Well, we've reached my first major landmark, folks: my first year in Calabria, Italy, as an expat.
While I never for a second wavered in my decision to leave a great life behind in San Diego to start on my own, in the south of Italy, this year has not been without its challenges. If you've followed along on this journey you know I'm very honest about the struggle! I in no way want to sugarcoat the difficulties that an expat faces, especially in the early months of settling in.
That being said, let me just say: things have GREATLY improved! I'm now in my groove, and this just feels like my fantastic life!
Rather than writing a post about lessons learned, I decided to share how I've been changed (for the better, I think) this first year.
1. I Accept The Things I Cannot Change
Yes, the Serenity Prayer comes in handy here in Italy, because you can change NOTHING about how things operate. It can be frustrating when you have American expectations about how things should be done, especially concerning the expediency of bureaucratic and administrative activities!
As I've said before: Italy won't change for me. But I can change for Italy. So instead of thrusting my fist in the air and cursing the Roman gods who laugh down at me when my 13-year-old car overheats on the side of the road again, I just shrug, drive home slowly, and shop for a newer one!
2. I Appreciate My Surroundings
I just moved to Soverato Marina last week, and I can't get over the fact that I have THREE balconies that look out over the sea and mountains in FOUR directions! Even now, I'm stopping to look up at the gorgeous storm clouds looming in the distance.
And the sea? Oh, mama. I love her when she's turquoise blue on a cloudless day. I love her when nasty weather turns her turbulent. She's always there for me, inviting me for a swim.
I've often wondered if people who grew up by the sea and mountains appreciate them still, or if it's just old hat to them. As for me, I hope to grow old here and still feel the magic of the nature around me every day.
3. I'm Better at Asking for Help
I think one of the lessons I was supposed to learn coming to Italy was to step out of my masculine energy, which had me DIYing everything and pushing myself to be independent, and into my feminine, which requires being vulnerable and asking for help.
It's easy to ask for help here because everyone is so damn helpful! Need a mechanic? My boyfriend, Francesco, knows one. Need a truck to move? Our friend Vittorio is more than willing to lend us one. Need help translating what the lady at the post office says? Dora to the rescue! Need a supportive friend? Anna's here for you!
I try to give as much as I ask for because it's important to balance those energies of giving and receiving!
4. I LIKE to Cook!
I have never loved cooking. Occasionally I would throw down and make something fantastic, but it was a rarity when I lived in the U.S.
Here, given the fact that I have no microwave, I cook. Every day. And it's good! It helps to have delicious, fresh ingredients and a boyfriend who appreciates what I make. We've been cooking together, which brings a whole new level of fun to our relationship.
5. I'm Still Working on Slowing Down
In Italy, the saying, "piano, piano," is a common one. It means "slowly, slowly."
I've never been a patient person. Here's a story to illustrate. I have a teakettle, and I've always taken it off the fire when I hear it steam. I assumed it didn't have a whistle because I'd never heard it.
One day, I got busy and didn't check on the kettle. Then I heard it...the whistle that I'd never been patient enough to hear!
Sometimes things in Italy don't happen fast enough for me. I still struggle to wait to see what happens. It's a work in progress!
6. I Feel (a Little) More Like Myself
Early into this journey, I realized I didn't feel like my sparkly, quirky self with my Italian friends. When you have to focus on understanding another language and then try to find the words to express yourself, it changes who you are and how you are with people.
It's getting a little easier (and I have friends who speak English). But I still find myself being far less chatty than I historically have been, simply because it's sometimes too hard to find the words.
But I've let go of what people think of me. Yes, I'm the crazy American whose name (Su) means "up" in Italian. I say things incorrectly. I have an American accent. I do yoga and am an artist. But I'm in love with your country, your culture, and your food. So love me back!
7. I Can (and Will) Change my Mind
I've always been a pretty decisive person. Once I committed to something, I didn't waver. But the emotional shifts that have occurred over the past 12 months have taught me that my wants and needs change...and that's okay.
I've changed my mind about leaving Calabria, and now I am in love with it. I've changed direction in my coaching business and have now found my niche.
But all that could change again tomorrow, and I'm learning to go with the flow.
I wear this first year as a badge of honor. I have done hard things. I have proven my mettle. I have gotten frustrated. I have cried. And I have survived.
Italy opens up to me more and more every day. She's got a mecca of magical surprises, and every time I uncover one, I treasure it as the gem it is.
People have asked me how long I plan to live here.
I don't have plans to return to live in the States. I am building a future here, and want to grow old and die here.
Italy is now my home.