It’s now my second year here in Italy, and I have to say, I love it! If you found me on any given day in the last 2 years, you would probably hear me say that I want to live here forever. This has partly to do with the fact that my mother’s parents came from the Friuli region; I have Italian blood running through my veins, as my fruit and vegetable guy told me last week. But it also has to do with the fact that I’m a musician, and it’s difficult to hate Italy when you’ve visited Puccini’s home town!
One thing that was shocking to me when I moved here was going from being immersed in an international community (in Bahrain, then Ukraine), to being immersed in a diverse American community connected to the military. When I tried to make small talk with the other ladies as we got our fingerprints done for our residency permits, the conversation inevitably moved towards how all of us liked (or didn’t like) Italy. Many that I talked to would say, “I hate it,” or “only 1 more year,” or even, “I wish I was leaving (when someone leaves before they do).”
This attitude shocked me to the core. In Bahrain, I often dealt with Arabian Gulf desert heat and unwanted attention because I was an uncovered Westerner living in a non-Western neighborhood. In Ukraine, I wondered every year why I moved back to a cold climate and had my heat turned off for a week in the middle of winter. But even in those places, I found a way to be content. My motto was often, “I’m not leaving until I’ve figured out how to be happy and enjoy it here.” Obviously, I did, since I stayed in Bahrain for 2 years and Ukraine for 4!
With those comparisons in mind, having people say that they hate it here is incomprehensible. For one, the climate is the best of all worlds! No 120F in the summer, and no 4 months of snow in the winter. Hallelujah! Also, Italian is much more accessible to learn then Russian or Arabic, especially since the alphabet is the same as English. To top that, those in the military community here are living with their feet in two worlds: Italy AND America. We don’t have to wait in line at the Italian post office to pay all of our bills! When we want to get our passports renewed, we don’t have to go to Rome or Milan.
It can be really easy to write off people who exude negativity, but in the last few months, I have tried to lend a listening ear and try not to judge, and I’ve developed a theory about those who have an attitude of perpetual hate towards Italy. Most of them have lost sight of the fact that they would be having similar struggles if they were in their own country. So you’ve been homeschooling your kids, and then you move to Italy, and then your 13-year-old starts acting like a teenager and you don’t know what to do? Don’t blame Italy; your kid would have turned 13 no matter what country you moved to! Many women end up having babies and then 2 months later their husbands deploy, so they’re left in a foreign country, raising their baby for the first 6 months to a year of his/her life without daddy, and this leaves them depressed, even bitter in some instances. It’s quite possible that daddy would have deployed from the States, and life would have been difficult there too.
Maybe you’re an expat or a long-term traveler. I’d like to offer up some tips that I follow in this life of glorious sojourn to become content no matter where I am:
Leave expectations behind and move to your new host country with an open mind. If you expect that everything will be the same as it is in the States, you will be crying when you can’t go to a grocery store for ice cream at 3am. You will most definitely get outside your comfort zone as you try new things in your new country. You will have a much easier time if you approach these experiences with an open mind. Case in point: speaking any foreign language. If you are lucky enough to have a shop keeper correct your language, you will have just turned your market shopping experience into a language lesson. Bravo!
The problems that you have are problems you would probably have in any country. Are you struggling in your marriage? Do you have health concerns? Are you struggling with balance in your life? Are your kids at major life turning-point ages? It doesn’t matter if you live in your home country, Italy, or some other host country. You will have the same struggles regardless of where you live. I have experienced traffic jams, bad drivers and getting lost in every place I’ve lived. In fact, Italy has been the easiest place to overcome these experiences because I actually have a GPS now.
Try not to leave until you’ve figured out how to be content. If you leave with a sour taste in your mouth, you will not be able to remember the truly beautiful things about the country you’ve just lived in. No place is truly all good or all bad, but if you have unresolved negative feelings towards a place, you may not be able to leave with closure, which is essential for moving on when you arrive at your next destination!
Accept that there are bad days. I’ve had bad days in every country I’ve lived in. They happen, even when you are doing your best to maintain a positive attitude. Find some kind of coping mechanism when that happens, then move on. At the risk of sounding like an Italy snob in this post, I will illustrate an Italy bad day for y’all: I got into an intermediate Italian class B1 which is given for foreigners. When the teacher found out that I go to a Bible study and can’t make all of the lessons because of conflicting times, he began making fun of me for my religion during every subsequent class. At first, it was just a casual remark here or there, but by the end, I was pretty much dreading going to the class. Of course it wasn’t just that he made fun of my faith; it was also that he pretty much mocked me whenever I made a mistake (which I did often), and that we were basically just going over complicated grammar for 20 pages each class, which is boring and stressful all at the same time! This scenario was quite surprising because Italy is a very Catholic country, so to me it came out of left field. Usually, I was able to let this guy’s demeanor roll off my back, but one day I left the class feeling depressed. When that happens to you, for whatever reason it may be, find something you enjoy doing that is positive and participate in it. Go to a yoga class, take a walk in the beautiful countryside, get a massage, watch a movie, or my personal favorite: nap time. In case you’re wondering, yes, I did end up dropping out of my class, but I still enjoy speaking Italian whenever I can.
Whatever happens: Don’t blame Italy!