A Couple of Lessons I Learned in Italy as an Expat
It was July 2002 when I definitely left Argentina and moved to Italy for what I thought was going to be an unknown amount of time. Three suitcases, a one-way ticket and lots of lessons to learn. Lessons I learned in Italy about being an expat.
I had been coming and going from Buenos Aires to Milan for over a year already. Finally, I decided it was time to make up my mind and get settled.
I enrolled at the University of Milan to get a second degree, becoming a student was the easiest way to get a permanent resident permit, it just meant passing at least two exams a year (I must admit that the geek inside me made me perform way better than that). However, easiest does not mean easy.
Every year there was much paperwork to be done and presented at the Questura (Police) to renew your permit. But that’s not something I learned, I kind of already knew Italy had its share of bureaucratic procedures. The difficult part of it was being a student while getting thirty. Something rather normal in Argentina, yet not in Italy. When you’re thirty in Italy either you’re a working woman or a mother. Not a student.
Nothing is the same
You may have spent your life listening to your grandfather talk fondly about his beloved Italy, or about how his mother cooked pasta. You might as well have the feeling pizza in Milan will be the same pizza immigrants brought to Buenos Aires decades ago. And remember this, you will feel bad, really bad when you realize that – eventually – going out for a pizza with friends will mean eating a whole pizza all by yourself!
And then there’s the language; the Italian you learned from your nonna was probably a dialect. The only thing being Italian you still have is your last name. Take good care of it.
So, up to now: I was an expat with a funny accent, I was a thirty-year old student, I wasn’t able to eat a whole pizza and I didn’t have a cell phone. Shame on me!
If you don’t have a phone, or two… at least pretend to have one
I still remember when I started going to the university, my income was close to zero and buying a cell phone was out of the question (just bear with me, it was 2002, Smartphones were only possible in movies). Every-single-passenger-on-every-single-train held a cell phone all the time. I felt so terribly out-of-place. It was a 45-minute ride suffering because I couldn’t afford such a precious object.
I did not suffer much, to be precise. Honestly, I think Italians were the ones feeling bad for me instead. They just love mobile phones, they cannot live without them!
You were never aware of how glamorous your home country is
“So they tell me you come from Argentina… Oh my God, what a wonderful place!”
This phrase, which I heard more often than I would have expected, astonished me at the beginning. And it still does. As time went by, I became aware how the name of a distant place can evoke a remote kind of magic in some people. On the other hand, for us, being our country nothing but our every day routine, we just take it for granted. Only when this new type of life becomes the ordinary, when our past routine is not such anymore, when homesickness hits… only then we start seeing the magic of the place we left. Therefore, another lesson learned:
Sooner or later, you’ll get homesick
You can buy a ticket and go back home. Once there, pay visits, take pictures, hug friends, kiss the family.
Unfortunately, that’s not always possible. In my case, I went back home only once, and just for a week, and I was not even able to see, hug and kiss all the people I would have liked to.
So here is another lesson I learned in Italy: God bless social networks for this. We are just a mail, a photo or a call away from people we care for. Virtual hugs, kisses and love are not that bad after all.
Things I’m still struggling to understand…
When you become pregnant in another country (and you lack your family for support) you have to face a whole different Health System… that is difficult. Plus I still do not get it why is it so hard for Italian women to get the right to deliver without pain.
If you become a mom in another country you have to face a whole different Education System… that is truly very difficult. Plus I still do not get it why is it so hard for Italian school to be a bit more modern.
When you’ve been an expat for over 13 years and, suddenly, you realize you might become an expat once again… Is it in your blood? Or are you just plain insane?