Ever wondered what it’s actually like to live in a foreign country?
Well, I’ll admit it, I’m a total romantic.
The idea of checking your responsibilities at the door and starting a new life in a foreign country sounds absolutely dreamy to me.
I imagine gorgeous, exotic people everywhere. Mouth-watering, delicious new foods to try. Dancing, drinking and singing into the night!
(I blame all the Mary-Kate and Ashley movies I watched growing up)
Obsessing over this idea became so enticing to me, that I actually decided to quit my job and give it a go.
That’s right, one day, some odd years ago, I just went for it! It was time to turn my day dream into a reality. I announced to everyone that I was going to move to Italy and teach English…
This announcement came as a shock to my family and friends– I definitely wasn’t known to be a big risk taker. I was also a notorious homebody who was relatively reserved when it came to meeting new people.
But what can I say? Sometimes you’re just ready to step out of your comfort zone. I was listening to that little guiding voice in my head that was telling me- it’s time to do something different.
The moment you make a big decision like this, and even say it out loud the first couple of times, your whole body starts to tingle. You hear the words coming out of your mouth but in the back of your mind you’re thinking: are you really going to do this?
There are a ton of questions to answer, logistics to plot, budgets and finances to take care of. If you’re curious how to get started, check out my post on how to prep and plan for teaching abroad.
But once you get through all of the logistics, it’s time to start your journey!
Living in another country will open your eyes and your heart. There will be times when you experience freedom and magic, and also times when you will feel frustrated and lonely. In many ways, it’s like an emotional rollercoaster.
Below, I will share my personal story abroad and fill you in on what it’s really like to live in another country.
But, I want to start by saying this:
It’s important to remember that living abroad is much different than traveling. You have bills to pay, and errands to run and you’ve gotta try and find a new normal!
CHAPTER 1: THE ARRIVAL
The moment my plane landed in Italy, is the moment when that initial feeling of panic started to kick in. As I stumbled out of my plane in a jet-lagged trance, it suddenly hit me, it was go time.
And oh yeah, I needed to figure out how to get to my apartment now.
I was on a tight schedule to meet a representative from my school at my apartment so she could let me in and show me around.
I remember desperately trying to turn my phone back on so I could get directions. But my phone was showing me a big blank screen, nothing was loading! It ended up taking hours for my phone to start working properly.
Admittedly, I am completely dependent on my phone to guide me anywhere. But in this case, I had to wing it.
Before this trip, I could count the number of times I’d used public transportation on one hand, so I was completely out of my element here.
Luckily, my apartment was in a popular, well-known part of Florence, and I was able to find a couple nice people who spoke broken English, and could point me in the right direction to the bus stop.
By some miracle, I actually got on the right bus! I know I got off a couple stops too early because I ended up having to hail a cab to take me to my place– but all in all, I still count this as a success.
And the woman from my school was even waiting outside my place for me when I pulled up. (phew)
I walked up what seemed like a million flight of stairs, in a teeny-tiny European stairwell, to finally reach my doorstep. The whole time trying to pretend like I wasn’t going to die, or like my lungs weren’t about to burst into flames.
Somehow, I made it up the stairs with all of my luggage in tow, without going into cardiac arrest! I could finally get settled in, and I was sure I was one step closer to becoming a local.
But honestly, the next couple days were nothing special. I was waiting for my class to start and I didn’t have any plans, or any friends for that matter.
I would try to go on walks to get more acquainted with my neighborhood, but would end up getting so completely turned around and lost, it took most of the fun out of it.
Anyone else out there directionally challenged?
The running joke is that my internal compass is perpetually broken. If there’s a 50/50 chance to go the right way, 90% of the time I will choose the wrong way.
But once I actually found a grocery store I could remember how to get to, there was yet another obstacle to overcome…
Did you know that in some countries, you need to mark the item # on every fruit or veggie you purchase? And did you also know that you’re expected to bag your own groceries at check out?
Well, I sure didn’t.
So after being that person holding up the line (on multiple occasions), I had to trek across town with my bags in hand, and climb that mountain of stairs to finally unload my groceries.
The first couple days were rocky. Previously simple tasks like going to the market became a daily struggle in Italy… but whew, it sure kicked my butt into shape!
CHAPTER 2: WORKING ABROAD
Once my class started, I became seriously busy. I’ve actually never had to work that hard for a class, ever.
All of my friends back home were asking for cool stories and pictures to share. They expected me to be out sightseeing all day. But in reality, I had nothing exciting to report back!
The truth was, I was on a tight budget and creating lesson plans to teach new students every day. For the first time ever, I had to figure out how to hold a class’s attention for 45 minutes and hopefully teach them a thing or two; I couldn’t just wing it.
Honestly, I was stressed.
So much for drinking and dancing the night away.
Looking back now, I kind of want to kick myself for working so hard at the whole teaching thing. Teaching was only supposed to be a way for me to have an opportunity to live in Italy. But I got so wrapped up in assignments and deadlines that I couldn’t focus on anything else!
What can I say, I’m a rule follower…..
My social circle became the 5 other American students in the program with me. They were from all parts of the U.S. and came from completely different backgrounds which was really interesting. I loved having them as my support system.
They were pretty much my only social interaction at first. We would occasionally go out to dinner together, or host study parties at our apartments, picking out local cheese and wine for the group to enjoy.
Oh how I miss a diet made up completely of bread and cheese….
But there was one thing that started to drive me crazy during this time.
I started to notice that I seemed to be the only person in all of Italy who was stressed out! Gahhh, do you know how annoying it is to feel like you’re the only person who’s got somewhere to be?
People were strolling down the streets at their leisure, shops and restaurants would sporadically close throughout the work day, and don’t even think about sitting down and having a quick meal anywhere.
I know people like romanticize this, myself included, but when you have a job to do and things to get done, it becomes a lot less appealing if it’s not what you’re used to! You better get all your errands done before 1pm, because after that, all bets are off!
Don’t get me wrong, I love Italians, and I love their culture, but man, everything just moves at a slower pace.
I wish I could have sat back and enjoyed this slow-paced life with the others… but nope, I decided to be a teacher. I had places to go and people to see.
CHAPTER 3: THE LITTLE THINGS
Pretty soon, I got into a routine that made me feel more comfortable. I would wake up, make myself a cup of coffee on the stove (no Keurigs here), walk to class, come home, maybe go on a light jog by the river, do some homework, and go to bed.
The weekends were left for getting chores done like line-drying my clothes or going grocery shopping (how fun, I know). I got over the fact that the entire neighborhood knew what kind of underwear I wore very quickly.
My life was not glamorous, but I was happy to finally have my little routine.
I looked forward to the stability. And I loved visiting my favorite neighborhood shops for my daily dose of gelato or pistachio-filled pastries.
Side note- the pistachios in Italy are like nothing you’ve ever tasted, I couldn’t get enough!
I started to feel like I was getting the hang of this.
But even once you get the hang of things, you will probably notice all the little things about home that you used to take for granted.
It sounds silly, but you start to miss some seemingly insignificant things that you never paid attention to before.
I made an actual list on my phone of things I was grateful for at home, and also a list of things I was grateful for in Italy.
THINGS I’M GRATEFUL FOR AT HOME:
- Working Wi-Fi
- Coffee served in a large cup
- Large Showers
- Central Heating
- Ordering Food To Go
- “No Judgment Meals” (I’m not entirely sure what I meant by this, but clearly it was important enough to write down)
- My Car
- The Gym
THINGS I’M GRATEFUL FOR IN ITALY:
- People are Helpful
- Cheap Wine
- Beautiful Architecture and Landscapes
- High Quality of Food at Stores
- Don’t Have to Tip
- Bueno Bars (best candy bars on earth)
- Aperitif plates (aka heavenly meat and cheese boards…. yum)
CHAPTER 4: THE FOOD
It might be considered a crime to go to Italy and not talk about the food. Although I didn’t attend Le Cordon Bleu and I’m no Sommelier, let’s get one thing straight– I still LOVE me some food.
And Italian food?! My favorite!
There is something to be said about high-quality ingredients here.
The funny thing about Italians, is that for the most part, they don’t put too much effort into their presentation!
Instead, they let the delicious food speak for itself. And a lot of popular dishes will use the same ingredients over and over.
This undeniable quality stood out to me the most when I would cook for myself.
I would walk into a very basic looking grocery store, in whatever town I was staying in, and pick out what I wanted to eat for the next couple of days. Maybe some pesto and bread, spaghetti and sauce, cheese, prosciutto and wine. There wasn’t a wide variety of vegetables to choose from, definitely eggplant and then a couple of other Italian staples.
The pasta sauce almost looks like tomato paste, pure and red. It looks nothing like the pasta sauce aisle we have here in the U.S., where there’s every kind of addition and variation available.
But when I would go home and put together a quick meal… oh my god! You wouldn’t believe how good it would taste! I would make Kindergarten-level spaghetti and marinara, just those two ingredients, and it would create a mouth-watering bowl of pasta.
That basic looking pesto sauce that I randomly selected? Packed full of amazing flavor and freshness that I was not expecting. Every ingredient I picked up at the store was incredible.
This made it very clear to me that whatever we are doing in the U.S (mass production, processed foods, GMOs etc) is NOT working. We need to take notes from our Italian friends and do it their way.
All the flavor and goodness has been taken out of our foods!
I also think it’s very important to note that while I was in Italy– eating a carb, cheese and wine-based diet– I was actually thinner than I am now! This would not happen if I ate like this back home! (trust me, I’ve tried it).
What are they putting in the food (or rather, what are they NOT putting in the food) that allowed me to eat what I wanted all the time, and feel light as a feather?
No, I’m SERIOUS, what is it?! I will start a campaign to get this over here ASAP.
Below I’ll share slideshow of my “Italian diet secrets” that led to my weight loss success. By that, I mean I will share images of all the pizza, pasta and chocolate I consumed day in and day out.
Had I known that I would have been sharing these photos, I would have worked a little on my photo skills. But, I hope you can imagine how delicious these must have tasted, regardless of the mediocrity of the images.
I’ll try better next time!
Also know that even waiting 5 seconds to take a picture of my food before I dive in is torture for me!
CHAPTER 5: GOING HOME
As much as I love to think about leading a double life as an international woman of mystery, it was eventually time to come home.
Truthfully, I found that the people who permanently moved to another country by themselves, were leaving a life they didn’t want behind. They were really unhappy at home, and looking for something better.
Living in another country helps you put your life into perspective. It made me realize how much I actually loved my life and my friends, and I needed to go back.
I am forever grateful for this experience for so many reasons. Not the least of which, is that it assured me that I was in the right place at home, and I should be grateful for what I have.
I know this sounds cliche, but Italy will always hold a special place in my heart. It’s almost like we have a secret bond together, that you can only experience with another place when you’re traveling alone.
Well, I guess it’s not that secret, since I just shared most of it with you.
But this experience changed who I was, and it gave me a positive outlook on my future. I needed to know I was on the right path, and Italy gave that to me.
It wasn’t easy all the time, but nothing worthwhile ever is.
Ciao for now Italia, I’ll be back again…