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Living in Italy Will Break You (and Put You Back Together)

I wrote this a few months ago on Medium. I'm happy to say that living in Italy has gotten a little easier for me!

Before moving to the south of Italy, I knew it would be challenging. That it wouldn’t be prosecco and pasta all the time.

And so I thought I was prepared for life as an expat in Calabria.

(Do you hear that? It’s the sound of the Universe laughing at me.)

An Entirely New Way of Living

I couldn’t have predicted just how my life would change. After all, I wasn’t moving to a culture as different from that of the U.S. as, say, Asia. I speak an okay amount of Italian, and I’ve been visiting here for years, so I thought I “got” the culture.

What I didn’t glom onto was how Italians take red traffic lights as a suggestion (and yet I have never seen a car accident here). How everything takes a lot longer to get done. How Italians prioritize relationships so much that they will stop traffic for five minutes so they can catch up with someone they haven’t seen since…yesterday.

I feel like an anthropologist studying a fascinating culture and trying to find my way in.

Living in Italy Means Trial by Fire

I recently hit a major milestone: I now have all the documents I need to live here legally and comfortably. I have my visa and permesso di soggiorno, which let me stay here as a freelancer. I have a bank account. I got my residency certificate, ID, and health card. All of that allowed me to get insurance for a car.

Let me just stop and take a breath, because it. Was. A. Lot.

The fact is, there’s not one single place online that explains what you need as an immigrant here (I’m working on creating a resource!). I figured it out bit by bit, with the help of a more experienced expat.

Italy doesn’t make it easy. Or maybe it’s Calabria.

Don’t get me wrong: I don’t want to be one of those complaining expats who find everything wrong with their new homes. But I want to acknowledge that living in Italy requires a great deal of patience and openness to the lessons I need to learn.

Adapt to Italy, Not the Other Way Around

I acknowledge that it’s me that has to change, not Italy.

I need to stop relying on the internet to give me answers. Store hours and directions can’t be trusted online. This is not a digital world.

I need patience. Nothing happens quickly, and Italians have a different sense of time. Everything gets done piano piano.

I need to stop pushing. Operating with American expectations will not serve me here. Things come in their own time.

If you were to look at my life from the outside, it looks pretty fabulous. And it is. But it’s the internal shifts and emotional recalibrations that only an expat can understand.

I’m nearly four months into my adventure here, and I know I’m already a better person for the challenges I’ve overcome. I look forward to the lessons ahead.

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