Thursday, 30 May 2013
Living in Rome: 18 month anniversary
I am now marking my 18-month anniversary of living in Rome, yay! To veterans of living in a foreign land, the number probably sounds insignificant. But since I left Canada with a primarily goal of stretching my money to stay for just three months, reaching 18 is a milestone!
And although no one has asked this of me, I thought I would offer a bit of advice on what I've learned so far.
I have learned to fear and hate the Italian post office. I'm doing my Italian taxes now and it's mind-numbing. I can confirm that it's much cheaper to order coffee standing at the bar than it is being served at a table - but I never stand at the bar because I love sitting in cafes, savouring my cappuccino and drawing out the ritual for as long as possible. I really enjoy shopping at the mercato and chatting with the (mostly elderly) ladies waiting their turn with the fruit and vegetable vendors.
No surprises there.But on the chance my experiences might be useful for someone else, here are a few other things I've learned.
1. Get Documents
Not everyone can do this, of course, but obtaining an EU passport was the best thing I did to prepare for this move. I thank my lucky stars that my father was born in Ireland which makes me a citizen of that country and therefore entitled to a European passport. Anyone considering a move to Europe would do well to scour the family tree to see if there are any links that would lead to an EU passport.
I'm not sure that I really understood when I got that passport (after much hassle, I might add) just how valuable it would be. It has opened many doors, from giving me access to employment and health care in Italy, to reducing the already overwhelming amount of bureaucracy involved in living here.
2. Make Contacts
The second most valuable step was connecting with people living here in Rome before I arrived. I reached out to people I didn't know, but who were in the same business (journalism). Through a chain of connections, I have become friends with someone at the Italian news agency who has been incredibly kind and helpful, particularly in linking me with work opportunities. It hasn't been easy but Anna Maria has opened doors for me, given me advice on navigating the hellish bureaucracy, introduced me to the right people.
Making contacts is vital before, during, and after a move. Emailing strangers isn't always easy - I know because I'm very shy - but there is an enormous pool of help and generosity out there.
3. Make Personal Connections
It is hard sometimes to practice a foreign language AND doubly hard to meet Italians when you don't speak the language. But a year ago, someone turned me on to a web group Conversation Exchange, which connects people who want to practice new languages with a native speaker also interested in practising new languages.
A bit like online dating, I met several people who weren't a good fit. However, I have also met some wonderful, generous people and made Italian friends (all of whom speak better English than my Italian.) It has given me lots of language practice, insights into life in Italy, and helped ease the inevitable loneliness of living in a foreign country.
4. Middle age is okay
Okay, this one will likely seem very odd, and obviously doesn't apply to everyone who wants to move to Italy (or anywhere else.) But changing one's life and leaping without a net isn't only for 20-somethings. Frankly, I'm not sure I could have made a move to a new country, a new language, a new life when I was much younger than I am now.
Partly, that's because I was SO ambitious for so long. Everything I did from about age 15 to 50 was in the cause of moving ahead in my career. I still have plenty of personal ambitions, but I think that only now am I able to think about those.
Now, my goals have changed, broadened and softened and this has made room for a wider life.
5. Use Courage
I really don't see myself as a courageous person, possibly because I know how hard it is to force myself to do difficult things. But, I have learned not to fear fear. It is always going to be there, but it doesn't mean you have to let fear run your life or contain it to something smaller than you want.
Courage is like a muscle; the more you make yourself exercise it, the more habitual it becomes to use it. Whether it's learning a new skill (and looking foolish in the process) or going to the movies alone or moving to a new job, a new city, a new life - the only way to do it is to accept the fear and then push through it.
6. Accept Loneliness
Just as it's important not to fear being afraid, I think it's really important to not fear loneliness. It is going to happen sometime, somewhere to everyone so you might as well accept it, let it happen, learn to cope. Trust yourself, and believe that you will be okay. Loneliness will come and go, it won't last forever.