Studying vs. Working: living abroad in different perspectives

Although I have not yet left Lisbon to keep with my journey all over the world, I can say that I know both sides of the common immigrant. I had quite an experience by a year of studying hard to make it as an A student at my university and I think I can say the same about my experience with a full-time job here too.

What I cannot say is that those experiences are too far away from each other, because they are actually very similar. But it’s important to remind you that when I moved to Portugal, I was already a little older than most of the people who adventure themselves on an exchange program. You can read more about my first impressions on studying abroad with my Exchange Therapy article, which I originally wrote for a very good and smart friend of mine, Nataly. She has an amazing website called Já Fez as Malas? to help and guide people that, just like we once did, seeks more information on moving abroad. I definitely recommend it, her content is super fun and intelligent!

Photo by Daria Obymaha on

When you are a student, your schedule is easier to predict and control, because you get the important dates to make some extra effort in advance. You also get some surprise extra work every once in a while, but nothing new here. I remember some nights I had to skip my sleep to keep up with my own expectations on the projects I had to finish for the next day. By the time, I got a little stressed out because I am a little bit of an anxious person, with high demands on my outcomes. But now, I laugh it off of how crazy things were. It was hard work, but fun.

As a student, you get in touch with many people from all over the place. One of my first international friends at the university was a German guy called Nic. He then introduced me to his friends, Iza and Kuba, from Poland. And those guys introduced me to a lot of other people from other places. Because we didn’t have a strict schedule, we had a lot of free time to hang out and get to know each other’s cultures, and explore the city together. I also shared an apartment with another girl from Poland and two other Brazilians. The polish roommate showed me some amazing traditional foods from her country and if I may excuse myself to make a statement here: pierogis are out of this world – SO YUMMY!

Studying abroad makes your mind open to new perspectives in a much lighter way. You have a lot of fun almost all the time, but there are some struggles too. To say one, money. If you are not on a scholarship program, money can be an issue. The exchange on Euro vs. Brazilian Reais in 2018 was around 1 x 4, so I was paying four times more for every expense I had here. This can be tricky if you don’t organize yourself with your bills and savings. I had some money left from my career as a lawyer, but my parents wanted to help me with some bills while I was away from home (there is a whole story behind the scenes, but I can talk more about it in some other post). Needless to say: my money didn’t last a lot.

Low income and living on a strict budget was hard, but it was a choice for a while. You can always find a part-time job to help you out without sacrificing your studies, which is what I did (and then I didn’t need any help from my parents anymore). I had enough to pay my rent and my groceries, along with small bills. I never had an expensive lifestyle, so it was more than enough. However, traveling, as cheap as it is in Europe, was out of sight for me back then. There was a lot of incredible promotions and I missed out on many opportunities to be around the continent for a small amount of money, that’s true. I was too afraid that if I lost control on some trip I decided to take, it would ruin my finances for good and it would jeopardize my long term plans. So yeah, responsibility called me. I don’t regret this decision, to be honest, but if I could go back and tell myself not to be so scared about lacking money, I would. The budget was super tight, but I didn’t need to be so protective of it.

As a professional living abroad, things are a little more serious, but not boring at all. Because I am a professional with a contract, I have a little more stability, which means I can save up some money to travel without freaking out about it. This was the initial plan, but I was hired in March 2020 (3 days before my flight to go back to Brazil – I will definitely tell you this story later!) and the pandemic got nosy on my plans. It’s okay, I can travel safely in the next months – I hope.

In a professional environment, you will share a lot with people from other places, but it’s going to be less intense than at the university. A lot of companies nowadays are multicultural, but it’s inevitable that most of your colleagues will be nationals of the country you are in, and probably not as young and open as your university friends. That’s not necessarily bad – it’s just different.

My first job here was in 2019, in a Digital Marketing Agency. It was easier for me to adapt with them because the owners are a couple of Brazilians, so it felt like home. I loved working for them, they are super nice people (and they run a website on wines called Viva o Vinho! – you should also check it out! I produced some of the content back then, but they taught me everything I needed to learn with much appreciation and patience!). Then, I got hired by a local fintech company, so here’s where my experience working at an international company fulfilled with locals began.

Photo by Christina Morillo on

I have worked in multinationals before when I was a lawyer. I worked in German and American companies for most of my former career, but it is way too different working at a multinational company in Brazil as a Brazilian vs. working at a Portuguese company in Portugal as a Brazilian. Multiculturalism is always there, but its shape is not the same. I would tell more on how is it to work at the company I am currently working for, but it would be too specific and less likely to help someone out with this info 🤷🏽‍♀️

As an immigrant professional, your environment gets much more mature, and so your attitude. Not that students are all childish, but you have much more freedom than you would have as a professional. People expect more from you, and that includes your own expectations. In terms of schedule, working abroad does not give you as much control over your free time as you would as a student. For most days, you will have your hours of work defined, but we know that sometimes we have to do some extra hours – and sometimes those extra hours situations happen more than we’d like to admit. Again: nothing new here.

Either way, both experiences are life-changing. Being able to adapt is a soft skill you will need to succeed as a student and as a professional, but it’s not as hard as it looks. I don’t see myself going back to Brazil anytime soon unless the circumstances beg me for it, so I believe I will have much more to add here with time.

If you have any doubts, send me those in the comment section below! I would love hearing from you what do you want to learn more about 🙂

Special thanks to Cristina, who asked me to write about this here! Thank you, girl!

Published by flaviastamato

Publicist and writer, a citizen of the world trying to free herself from writing cliches (but it's so tempting....)

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