InterNations Featured Blog
Chelsi: The Southern "Bella"
Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Who you are, where you come from, when you moved to Italy, etc.
I was born and raised in Memphis, Tennessee, and lived there until January 2011, when I made my new home in a small town called Belluno, Italy. My motivation for changing continents was my husband, whom I met on work assignment in China. I guess when you find the right person for you, an ocean can become a puddle you can just hop right over!
When and why did you decide to start blogging about your experiences?
I started my blog in the first months of my life in Italy, as a kind of therapy to get me through the huge changes I was experiencing. It was also a great way to share the details of my experiences with my friends and family back in the States.
Do you have any favorite blog entries of yours?
I think the most valuable of the entries is the series on what I call “Expatriate Syndrome”. Writing those entries during that time really helped me to gain perspective and make sense of the changes that I was going through. I wrote them in four Stages: Vacation, Nostalgia, Stereotypes and Idealizing, and Acceptance.
Tell us about the ways your new life in Italy differs from that back home. Did you have trouble getting used to the new circumstances? Did you experience culture shock?
The first four months I would say were the toughest for me. The lifestyle here is a lot more relaxed, not as rushed as it is in the States, which can be a good and a bad thing. Good in that we need to take time and enjoy life from time to time, and bad in that a lot of times things are saved to do in the last minute, and people tend to panic. There is a very carefree attitude among the people. I did not have much difficulty getting used to this in my personal life, but it was a huge adjustment for me when I started work!
I did experience culture shock, largely because I knew no one and I could not speak much Italian when I arrived. Luckily my husband was very understanding and supportive, and he helped me get integrated certainly faster than I would have done without him.
Do you think you were fully prepared for what awaited you in Italy? If you could, would you change some decisions/preparations you made?
I don’t think that anyone can be fully prepared for a change as big as expatriate life. The best thing to do is to go into it with an open mind, prepared for anything. The more you fight the changes, the harder and more enduring the integration process will be.
One thing I would have done differently is learn the language better before my move. I was completely clueless for months, especially at my job, where there is no English spoken and I was on my own. This really put a damper on my enthusiasm a lot of days in the beginning and it took a lot of work and coming home with a headache many nights. A crash course in Italian is good, but when I was experiencing that many changes at the same time, it would have taken a lot of weight off of my shoulders if I had had a deeper understanding of the language.
Every expat knows that expat life comes with some hilarious anecdotes and funny experiences. Care to share one with us?
There is always fun with the language. I once ordered a diaper for lunch instead of a sandwich. You see, sandwich in Italian is “panino”, but I said “pannolino”, which means diaper!
I also have to watch out for clearly pronouncing the double consonants in the words. When I ask someone how old they are, or “how many years they have”, I must say “Quanti anni hai?”, really elongate the “nnnnn” sound, because if not, they may answer “one”, because they only have one anus.
Which three tips would you like to give future expats before they embark on their new life in Italy?
- Learn the language- the better you are at communicating, the easier it will be for you!
- Remember where you come from and don’t lose your identity. It is easy to convince yourself that you must make core changes when you are surrounded by people that are so different from you. You can integrate yourself into a culture and still remain the wonderfully unique person you are.
- For goodness sake have patience! The Italian bureaucracy tests the patience of the Italian people themselves, just go with it and try to find the humor in every situation!
How is the expat community in Italy? Did you have a hard time finding like-minded people or fellow expats?
I have found a good group of English speakers, mostly from Britain. It is always a relief when you are able to have a conversation in your native tongue. I have also been fortunate enough to find friendship with an American mother of two young girls, that has a similar background to mine—she made the move when she found her soulmate, and has been through the expatriate rollercoaster, so she has been a mentor of sorts.
How would you summarize your expat life in Italy in a single, catchy sentence?
“La vita è fatta a scale, c’è chi scende, c’è chi sale.”
It is an Italian rhyme that means, “Life is made up of stairs… some go down, and some go up”. With expat life, there will be good days and bad days… but hey—that’s life, and life is what you make it!