Today’s interview is with author and activist Alexandra Magalhães Zeiner, a native Brazilian living in Austria. The last interview in the series was Estrella Sansait of Estrella Explores. Other interviews include Rachel from Arts in Munich, Allane Milliane of Packing my Suitcase, Clare Laming of Monarch Butterfly Voyager, tattoo artist and world-traveler Amber Harris, Adrian Ann of Adrian’s Travel Tales, and Jenn Turnbull-Houde of Two Weeks in Costa Rica. In the series, we ask a handful of questions to female travelers and expats who can offer unique perspectives on the transient or foreign lifestyle.
If you or someone you know falls into this category, please don’t hesitate to drop us a line. The interview questions will be tailored to your specific story, as you’ll see below.
About Alexandra (from Open Beast): Alexandra Magalhaes Zeiner is a researcher with a Master’s degree in Marine Biology. She has worked with marine mammals and environmental issues in Brazil, Holland, Croatia and Canada. She uses water as a medium to promote healing while working as a bilingual writer and Watsu practitioner in Austria and Germany. Alexandra is the author of two children books “The Pink Dolphin’s Son” and “The girl and the jaguar”. She currently lives in Vienna, Austria.
SGT: When did you first move abroad? What made you decide to leave Brazil? Do you go back often?
AMZ: I left Brazil in 1994 when I was invited to write about the Brazilian Humpback Whale Project during a traineeship in Holland. That same year I got a Canadian scholarship to start my MSc. degree at Memorial University of Newfoundland. It was an amazing time, spring and summer working in Holland and Croatia, and in late fall 1994 moving to St. John’s, NF, Canada!
In reality, I was following my dream career, working and exploring environmental projects around the world! Brazil can be a difficult place to work without a proper degree, for this reason I first decided to get my Master’s, especially after being selected for a full scholarship at a Canadian university.
One can pretty much compare life with a dream trip: you plan it well, just tune in to all paths you’ll find along the way. Now I’m living in Germany and work as a writer! I still have relatives in Brazil, so I must plan my trips well and combine them with book presentations and lectures. However, since my son’s started school, we cannot travel as often as we did before, so at least once a year we try to fly to Brazil.
SGT: Your bio mentions that you write children’s books about preserving Brazilian Forests. What originally inspired these stories? How did you meet your illustrator, Finnish Austrian artist Judit Fortelny?
AMZ: Following the steps of my teacher and friend Walde Mar de Andrade e Silva, a Brazilian artist and writer, I found that the medium of storytelling is the most appropriate for gaining the interest and attention of children and young people. For this reason I write stories based on myths and legends of Brazilian Native Peoples, in my opinion, the real guardians of Brazilian Nature. My first book is based on one well known legend of the Amazon forest, the pink dolphin.
For me children’s books without illustrations are incomplete, so I had to find someone to do the artwork. I’m very thankful to have met Judit Fortelny while living in Vienna. She’s such a talented woman! She has also lived in quite a few countries and is now based in Vienna. So when she agreed to illustrate my first book, without ever having been in Brazil, it filled my heart with hope that I would find a publisher. And so it happened!
It was such a blessing, my dream came true, and our first book was published. As far as I know, in Brazil and many other countries, some authors have to pay to publish their own work. For this reason we were very fortunate to find an American publisher who invests in bilingual projects for multicultural readers. Thanks to Educa Brazil and Educa Vision in Florida!
SGT: Tell us about the Adopt an Author project. How did this project enable you to connect with other Brazilian writers living abroad? Do you have any advice for expats looking to connect with other expats in their field?
AMZ: Solidarity with creativity was the project’s slogan. In September 2012, a group of Brazilian authors, mostly expats, were invited to present their work in London. There I met Evandro Raiz Ribeiro, who lives in Japan, and together we planned another meeting in Munich, Germany, where the German and the international community of the city and its surroundings would “adopt” or host authors for three days.
The main objective of the project was to support and make public the literary contribution of Brazilian writers living abroad. Another goal was to facilitate better contact between the international community and Brazilian authors, professionals who work independently, and often publish their work on their own or with little support. It was a multicultural and multinational event.
I still have contact with some Brazilian authors abroad and we meet occasionally. I do believe the teamwork made each of us more sensitive to issues expat communities face around the world. No matter which nation you come from, you’ll find other expats sharing similar dilemmas. Thus, expats must share solidarity and creativity with each other, it makes us stronger!
SGT: You mention that your son speaks three languages: English, Portuguese, and German. There are many obvious advantages to growing up trilingual. Have you encountered any challenges?
AMZ: Can you imagine living in a country where you speak your third language, speak your second language with your partner and your first language with your child? From the beginning on I knew it would be quite crazy! On the other hand, the most incredible of all is you get used to it, believe me.
My advice to any of the readers who are going through the same experience is to trust in the amazing learning process of your child. Children’s little brains are just like sponges and soak it all up so fast. Of course you will find those people who interfere everywhere, telling you how difficult this will be for you and your child. Please, remember to ask them about their experience with another language and they’ll keep quiet!
For example, on different occasions two German teachers wanted to convince me that it would be better if I speak German with my son. Looking straight into their eyes I replied, “Please, think about it, if my son has heard me speaking three languages since he was in my belly, he’d better get used to it as long as we’re together in this world!” I wish I could have taken a picture of their faces while listening to my words. I was very proud of myself in both occasions because I know of many mothers who are terrified of teachers who prohibit them from speaking their mother tongues with their children. I’m also proud when talking about my experience with them and showing them the positive and successful way I teach my son.
SGT: As a marine biologist, how has your unique perspective on the wildlife and environment affected the way you travel? Or the way you think of a place?
AMZ: Earth is my home and I truly believe we’re all connected, plants and animals, including ourselves as the most dangerous animals on the planet. So no matter where you live on the blue planet, you are affected by what’s going on around the world. A good visual example is the series of space pictures taken by the German Astronaut and Earth Scientist Alexander Gerst. He made special space shots of different environments on the planet, just to remind us of how fragile our Earth is.
I don’t remember ever having travelled to a place where I did not have close contact with nature and wildlife. Big cities were never my favorite places to travel, however cities which are surrounded by woods and parks make the difference for its human and animal inhabitants. For example, Vienna, the capital of Austria has the “Wienerwald” around a big part of the city, and Sydney, the lovely Australian capital with its magical Northern Beaches.
SGT: Do you have any upcoming projects that will take you abroad? Tell us about them.
AMZ: By the time you publish this interview I’ll be in Egypt, attending the Youth World Peace Forum to be held at the Manchester International School, in Cairo. Students from all over the world aged 16 to 25 will participate in the Peace Forum and also participate in various workshops according to their interests.
As a writer and Peace Ambassador, I was asked to deliver a message from the President of the Universal Circle of Peace Ambassadors, Mrs. Gabrielle Simond, and to open the Celebration of Nomination of a new group of students from different countries as Young Ambassadors of Peace. I’m very thankful for this amazing opportunity, especially since I’m the only woman speaker taking part in the opening ceremony, a real honor.
I want to thank you for this interview opportunity and hope to be in contact with all readers with whom the following message resonates: May Peace prevail with all of Earth’s living beings! Blessings!
For more information on Alexandra and her projects, follow these links:
Read the interviews with Estrella Sansait, Rachel from Arts in Munich, Allane Milliane, Clare Laming, Amber Harris, Adrian Ann, and Jenn Turnbull-Houde
Are you a female expat/former expat or permanent traveler who would like to be interviewed for Savvy Girl Travel? Get in touch.