Before I came to Rio, I knew exactly what I wanted to do for the next few months. It wasn’t something like: hang out on the beaches or pick up girls, but something more concrete.
I had two concrete goals in Brazil:

  • Train Brazilian Jiu Jitsu
  • Learn Portuguese

I started my BJJ training in California, and since Rio is the mecca of BJJ, it made perfect sense to continue training here.
I also wanted to learn Portuguese to make up for my sorry performance 6 years ago when I arrived and only spoke Spanish.
I did not know how long I would stay, owing to a flexible schedule, but I knew it would be at least 3-6 months.

It’s one thing being on vacation for one or two weeks, but when you leave for much longer while leaving your family and social circle behind, you need some kind of a purpose and meaning to make it worthwhile.

Even though most of my days I was keeping myself busy by working on the internet, it’s really the two aforementioned goals really give me a concrete purpose and plan here.

The goals made sense to me. I wanted the trip to be an investment of some sorts. An investment that might reap some rewards in the future. Maybe down the road I would be in a live and death situation and Portuguese would come in handy. Maybe I would meet my future wife at some Brazilian Barbecue. Above all however, there’s no way I could’ve spent a year living somewhere without some concrete, quantifiable goals.

If you’re not here as an expat; if you’re not commuting daily to the center of town, but instead your job involves typing on the keyboard and communicating with virtual employees, or you have no job but considerable savings, then you really need a routine. Something that keeps you sane day in and day out while moving you closer to a rewarding goal.

You might ask: I have an internet job which I do that 9-5, why do I need another routine? Because you need to interact with people, preferably locals instead of being locked up in your head and your house all day.

Everyone whom I met that has stayed here for 3-6 months (ie, semi-lived here) had some kind of a routine. A New Yorker who stayed here for 3 months signed up for a volleyball school and did it everyday. An Englishman that has been here for 6 months volunteered at a cinema school in Lapa by doing Portuguese-English translations. An American lived in Salvador and trained Capoeira for 6 months. Other people came for longer and did jiu jitsu daily.

Having a routine gives that ‘work hard and play harder’ mindset. When you just arrive to the country, you can go out everyday because you have this pent-up urge to experience a new place, but after a week or two that wears off, and a routine brings it back.

Looking back at my experience, my quality of life was up overall when things were going well with training and Portuguese. Conversely it was down when I was less motivated to train or read Portuguese.

So what was the result? I received my blue belt in BJJ from one of the most respectable instructors in the world. I read one Portuguese book while about half way done through another one. My conversational Portuguese is probably like 85-90% depending on the accent of speaker, and my written Portuguese is close to 95-100%. Plus I had immeasurable fun in the process.

So next time you’re thinking of an extended trip abroad, think heavily into how the environment might compensate you for leaving your friends and family abroad. A perfect living strategy should include some of things to enrich your experience whether it’s studying a foreign language, learning a new martial art or anything in between. Sometimes even learning one skill is not enough; you might need to study two or three simultaneously to round out your stay.

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James Maverick

James Maverick

James Maverick used to work in a cubicle as a code monkey in Silicon Valley. Then, in 2007, he quit his job and a one-way ticket to Brazil. Ever since, he continued to travel, visiting over 85 countries and living in more than a dozen of them. He loved his location-independent lifestyle and has no plans to live in America.
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