What I’ve Learned After 7 Years In Italy
Seven years ago, I got on a plane.
And, the only thing I was sure about was its destination.
It’s almost hard to believe how much time has passed and how much has changed since I moved to Italy. I came here with no expectations or plans, which was completely out of character for me. But, I still believe it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
Although being an expat isn’t always easy, I can honestly say that I’ve learned so much. As I look back on my life over these past years, I have certainly had my ups and downs, but that’s life regardless of where you happen to be in the world.
We learn through our experiences, and we should always take some time to remind ourselves how far we’ve come and what we’ve learned in the process.
Living abroad can teach you a lot, so I’m sharing seven things I’ve personally learned since moving to Italy.
I’m starting off with patience because it was probably one of the most important and difficult lessons that I’ve learned and, to be honest, am still learning.
I’ve never been a patient person. Moving from Canada to Italy has been a true test of how much patience I have. What seemed like an ordinary simple task in Canada would often become a tiring seemingly never-ending journey in Italy.
I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve had to make repeat visits to post offices and banks, or waited in line at a shop while the cashier or sales assistant chit chats. And don’t get me started on waiting for public transportation. When you’ve spent most of your life living in a country that is, for the most part, organized, it’s extremely difficult to find yourself in these types of situations. I had become accustomed to efficiency and Italy, especially Calabria, is most certainly not efficient.
But over time, I learned that my expectations based on my experiences in Canada would need to be lowered because Italy doesn’t work the same way. There is nothing I can do to change it. And so, when faced with these situations I take a deep breath and remind myself, it is what it is! Comparing things to Canada won’t solve anything, and as I slowly come to terms with that (not quite there yet!) I find I’m getting better at handling those inconvenient situations that pop up on an almost daily basis.
2 . The Language
This one is kind of obvious. I moved to Calabria knowing little, and I mean very little, Italian. I grew up around the language so I understood basic phrases and questions but I couldn’t conjugate a verb if my life depended on it.
Not being able to express yourself is hard. You already feel isolated being in a new place without your family and friends nearby. And when you can’t ask simple questions or take part in conversations, it can be quite frustrating.
But, it wasn’t long before something switched in my brain and I found myself being able to communicate and express myself more and more. I think teaching English as a Second Language really helped grow my vocabulary and after 7 years, I can say that I’m able to get my views and ideas across to whoever I’m speaking with. It’s a constant work in progress and I would really like to take proper lessons and get an Italian language certification but for now I’m happy with the progress I’ve made.
Being able to speak the language and communicate is priceless! It has allowed me to strengthen the relationship I have with my relatives here in Calabria.
3. Appreciate Life
Living abroad and not having any real plan of how long you plan to be away really makes you appreciate the simpler things in life. I rent my apartment and have moved three times over the past 7 years. It has made me realize how much unnecessary “stuff” we accumulate over a short period of time.
The uncertainty of where I’ll be next is unsettling for someone like me but it also has a positive effect on how I look at life. I’ve always been one that values experiences over possessions. So, spending time with others has become the thing that I really value most whether its an evening passeggiata, aperitivi after work or dinner with friends.
When I think about moving back to Toronto, these are the things that would be difficult to let go, because they are huge part of my lifestyle here. Italians enjoy life and don’t take it too seriously. They, much like life, are unpredictable. They tend to live in the present which has led to many spur-of-the-moment situations that have turned out to be incredibly memorable.
4. Don’t Worry, There’s Always Tomorrow
I’m a bit of a type A personality. I plan everything and get super stressed if I have to change up my schedule which, as you can probably imagine, is not exactly the ideal personality trait to have when you are living in southern Italy.
In Canada things have deadlines and you have to respect them. It’s not that Italy doesn’t have deadlines, it’s just that they aren’t necessarily set in stone. Tranquilla, which literally means “calm” is a word I hear often from friends, colleagues and family members to say, “don’t worry”, “take your time”, “no problem”.
No one seems to go crazy to get everything done. After all, there’s always tomorrow.
5. Nothing in Impossible
When you really want something and you are committed to doing whatever it takes, nothing is impossible. If someone had told me years ago that I would move to Italy with no job security and a little savings in my pocket, I would have told them they were crazy. And yet, here I am. I moved from my parents’ home in Toronto to a flat in Cosenza. It was my first time living on my own and I did it in another country.
I knew when I moved here that it would be difficult to find a job in Cosenza and I’d probably have to move to a bigger city like Rome or Milan. But, after a quick search for English schools in Cosenza, I dropped off my resume to a few places and found a job.
Sometimes we are so convinced that something is impossible that we don’t even try. What we fail to realize is that we live in a world that is full of possibility if we are open to it. There are still so many things I want to accomplish. Things that seem far-fetched. But, after everything I’ve done in the past 7 years here, and even things I’d done before moving here, I am convinced that with a little sweat and tears, anything is possible.
6. Who I Am
When I first move to Cosenza, I spent a lot of time alone. I didn’t really know anyone, aside from my relatives, and it took time to adjust to all the changes. So, in that time I really learned a lot about myself. As time went on, I began to grow into my surroundings and began to develop my routine and of course my personality. I’m absolutely not the same person I was when I lived in Toronto. Would I have changed in the same way if I didn’t move abroad? It’s hard to say. I believe that your lifestyle does play a role in who you are as a person.
In the past couple of years, I’ve also taken up yoga on a more regular basis which has really helped keep me grounded and focused on myself. Even though I live in a small city in the south of Italy, there are moments when the hustle of every day life takes its toll on you and changes your mental state. Yoga has been a great way to keep myself focused and centered on what I’m doing here and what I want to achieve in the near and distant future.
We are constantly growing and evolving as people and I’m learning more about myself every day.
7. The World Isn’t As Big As It Seems
The world is a big place. But, at the same time it’s not. When my father first moved to Canada, the distance between his new home and the one he left was far greater than the distance as I see it today. When once you depended on letters written on light-weight air mail friendly paper and maybe a monthly phone call, now we have the internet. I think if it wasn’t for technology, living so far away would have been far more difficult and I probably would have moved back sooner. But, with the internet I can instantly communicate with everyone back home (even though the time difference is a pain) and with Skype I can see my family.
I’m also privileged to live in a city that isn’t ridiculously expensive and allows me the possibility to visit Canada often and for long periods of time. The moments I spend in Canada are some of the most precious and we make the most out of the time we spend together. I miss my niece and nephew so much but I know that the time I do spend with them is just as special for them as it is for me.
Since I have no plans to move back to Canada, I’m looking forward to another year in Italy with new adventures and incredible memories that I hope to share with you all on this blog.