that was a bigger transition than me moving to Brazil, probably.


Yeah, yeah. ‘Cause you left small town life and went to the big city.


Yeah, for sure.




Okay, Jackie, I really want to hear about your emotional journey, but I’m going to put a pin in that for now.




So you’re talking about this idea of anyone who travels to… to a new country, anyone that travels to a foreign country, they really have this phase of, like… you have to adapt to a lot of new things. So could you take us way back to the first time you traveled to Brazil, and… I don’t know, just give us kind of a picture of how that transition was for you.


Yeah, well, the first time I went to Brazil, it was basically on vacation with a group of friends, and I had traveled to other places before, and, you’re on vacation with all your American friends and everything is just fun, you know, it’s like an adventure. But when you actually move and live and work and… and create your life in a place, it’s… it’s completely different than going on vacation, as you know.


Yeah, I sort of qualified that question; Like, the first time you moved to Brazil.


I mean, everything was so different, every single little thing. And… and I think what’s hard is sometimes we initially judge things as either being better or worse rather than just judging them as being different. And… and I definitely did that. There’s plenty of examples I can give, and I’ve seen other people do the same thing. We compare this, like, new culture with our….our own or our home culture.




And… and a lot of us have this tendency; we’ll, like, “Oh, well, this is better” or “this is worse”. And, and I think, if you can, you catch yourself doing that, kind of stop yourself and just say, “Well, this is just different. It’s… it’s not better or worse, it’s just different. And let me have an open mind to it, explore it and see how I feel about it”. And I know I, I did negatively judge some things when I first came because they were shockingly different. I’ll give one example. So my father-in-law, he lived… he passed away, unfortunately, about a year and a half ago, but he lived in… well, he was between São Paulo and Rondonia.

father-in-law = lit. “pai-na-lei”, significa “sogro”
– My father-in-law is a great person, we really get along well.


Rondonia? Meu Deus! I have no idea where that place is.


Rondonia, it’s… it’s literally, like… well, it’s near the Amazon, so it’s beautiful, but it’s… it’s very different. Like every single part of Brazil is – is very, very different.



gotcha = maneira bem reduzida de dizer “I got what you are saying”, que significa, de maneira informal, “entendi o que você está dizer”
– “See, you just have to put the red wire with the blue wire, and it works.” “Ah, gotcha! Thanks for helping me out!”


And I remember we were with him and some of his friends, and we went to, like, this river. And I don’t know, we were, like, swimming. And there was this young, I would say, in her early twenties, indigenous woman. And I thought she was beautiful because she looks exotic, it looks different, and I think a lot of us think people who look very different than ourselves are very beautiful. I don’t know. It’s our own… our own complex.


Yeah, that’s such a weird thing. I don’t want to interrupt your story, but I think as humans we have just, like, the natural tendency to… to judge things that are different. Like, more generally. But we also… if there’s like a certain level of exotic sizzle, like if something is exotic enough? It’s… we think it’s like super beautiful. I don’t know why we do that. Anyways, continue with your Amazonian adventure.

sizzle = é a palavra para o som que comida faz quando está sendo fritada ou assada; aqui está sendo usada de maneira metafórica para expressar algo como “um tchan”.
– I love the smell of meat sizzling in the pan!


Adventure! Yeah, but it is true. And I think because it’s maybe unique and rare to me, this woman looked unique and I thought that was very beautiful. But a lot of the other people that I was with, they didn’t seem to agree with me because she looked just like a lot of other women in the area. But anyways, she was… I think she was married, and she may have even been like one of multiple wives to a much, much, much older man, like in his eighties, I would say, or mid-seventies. And… and it was… and I remember at first I judged; I was, like, “Oh, well, that’s kind of strange. You know, she’s very young”.


”You can do better than that, girl!”


Yeah, very old. But I didn’t talk to her about her relationship. But the more I got to observe the whole situation, I realized, like, for her and for her upbringing, like… she made it. That was it, you know; like, she found a man that could financially support her and… and take care of her. And that was great, you know, and… and I had to… for me, for myself, I would not feel good in that situation. But I had to kind of reflect and think, like, “Well, this is… she’s coming from a completely different world than I’m coming from. And if she is happy with this, who am I to tell her she’s wrong? Maybe if I grew up in the same situation that she grew up in, I would be very happy in that situation, too”. So it was, like, little things like that where we just question and then we have to almost maybe put ourselves in the other person’s situation and realize, like, we are all growing up with our own different cultural baggage, our own ideas as to what is right, what is wrong. And there’s nothing better than living in completely different cultures and experiencing things that, “Wow, these people are really, really happy in a situation that I believed to be bad or wrong, which just shows, like, my judgments were not correct. I just have to let it be”.


I think that is the perfect way to illustrate… like, I believe on a very deep level that most of us, most of us humans, we are just silly, ignorant, like… fallible beings. Like, we… we are always going to make mistakes. We are… we have a tendency to judge things that are different. And all of these tendencies are really, like, on steroids when you travel.

silly = bobo, bobinho
– This is such a silly argument for us to have. I’m sorry about this, you are right.

beings = aqui, traduz-se para “seres”
– Human beings are very interesting creatures.

to be on steroids = literalmente, “estar (à base de) steróides”. É uma expressão idiomática que significa algo como “ser uma forma muito exagerada de algo” ou “no nível máximo”
– Having a border collie is kind of like having a small child on steroids. They have too much energy!




Everything’s different. So I think you just need to go into that situation like a child, like, “Hey, I literally don’t know anything about what’s going on here, so it’s not about me. Who am I to judge?”


Exactly. I like that comparison. Just like a child, just like… in awareness. Just be aware, and.. and observe. And it doesn’t mean you need to change yourself to fit into that type of situation, but just be aware and open-minded that everyone is coming from different situations and…

to be aware = estar ciente
– I am aware that we have an extra person in the party that wasn’t invited.

awareness = ciência, do sentido de “estar ciente”; em português se usa muito o termo “consciência”
– Here, October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month.


Be curious instead of judgy.

judgy = adjetivo informal que expressa “julgador”, “alguém que julga muito os outros”; vem do verbo “to judge”, que significa “julgar”.
– You shouldn’t be so judgy about Neila. You don’t know about her situation.


Yeah, exactly. Exactly. “Be curious”. I love that. So now I want to ask you, Foster; can you think of a specific time either in Brazil or Portugal or any of the places that you’ve lived in which something maybe felt a little bit shocking or strange, but then once you changed your mindset until you had a little bit more awareness, you looked at it a little bit differently?


Yeah, yeah. I can give you a lot of examples. I’m going to try to think of… I think it makes more sense for me to give an example of my experience here in Portugal.


Mm hmm.


Because I think this illustrates that.. like, I’ve lived abroad in many different countries. I already speak Portuguese, but a different type of Portuguese.




And I’m still having to go through this process of re-adapting – or in this case, adapting to Portugal.




So Portuguese people, they’re a strange bunch.

bunch = aqui, é uma expressão informal que significa “povo, grupo de pessoas”
– My family members are an energetic bunch, so if you need a break, let me know, ok?


I love them, seriously. I adore them. But they are unique in a lot of ways. And one of the first things I noticed and I heard from a lot of other people is Portuguese people are kind of difficult to get to know, especially people from the north; like, they’re not closed, but you kind of have to penetrate into their circle before they open up to you. And me, coming from my experience with the Brazilians who are super open, very easy to make friends, when I got here, I was like, “Hmm, why can’t Portuguese people be more like Brazilians?”




And I mean, honestly, I spent my first couple of years here, mostly with Brazilians, because I didn’t really understand the Portuguese part. But now that I’ve made a few Portuguese friends, I think what I’ve realized is they are very similar to the way I am. So people tell me often that I can be, like… I seem very quiet or shy at first, but once you get to know me I kind of open up. And Portuguese people are also very direct and at first I thought it was very rude.




Like, a couple of weeks ago, Alexia and I were eating with this Portuguese couple, and the Portuguese guy asked about Alexia’s dad, and she was. And the guy said like – and the guy said, like, “Wow, your dad’s old”. And, like, out of context… Even in the moment, I was kind of like, “Huh? That was kind of a little too to direct”. But, like, clear speech and being honest is something that I really value in myself and in other people. So it’s taken me a long time to realize all of this, but I’m finally coming around. I’m coming around to the Portuguese.


Yeah, but that’s a perfect example. And I know… I mean, even last week when I was in Brazil, there were situations that I was in that I thought like, like… “This would be rude in the United States, but I’m not in the United States, so it’s not rude and vice versa”. And it’s kind of cool when we have those realizations, and I think a perfect example that a lot of people could relate to, especially if they’ve traveled to the US, is service – like, if you go to a restaurant or if you go to a store, the US really prides itself on being fast and efficient and everything is quick and organized and works really well. So if you go to a restaurant, you’ll be seated, you’ll be served. Then they hand you the check and they want you to leave. And this is considered very rude to a lot of Brazilians. I know my husband is always like, “Oh, it’s so annoying. They, like, rush you and force you to leave. And I get it”.

to pride yourself on + verb in gerund/noun = significa algo como “ter orgulho de ter ou ser algo”, muito usado por empresas e profissionais para falar de suas melhores qualidades
– Our city prides itself on being very clean and having little pollution, We don’t accept industries that don’t respect that here!


“They’re acting like a business”!


 “What the heck?” And when we were in Brazil, it’s crazy. You could literally… and I know Europe is the same way. At least it was when I was in Spain. Like, you could sit at a table at a restaurant all day long and the waiter, they will not even bother you; if they come up and give you the check, that would be very rude because you’re not done yet, you know? So there’s just different interpretations of things. And I think it also shows, like, what’s valued more in each culture. So time is… is valued a lot; like, “time is money”. You have to be productive, you have to be quick, you have to be efficient In the US. In Brazil – and I’m generalizing a lot, obviously, but it’s more like, “No, I just want to be present, I want to enjoy my time, I don’t want to feel rushed. I don’t want to feel like I have to hurry”. And… and that is… is valued more, especially during meal time. So it’s just kind of cool to observe. And notice these differences and just realize, like, it’s not… one is not better than the other. They’re just different. And then you kind of understand the differences. And there’s actually good and bad with both, too.


Yeah, as with all things. Like, if you are in Brazil and you need to eat something in a hurry and the waiter will not come to you, you’ll probably get kind of annoyed. But if you think about it on a deeper, kind of more broad level, that on a cultural level we value time differently. That’s, like, a mind… like, my mind is literally exploding trying to understand that.


Yeah. And what is interesting is, we value time, but we’re rarely present. So it’s, like, “Hurry up, hurry up, because I need to rush to the next thing”. And then when I’m doing that next thing, I’m already planning for what that next thing after it is. And, and I caught myself in that mindset when I was in Brazil and I had to really force myself, like, “Just be present. Don’t worry about planning out the day or ‘What are we doing next?’” And it took me, like, a day or two to kind of make that switch. But, and once I made that switch, I was like, “Oh, this is so nice. I don’t want to switch back”.

to switch = trocar uma coisa por outra, fazer uma mudança de algo que é um jeito para outro jeito
– Can you switch seats with me? I am too short for this one.


Yeah. Okay. I have a follow-up for you, Jackie. Before I forget; when you mentioned, like, service and often waiters will not give you the check in Brazil or in Europe. I cannot tell you the number of times when I have sat at a table at a restaurant either in Brazil, Spain or Portugal, and I’ve sat there for, like, a long time – like hours in some cases – and no one ever talked to me. So I just, like, was writing or on my phone or something. And eventually just left the restaurant without consuming anything. It’s, like, I wanted to consume something!


Yeah. You feel like… you can. You can just sit there and there’s no pressure. Like, here, if you want to use the bathroom, you feel pressured to, like, buy a water or something, at least; otherwise it’s not fair.

otherwise = de outra forma, senão
– We need to work faster. Otherwise, we will not finish this project in time.


Yeah, and I mean, everything we’re talking about, we’re generalizing. There are very slow places in the US and faster, more efficient places in Brazil. But I think the point is, like, pay attention to the nuance because there’s a lot more there than just “Americans are fast and efficient and Brazilians are slow and lazy”. It’s not – that’s not the story.


Exactly. And if we kind of just… like you mentioned, Foster, have, like a child-like awareness and even think, like, “Okay, well, what can I learn from this?” And, and just observe and, and try to find something good in the situation and you’ll end up having a much richer experience. And you won’t suffer so much because you’re not fighting it and resisting it.


Absolutely. So, Jackie, do you have any tips or recommendations for people listening that are either living in a foreign country or perhaps are going to move to a foreign country?


Yeah, I think, like, a good homework assignment is: When you catch yourself in these situations is… first is just, like, awareness. If you notice yourself judging, maybe just question it; like, “Why am I judging this?” and flip it around, you know, like, “Maybe if I grew up in this other situation, I would feel differently. What does this judgment say about my own beliefs as well?” Kind of turn it on yourself in some ways and… and then just play with it. Like, try to find maybe the good in it. Like, even if you’re sitting at a restaurant and you think the service is horrible, try to figure out, like, “Okay, I’m suffering because I think I need to be served fast. Like, well, maybe, maybe I don’t. Maybe there’s some beauty in having to be patient and having to wait and taking things slow”, and just try to flip it around. And I think these tiny little changes just help tremendously to have a much better, a more positive experience. And it doesn’t mean you have to completely give up on all of your beliefs and ideals, but you just open your mind a little bit more and then you stop resisting so much. And if you still decide you don’t like it, that’s okay. It’s your choice at the end of the day. Just be aware.

beliefs = crenças
– Everybody has their own beliefs, and it’s important to respect others’ beliefs.


That’s great. Yeah. My only advice is to… the sooner you accept that you are essentially like a small child when you’re learning a new language or you’re living in a different culture – the sooner the better. Because you essentially are; you’re a little kid, you don’t know anything. You have no idea what’s going on, what people are talking about, things are going to be weird and different. So just kind of accept that in the beginning and everything will be a lot more interesting.

the sooner the better = quanto antes, melhor
– We need to finish our work. The sooner, the better.


Yeah, get excited when things are weird and different!




It’s like, “Ooh, this is weird, this is different. Why? What’s going on here?” Get curious about it. And, and it’ll, it’ll be fun!


I wish we had a tagline to sign off, like something about being weird, but I can’t think of one right now. Anyways, Jackie, thanks for another lovely conversation.

tagline = “uma frase de efeito” ou um slogan
– Companies often have taglines; they help people remember the company’s product or service when they need it.

to sign off = concluir uma transmissão, carta, ou mensagem
– Thanks for being with us during this broadcast! This is reporter Maria, signing off!


Thank you!


I’ll talk to you in the next episode.


All right. Sounds good. Bye.

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