Rochelle: Unwilling Expat
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Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Who you are, where you come from, when you moved to Italy, etc.
Salve, I’m Rochelle Del Borrello and I’m originally from Perth, Western Australia. It was a strange twist of fate that brought me here to live in small town Sicily deep in the Nebrodi mountains in the province of Messina. Well, it was more like a pithy predictable love story with a coincidental reconnection to my family’s heritage. I was happily perusing a career in journalism and completing my final semester in a post grad qualification back in 2001 I stupidly thought of scratching the itch I’d had for a while to study in Italy while finishing off my studies. Arriving in Italy, everything went in the opposite direction I wanted it to ... trust me it’s a long, long story. Fleeing my disastrous exchange experience at the University of Bologna I went to Sicily to hunt down relatives from my mother’s side of the family (Aunt’s and Uncle’s of hers). I met my future husband here, he followed me back to Australia, we got married and we moved back to live in Sicily. So it’s been more than a decade of culture shock, homesickness and crazy expat life in Sicily.
When and why did you decide to start blogging about your experiences?
Unwilling Expat began in 2011 after a trip back home to Australia as a way of sharing my experiences and finding something beautiful to share about Sicily. I wanted to connect to other expats, friends and family back home and to write on a regular basis.
Do you have any favorite blog entries of yours?
This is a hard question to answer, I love blogging and I’m really passionate about what I write so it’s difficult to choose.
My blog is divided into different sections, there are general posts dedicated to whatever I may be seeing, doing, eating or thinking about in this moment, related to Sicily. A few good ones are:
I have a soft spot for my series of posts dedicated to Secluded Sicily dedicated to small town’s of Sicily, left behind by migrants in the post world war two period; a kind of homage to the obscure places who are sadly dying out. Tastes of home is dedicated to Australia and what I am particularly craving about it in random bouts of homesickness. Literary Islanders is a new section I’ve recently begun that will focus on my favorite Sicilian writers and writers from other Islands around the world.
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?
Life in Italy for anyone with an Anglo Saxon background or up bringing is going to be one endless culture shock. From the language, the food, the society, traditions, bureaucracy, socializing, driving, everything! I was so lucky to have a good level of Italian (so glad I did a minor in Italian!) and a doting husband and even more attentive in-laws (no really they are great, I’m as surprised as you are?!?) who helped me lovingly through everything. The best thing to do is take a deep breathe, have patience, a wry sense of humor. Simply wait if you have to, don’t try to change the world, if you can do it, it will be done but if you can’t just let it go! Probably the biggest problems I’ve had here have been with the bureaucracy but I’ve learned the art of waiting; in line at the post office, I now buy the bank teller a coffee while I’m waiting. I waited five years to get citizenship even if both my folks were born here and I renew my international driver’s license every year so I don’t go through the hassle of applying for a new Italian one from scratch. Surviving culture shock is about patience, choosing your battles and avoidance.
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 played a lot by ear and let hubby help. If you are doing it on your own be sure to plan things as best you can, perhaps choose to live in a city with a big expat community so you can make contacts. I don’t think anyone can ever be fully prepared for life in Italy. A good level of Italian is an excellent idea; you could probably meet people if you do some Italian language courses here in Italy. Apart from this don’t despair, be open to new experiences and enjoy every moment even if you will feel like you are going insane. Remember you are living a dream.
Every expat knows that expat life comes with some hilarious anecdotes and funny experiences. Care to share one with us?
There are too many to choose from. The latest one this past summer is the Italians’ fear of air conditioning and the Sicilians’ desire to drink hot beer. Very annoying for an air con loving, icy cold beer swilling Ozzie like myself!! I blogged about it here: Why Do Sicilians Fear Air Conditioning
Which three tips would you like to give future expats before they embark on their new life in Italy?
Research as much as you can, read blogs, hunt out expat communities/networks, talk to friends who are expats, get advice and knowledge. Be sure to have travelled extensively in the area you want to move to. Perhaps stick to cities with big expat communities, find a job, keep busy, immerse yourself in the language, do an Italian language course either in Florence or Bologna. Do as the locals do, make friends and be careful of Italian men, they can be sleazy!! Opps that’s a lot more than three tips!
How is the expat community in Italy? Did you have a hard time finding like-minded people or fellow expats?
If you stick to the major cities like Milan, Rome or tourist centers like Florence or Palermo you are bound to find big expat communities. There are plenty of web pages and networks. It can be more difficult if you are out of a major centre. For me it’s been really hard as there are no foreigners in my neck of the woods, so I’ve been terribly isolated. I’ve only recently come across a handful of bloggers, the closest are at Palermo and Catania.
How would you summarize your expat life in Italy in a single, catchy sentence?
Life in Italy is woeful, frustrating and awe inspiring.