Pursuing a Dream of Italy

(The earlier part of this story is here.)

Actually, we didn’t spend the weekend together as a family. Ross stayed in Lecco because she had parties to attend. Enrico and I left Friday morning for Tuscany, to join a large gathering of people from the Expats in Italy online forum, a few of whom we had met last November at a local GTG (get-together) on Lake Como. We stayed with Rita and Lino, who’ve been friends since I did Rita’s website (tartarugatours.com) a couple of years ago. They’re now getting ready to move to the US where their daughters are/will be going to college, and are looking for renters for their home in Chianti.

The GTG was fun; it was interesting to meet in person some folks I only knew from their online writings, and some I didn’t know at all.

Most of the people on the Expats board are “dreaming or living the dream” of living in Italy – in other words, they made an explicit decision to be here because they love the idea of Italy, and/or wanted to get out of the United States (or other home country), and were prepared to just pack up and move, leaving behind the lives they’ve always known.

I stand in awe of these people; I don’t know if I could make a decision like that. Most of my living overseas (and practically everything else about my life) has not occurred by my choice. I grew up in Thailand, Bangladesh, and India (and Pittsburgh) because that’s where my dad’s career took us. When I decided to marry an Italian, I accepted as a consequence that we’d be living in Italy. Not that I was unhappy about it, but it was a decision that followed from my decision to marry Enrico, not a decision to follow a dream of living in Italy. (One might argue that my dream was to have a stable marriage, but that’s a topic for another time.)

When you pursue a dream, you’re willing to make sacrifices. To live in Italy, what foreigners most often sacrifice is their careers. As I wrote some time ago:

“… many Italians don’t have much choice about their work… They may choose their field of study, but even that is often strongly influenced by the family. When seeking a job, most are heavily constrained by the tight job market and their need, both economic and psychological, to stay close to home – job satisfaction is a very secondary consideration.”

Most foreigners in Italy, unless independently wealthy, are similarly constrained. We must adapt to local conditions, sometimes very local – e.g., if we have married someone who comes from and intends to remain in a small town.

It’s a startling change for anyone who valued their career in the US. America is all about choices, or so we like to think. It’s easy to pick up and move wherever opportunity beckons, and many Americans do indeed “live to work.”

The other half of that truism is that “Italians work to live,” and so do foreigners living in Italy – just like Italians, we rarely have much choice. We have the advantage of “mother tongue” command of English, and (often) a predisposition to freelance work. This means that many English-speaking expats in Italy end up teaching English and/or translating, or in some other job that relies heavily on their English.

I was aware of this before I moved to Italy, but I vowed to myself that I would not “fall back on” teaching English. The opportunity to contribute something unique to the world is very important to me – teaching English just isn’t dazzling enough! I was lucky, early on, to fall in with Fabrizio Caffarelli, a high-tech entrepreneur (a rare breed in Italy), who gave me opportunities to develop my career in new directions. It’s true that I took those opportunities and ran with them: my life’s successes have mostly been about coping extremely well with the circumstances in which other people place me – almost never about choosing to put myself in the right place at the right time.

So my hat’s off to the foreigners who actually decided to move to Italy. It was a braver decision than perhaps you realize.

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