Expat Interview: Meet Stephanie Kempker, An American Gone International in Brazil

This is part five of my new Expat Interview Series, where I plan to interview people who have dotted themselves all over the world. I’m hoping this series of posts will provide some insight into what it is like to live overseas, and might even encourage a few people to pack their bags and make the move! 

Meet Stephanie Kempker, a 26 year old American who had an epiphany to abandon the American dream just over three years ago, to live more intentionally and in tune with her true priorities – something which would involve a LOT of travel! 

Stephanie loves writing about cultural insights, slow active travel, and epiphanies on her travel site My Quarter Life Epiphany and has some great advice about Expat life in Rio as well as tips on travelling solo.

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What made you move abroad in the first place?

It was sort of a surprise. I went to Thailand for a week’s vacation from my job on my first overseas trip, with nothing but a carry-on backpack… I loved it so much that I had a “quarter life epiphany” and decided to stay and make a new, different kind of life for myself.

How long have you been living overseas?

After the week of backpacking turned into three months, I found a job and worked and lived in Bangkok for two years, and have since then moved to Rio de Janeiro where I’ve been for one year.

What is the most difficult thing about living so far from home?

Missing weddings, birthdays, and special events for the people I love the most is definitely the hardest. Losing touch with old, great friends has been happening gradually as well, though I’ve stayed close with several.

How did you make friends when you first arrived?

Bangkok was easy to meet people – there are a TON of English speaking expats. I met friends through hostels (before I had an apartment), through Facebook groups for expats, and through other friends.

In Rio de Janeiro, I’d say it is much more difficult to make friends as there are fewer English-speaking people (both expat and local), and fewer expats in general.

Speaking Portuguese is essential to having a good life here. I met almost all of my current friends through a language school I studied at, and where I now volunteer, as they were all other volunteers or other students. I’ve also met friends through self-defense and fitness classes.

Rio de Janeiro view

What do you love the most about being an expat?

I definitely love the opportunity to truly experience another culture, and to travel, the best. Also, I think the quality of life in many places outside the US is much better.

There’s definitely less pressure to “see and be seen”, and to “keep up with the Joneses”. It has been much easier for me to decide on and maintain a minimalist lifestyle without the influences of American mass consumerism, and I like that.

Has anything funny happened to you due to cultural differences or language barriers?

Apparently the way I pronounce Chicago (the nearest big city where I’m from) sounds like a word for piss in Portuguese. I never understood why Brazilians (especially kids) sort of giggled when I said where I was from!

How do you cope when things are going badly?

Skype is helpful to connect with friends back home, and I whatsapp with my sister (who lives in the US) every day. I’m also lucky to have my fiancé here with me in Rio de Janeiro, so we can vent to each other!

Me and Ran

Do you think you travel a lot more now because you live abroad?

I travel a lot more internationally. In the US, interstate travel is so easy if you have a car, but international travel is expensive and overwhelming, plus the vacation allotment in the US is RIDICULOUS. Overseas employers give much more vacation (usually 20 days or more, in addition to public holidays), which allows for much more travel.

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What are your future plans? 

I’ll be in Rio de Janeiro until after the Olympics, and then I want to move back to Southeast Asia. I miss it – the safety, the cheapness, and the culture – it feels much more like home than Brazil.

Here’s a look at my upcoming travel plans:

December 2015 – Costa Rica

February 2016 – travel around Brazil (including Iguazu!)

April 2016 – Yoga teacher training in Santa Catarina, Brazil

May 2016 – Cuba

If you could give one piece of advice about moving abroad, what would it be?

Just go! Especially in Southeast Asia, it is MUCH easier to find a job once you’re already there. If you’re committed, you can make it happen.

If you would like to follow Stephanie’s travels, you can read her travel blog here, follow her adventures on Twitter here or become eternally jealous of her beautiful travel photos on Instagram here.