24/07/2018 10:25 BST | Updated 24/07/2018 10:25 BST

Why The NHS Drew Me From Brazil To England

Juliana Scapin’s unexpected expat journey from Brazil.

Juliana Scapin

Some people have the wanderlust gene: always hungry to discover new places, they’re constantly travelling the world, settling in new countries and thirsting after adventures, experiences and thrills.

Others, like Juliana Scapin, end up on the journey of a lifetime - swapping the port city of Porto Alegre, Brazil, for London’s bustling streets - almost by accident. 

‘I never wanted to leave Brazil,’ Juliana, 37, explains.

‘That was not my plan at all! My brother, who’s younger than me and always wanted to travel, lived in London for a year and then went back to Brazil and finished university there. He was always the one who wanted to go and live in other places. I never wanted to - I was happy to have holidays elsewhere, but I always wanted to go back home.’

Juliana first arrived in London in 2006, after her brother returned from the UK. She had been working as a dietitian in Brazil but was keen to do her master’s degree in dietetics, which required completing an English test. Since her English was ‘rubbish’ at the time, she thought it was the perfect opportunity to travel and live abroad somewhere new.

‘Initially, I thought about Australia because I had friends there and also because of the weather,’ Juliana says.

‘But my brother had lived in the UK before and he’d loved it and we also have dual Italian citizenship, so I wouldn’t have to do anything in terms of the visa to come here. It was easier! Also, my initial plan was that I could go and travel all around Europe and then go back to Brazil.’

Lelia Valduga via Getty Images

Juliana’s native city of Porto Alegre - the capital of the southernmost state of Brazil - is close to the celebrated Serra Gaúcha wine region and has a European feel, in part because it’s home to a community of Italian émigrés, who still speak the Italian dialect locally.

While Juliana always had the intention to go back home, it seemed London’s pull - and people - always kept her from leaving.

She decided to stay on and complete her registration for dietetics in the UK, and, while working at her first post in London afterwards, Juliana met her now-husband, who’s originally from Portugal. As things developed in their relationship, they realised it would be tricky for him to move to Brazil and work from there, so London suddenly went from a temporary layover to a permanent home base.

‘After 12 years, I finally think, I live in London now. I’m not just on holiday,’ laughs Juliana.

Staying connected to friends and family back home has been a key reason she’s felt so at home here - her loved ones are never more than a phone call or text away. She primarily communicates with her family in Brazil via WhatsApp, staying in touch with friends through Facebook. 

‘If you don’t try and integrate and communicate, it’s really difficult to understand and be happy here in the long term,’ she says of life as an expat.

’And obviously try and stay in touch with your family - my family is really supportive and that’s one of the things that’s helped a lot. They try and come and visit once a year.′

As a dietitian, Juliana was always drawn to the UK because of the NHS, which she grew up admiring from afar. After all, the national health service in Brazil - the SUS - is modelled on the NHS. 

‘I was really, really happy with the idea of the opportunity of working for the NHS,’ says Juliana.

‘It’s always had a reputation as one of the best services in the world, in terms of experience and opportunities, working with people at the top end of the profession and the knowledge you gain.’

Juliana has been working as a pediatric allergy dietitian in the allergy services department of a hospital for the past nine years. She tests patients for allergies and assesses them in clinics four days a week, offering children and babies with various allergies and food intolerances dietary advice and alternatives. 

‘I really like the service. I really like the environment, the people, the work. We know that the NHS is under a lot of pressure, but it’s good,’ she says.

TonyBaggett via Getty Images

In Brazil, Juliana had only worked privately, but adjusting to public sector healthcare in the UK wasn’t the only big hurdle she had to get over. 

First of all, there was the weather - unsurprisingly, the transition from sunny skies to cold, grey and wet climes has been a difficult adjustment at times. Thankfully, London’s proximity to sunny European destinations has meant that Juliana can easily travel to new places and meet different people when she needs a dose of vitamin D.

Secondly, Juliana discovered it’s not only temperatures that are cooler in England: she found the whole stiff upper lip communication technique very odd.

Take her first day at work in the hospital: her line manager introduced Juliana to her new colleagues, they looked up, said hi, and went back to their business. 

‘I was quite shocked,’ says Juliana. ‘I was expecting people to stand up and come to me and kiss me as we would do in Brazil. I thought people didn’t like me!’

However, Juliana has also found plenty to admire in her adopted home, like the punctuality, politeness and reliability of the people. She also really loves London, for its beauty, history and how smoothly it runs. 

Her secret to making the most of expat life? Befriend the locals. 

‘In the beginning, I had loads and loads of Brazilian friends and not a lot of friends from here and most of them left,’ she explains.

’People were leaving and I thought, I don’t have anybody. Try to understand the culture and make friends with people that are from here if your plan is to stay here. It’s hard to integrate and understand and feel that you are part of it and not an outsider if you don’t.’


Vital to expats, make fast, reliable money transfers, wherever you are by using the Western Union app. Download it now, for free.