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‘Ireland gave us opportunities. I can’t complain about anything’

New to the Parish: Bruna Marcolongo Schmitz came to Ireland from Brazil in 2016

On her first days here in 2016, it was the silly things. “Oh! The dog’s driving! And people are driving and reading! What the hell?” Bruna Marcolongo Schmitz’s humorous memory of cars (with steering wheels on the other side) passing, was a small part of the culture shock involved in moving to Ireland from a coastal city in southern Brazil.

The then 27-year-old lawyer came with her husband, after he was offered an IT job here. Her life since has turned fully on its head, going back to college, changing career, living first a metropolitan life in Dublin city, and ultimately buying a house in Portlaoise.

From a middle-class background, her parents’ families emigrated to Brazil from Italy and Poland, and her husband Thiago Schmitz’s family background is German. They both grew up in Florianopolis, an island in southern Brazil, “a city, but a small place”. They have been together “since forever”: high school, 20 years ago. Bruna Marcolongo studied law at university, worked in family, civil and procedural law, and was considering setting up her own firm. They wanted to live abroad, learn English and were looking at options. A friend of a friend working in Ireland suggested Thiago, an engineer, apply for a job at his company. Five interviews later, a job offer, and their adventure began.

Ireland became “a country that gave us opportunity to work and study”. She knew little about Ireland: “a rich, cultural place, old. Literature and dance. I knew it was a warm place.” Validating her Brazilian law degree would be complicated and longwinded. In any case, as the spouse of a worker with a critical skills visa, hers was only a Stamp 3, so working was difficult. “No company wants to hire you because they don’t understand the rules”. But she had study in mind.


They rented an apartment at Grand Canal Dock, and later on Foley Street. “The best moment that we had was there. So central, quiet enough, nearby everything.”

A new country offered her the chance to think again about career. Design and drawing has always been an interest, and she started with a one-year course at Dublin Institute of Design on Kildare Street, eventually doing a degree in graphic design. Her design degree project was a travel app for millennials, customising travel itineraries.

They started knowing one person, but met lots of other Brazilians living here. At college her circle expanded and she made many more friends. After graduation they moved to Swords, the shift out of town coinciding with lockdown, just as she starting jobhunting in digital product design. Thiago was working from home. She buried herself in specialised online courses, particularly in UX (user experience, in digital products) and UI (user interface). It was hard stuck at home, but they had a spacious apartment, and parks and shops nearby. Plus “the design community is unbelievable. Designers help each other. I didn’t feel alone.” When visa regulations changed in 2019, she could get a 1G (which allows the holder to take up employment without the need to obtain an employment permit): “It was like a gift from Ireland.”

She eventually got a job with a start-up, built experience and later moved to a large global IT customer experience (CX) company. She works remotely, part of an international team, occasionally travelling abroad to other company offices.

For product design, she says, “the law helps”. Her legal training proved perfect for the logical, methodical steps involved in designing a user pathway in apps and digital products. She describes Bruna the lawyer in Brazil and Bruna the designer in Ireland as coming together. “I still believe I am both versions, I will never leave that part out of me. I think lawyers have a beautiful profession, they can change lives. It’s not about just court. When a lawyer is working behind the curtains, the work that we do that nobody sees, writing or planning ahead, you need to have a good vision of every step,” as you do in design. Strategising is where “both worlds collide”.

She explains her work as a user-interface designer, working out the visuals and pathways for apps we use. “If I click from here to there, to here from that, this is the flow. You think about what the digital user needs. What exactly is my path to get from point A to point B, what needs to be considered? That’s what I do. The visual and the logical. And I think that the law helped me with the logical.”

When they first moved, everything was unfamiliar, even “basic stuff, how to buy things in shops. Even ordering a pizza was a big deal. Dealing with the boiler thing. We don’t have boilers [in Brazil], we have electric showers. We got used to electric heaters, that you need to turn on in every single room.”

Socially, “even normal things, you kind of hold yourself back because you don’t know how to”. She had good Brazilian friends. “I felt support and was reluctant to move beyond the Brazilian community and comfort zone” initially because of unfamiliarity, and lack of language confidence. “It took me a while. During college I was forced to be more open, I could embrace more.” Over time, many Brazilian friends moved, elsewhere in Europe or back home. She has several Irish friends, and “one of my favourite people in the world” is Irish, “we understand each other really well”.

“After a certain age, it’s hard to do friendships anyway, so you have to have some kind of connection, such as through work or college, or being in the same situation. It can’t be forced. Things start to happen. Some people embrace you, some people don’t. It’s easier with Brazilians because of the language. Sometimes you don’t have to think to talk. Brazilians talk a lot with their hands. Sometimes I’m talking with my hands.” She’s gesticulating now. “And people ask, what is what does that mean? This is from the Italian background!”

They became tired of renting because of the uncertainty of tenure, and “the competition to find a good apartment, even with high rent, is exhausting”. They wanted their own place. Dublin prices were too high, and traffic was terrible, even over small distances.

They bought a house in November 2021 in an estate on the outskirts of Portlaoise, from where they both work remotely. “We love the life. People are nice. It’s a small community, everybody knows everybody. Living in Laois, the only thing that I can complain about that it’s we could have more trains, instead of hourly.”

Both their families have had extended visits from Brazil. While visiting “they were working! They painted the house, and helped us. It was like an adventure because it’s different” for example, figuring out how to hang a picture on flimsy Irish partition walls. Thiago’s parents painted and varnished the stairs last June.

This Christmas, Bruna’s parents visited for a month. “They loved Laois.” They all went to Italy, “to see our roots”, and “I showed them every place that I could remember in Ireland. Then we went to Northern Ireland. They are huge Game of Thrones fans. They did the GOT Experience. It is amazing. They were like kids, I had to take them out of there! And the sightseeing, the natural beauty, it’s unreal, everywhere. They were like in shock-shock-shock-shock-shock, because everything was so beautiful.”

Thiago’s career has blossomed too. “He is very happy here.” Bruna is aware they are lucky to have arrived with a job, which gave stability and structure. Her English has obviously improved enormously over eight years. They speak Portuguese at home but she works daily in English. The point she realised she was comfortable in English was “when I went to a doctor appointment a few years after moving here, without any restrictions or struggling. It was a normal consultation.” Though things are expensive here, particularly accommodation, Bruna points out what you can buy with minimum wages here is much more than you can with minimum wages in Brazil.

Bruna and Thiago became Irish citizens in 2023. “And that was the moment everything changed.”

At the ceremony “they were highlighting the importance of immigration and how we are welcome in the country. We were already here for almost eight years, and we already knew what to expect. It’s hard to say I’m here forever, because my family is in Brazil. Living here you need to daily reaffirm why you’re here, because you want to go back to your family. But if you embrace it on another level you can feel at home, even without your family being here.

“I’m really grateful. That’s the overall feeling me and my husband – we are grateful. Everything Ireland offered to us was good.” More opportunities, different jobs, the culture and experiences. “Ireland gave us opportunities. I can’t complain about anything. I have done a lot here. Ireland gave us access. I did a course with a major graphic designer. I got in contact with this amazing culture. It’s a place that you feel like the magic flows around you. So rich, and people were so nice and welcoming.

“It was beautiful. I cried during the [citizenship] ceremony. For us it was really a proud moment. We were proud of our history and everything [that had happened]. And it’s not like we are not Brazilians anymore. We are. We’re both.”

We would like to hear from people who have moved to Ireland in the past 10 years. To get involved, email or tweet @newtotheparish

Deirdre Falvey

Deirdre Falvey

Deirdre Falvey is a features and arts writer at The Irish Times