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Learning to Be Vulnerable as an Expat

Su in 2021: A badass boss. Can handle any task thrown at her, from putting together IKEA furniture to planning a move with two cats to Italy. Doesn't ask for help because she is fully capable of doing it all herself.

Su in 2024: Learning to ask for help. Accepting vulnerability as part of her vocabulary. It makes her uncomfortable, but still, she knows her life is better for allowing others to help her.

Oh, how I've changed since I moved to Italy!

Learning to be vulnerable was probably the last thing I expected when I moved abroad, and yet it has been a humbling (and ongoing lesson).

Balancing Bad-Assedness with Vulnerability

I think any woman who moves to another country on her own is a badass, and likely has trouble asking for help. After all, we managed to untether ourselves from our lives in our home countries and establish ourselves somewhere new, so why on earth would we need help opening a pickle jar?

And yet...there's a sweetness in owning that you can't (or don't want to) do everything on your own. For me, I'm leaning toward the latter. I'm still FULLY capable of handling everything that Italy throws me, but I can choose to let others help me.

Italy is a Fantastic Teacher

I'll give you a few examples of how I've had to become vulnerable as an expat.

When I first arrived, there was a slew of administrative tasks I had to handle, like getting a carta di residenza (residence card) and a tessera sanitaria (health card). Seriously, there's no website to sign up, and it's not clear where the office to do so is.

Enter: Yavette. A sunny ex-Californian who's been in Calabria 20+ years. She kindly took me to the necessary offices and helped me get what I needed. The knots of stress and anxiety formed by thinking about handling those tasks on my own dissipated as soon as she offered a helping hand.

My friend Dora is another great example. She's helped me navigate how to make a medical appointment and introduced me to just about everyone in Soverato. She's quick to offer advice when I ask for it (and sometimes when I don't!).

Fast-forward to present-day Su, who has a fairly good handle on life here. I recently had several health appointments (don't worry; everything's fine), and Francesco's mother offered to accompany me for some of them. My knee-jerk reaction was "I don't need anyone to go with me! I'm fine!" but I realized the generosity of her offer. Just her sitting with me in the waiting room felt like loving support, and who can't use more of that?

I've spent the past 19 years being a mother, so it was nice to have my new Italian mamma give me that motherly support, especially since my American mom can't be here with me.

And Fra, too, is teaching me to accept help. Just yesterday, I told him I needed to have my car inspected, something I'd never done, but didn't feel overly stressed about doing. He offered to do it. I argued for two seconds before realizing that he was offering me love by offering to do this menial task. So of course, I let him, and gave him a big kiss to say grazie.

The Benefits of Being Vulnerable as an Expat

Certainly, we expat women are capable. More than capable, in fact. But there is so much pressure we put on ourselves to do it all, and do it well. Being vulnerable allows us to relax a bit. To enjoy being taken care of.

And saying yes when others offer their assistance is also doing them a favor. Because good humans enjoy helping others. So by being vulnerable, you're allowing others the supreme pleasure of being good to you. Why would you deny them the honor?

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