It’s a strange title, I know, but expat life is strange in itself. I get heaps of emails from people who want to move to Tuscany, who imagine country life in Italy to be absolutely paradisiacal. In many ways, it is. And in many ways, it’s not. I write a lot about the negative bits that come with being an expat. My situation is a little different from your traditional expat who moves to another English speaking city and only faces a few mild culture shocks. Living in a country that doesn’t speak your language and then choosing to live in a rural area is another kettle of fish. But if you’re dreaming of a sea change, don’t lose heart. This post is my way of helping you adjust your expectations, be prepared and hopefully not end up bitter and disappointed with your decision.
GET SOME LANGUAGE LESSONS
This applies everywhere from Italy to Timbuktu. Don’t make the mistake of thinking the world speaks English or even worse, that you’ll pick it up as you go along. Italians speak English in Rome, Milan, Florence. They don’t speak English in rural destinations. When I moved to the Maremma, I had 12 years’ worth of Italian lessons behind me and grew up in an Italian household and I still couldn’t speak enough Italian to catch a bus. Obviously, I don’t expect you to spend 12 years working on your language skills, but at the very least ensure you know the basics before you hop on that plane and make finding a language school your number one priority when you arrive.
HAVE A CAREER PLAN
I wish I’d thought about this one when I first moved to Italy. After almost half a decade here, I’m only just figuring out what to do with myself. If you’re retired and plan on becoming a hobby winemaker, ignore me, but if you’re not, listen up. I have seen more than my fair share of expats lose their minds simply because they no longer have a sense of purpose (your’s truly, included). They come from working 9-5 in their home countries to sitting on the couch staring at their nails. It’s not enough to say, I’ll find a job when I get there. Again, that only works in the cities. You need to have a clear idea of what you plan to do the moment you hop off that plane and if, possible, start laying down the foundation before you even leave. Having a stable, satisfying job can be the difference between surviving your expat experience and catching the first flight back home.
BE CLEAR ABOUT WHY YOU’RE HERE
I’m a reluctant expat. I’m only in Italy because my husband refuses to leave. Unfortunately this can create a lot of resentment (more about that next week) and it’s something I’m trying to work on. Your need to have your own reasons for living in another, possibly rural, destination. It might be because you love the Italian countryside or the language or the food or you want to challenge yourself or see the world or you’ve received a great job offer. Whatever it is, try to remember it when the chips are down.
DON’T SWEAT THE SMALL STUFF, THINK POSTIVE
Since I’m famous for being a pessimist, this is my everyday challenge. There are going to be times when you want to rip your hair out. For me, it’s usually when I can’t accomplish a basic task because my language skills are lacking – hello, post office! If you let these little failures get to you, you’ll never survive. Chalk it up to inexperience, promise yourself you’ll do better next time and think positive. Keep a list of all the things you love about your expat life close at hand for when you can’t remember why you left home in the first place. Seriously, I have one and I look at it almost everyday.
GET OUT OF THE HOUSE AND CHALLENGE YOURSELF
This last tip is a double whammy. Mimic the good bits about your life back home. If you’re a gym rat, go to the gym. If you love dancing, yoga, having coffee with friends, do those things. Don’t let language fears keep you inside. Friends, hobbies, a social life are fundamental. You really have to push yourself as an expat not to choose the easy route. That applies to everyday errands too. Sure it’s easy to get your Italian speaking husband to make that doctor’s appointment or call the cable company or order 100g of salami from the deli, but if you don’t push yourself to do these things, you’ll forever be reliant on someone else and not the carefree independent expat you hoped to be.
Do you have any other tips for expats? I’d love to hear them!