Originally, I didn’t want to move to Italy.
When I showed my hesitation my friends usually responded, “What! Why?”, then looked off into the distance, imagining driving through sun-kissed fields of olive trees and vineyards while stories of love and laughter filled pages of their newly-penned novel.
But rehabilitating myself as I rehabilitate an old farmhouse in Tuscany is not exactly real life, and it certainly isn’t my life. I usually responded to their exclamations with a lame, “I know, I know” and a change of subject. No one has to remind me that Italy is great. Since my first day studying the language and my first day stumbling off the plane into a busy Rome airport I knew it would be an all-consuming affair. However after five months studying abroad in Italy and several return trips, I also knew the difficulties of living in another country, the necessary adaptations.
I tried to explain that the honeymoon period of a new place eventually ends, replaced with small day-to-day frustrations. Once my Italian friend gave a speech about how he could never live in America because of our lax gun laws and individualistic attitudes, I told him I was irritated with Italy because people stared and the water glasses were too small….
These little things matter when you’re studying abroad, but when you live abroad it spreads to more important, real life responsibilities. Simple things like going to the post office, calling friends, making friends, and paying bills have to be re-learned within the guidelines of a new culture. As recent graduates most of my friends and I are just starting to tackle some of these; I encouraged them to think about learning it in a different environment, with a completely different language.
At first in your new home you leave your apartment every day, strolling the streets wide-eyed, getting gelato and trying to memorize each store on the main strip in case you’ll need it later. But the days go on and aimlessly wandering around seems less and less appealing. Soon you can’t just wander, but actually have to do things, accomplish something. You decide you’re going to finally get stamps to finally mail those post cards – the ones you bought months before during a day-trip to Venice.
After almost a full three months living in Italy, I met an American girl who had moved to Israel and had been there for over a year. She asked what I’ve been doing in Italy and I fumbled trying to respond, mumbling something about how I only moved recently. “Oh!” She responded understandingly, “So you’re just trying to live!”
I wasn’t expecting her empathy, but she continued, citing her own experiences settling in to a new country: “When people asked what I was going to do that day I’d usually respond, ‘Well, today I’m going to the store. Tomorrow I’m going to try to mail something…’”
I didn’t realize I was holding my breath, but my sigh of relief was audible; Finally, someone who understood! It’s exhausting, she said. I agree.
The difficulties of navigating a new country as a semi-citizen need to be considered, but the decision to move isn’t based solely on that. Maybe my friends weren’t so convinced of my hesitations because I wasn’t so convinced. Maybe it’s that they heard my day-to-day task excuse, but understood that the benefits of my move would outweigh the difficulties.
Though I might embarrass myself stumbling over my Italian with a new friend, later that night I’ll amaze myself when I perfectly add my two-cents to the conversation. Though I’m still getting used to the cars, when I ride my bike through the center of town I’m just one of the many Italians doing the same thing. The truth is, moving abroad is not Under the Tuscan Sun glamorous, but I finally bought stamps for those postcards yesterday – just another six months and I’m likely to mail them!