Interview with Shelley in Rome
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Name: Shelley in Rome
Date of Interview: January 23, 2007
Area of Italy you live or will live in?
Let us know a little about yourself?
I'm about to get married (in March 2007) to my wonderful Roman fiancee', who I met the first day I arrived in Rome over 5 years ago! He was my Italian pen pal's cousin. You just never know what unexpected surprises will come your way when you land here.
Why did you decide/have you decided to move to Italy?
I had a passion for the Italian language, which I had studied after work for two years after I graduated from college. Unhappy with my cubicle/rat race job, and with no real ties (no mortgage, car payment, children, etc.) to prevent me from taking a spontaneous adventure, I decided to quit my job and take a month to study Italian in Italy. The rest, as they say, is history!
What type of process did you go through to be able to move here?
Oooh, bureaucracy.... well, like many other American expats I came over as a tourist and even worked teaching English as a Second Language for more than a year with only a tax code (codice fiscale), a very "gray" area of the labor law. They'll give you the code without a work permit, and many English schools will let you work with just that, and even though technically it's not fully legal, blind eyes are frequently turned. In September of 2002 in a very rare move, the government offered a worker amnesty for a period of three months, which I took advantage of. The "big sanatoria of 2002" is by now legendary because it was a huge bureaucratic mess, but just under a year after I sent my application, I had my work permit in hand. That allowed me to apply for jobs more suited to my professional background and I ended up working in study abroad for over 3 years before managing my vacation rentals.
What problems did you run into during the initial process and how were you able to fix them ?
Luckily my fiancee' is a lawyer so he helped me file the "kit" of papers for the amnesty program. I realize my situation is pretty rare because the government almost never offers worker amnesty. I just got lucky. The only problem was really the waiting game. I had to wait about 8 months to get the document.
How long have you been here?
Since December of 2001
What type of adjustment problems have you had?
In the beginning I found it very hard to make stable, lasting friendships. Many expats are transitory and it's hard to meet Italians without someone to introduce you. I felt bad that I didn't have my own set of friends, that all my friends were from my fiancee''s circle. I felt like an adult trapped in a toddler's body, because I didn't have any English-speaking friends and couldn't communicate the way I wanted to. I'm glad I came alone though, because I have really learned the culture and never felt myself isolated or closed into a sheltered, English expat cocoon. I never really experienced culture shock. I found the differences to be amusing rather than problem-inducing, although I have had to learn to be a lot more assertive in order to survive daily life in Rome.
What do you wish someone had told you before you made the leap?
Remember that this is a process, not something that happens overnight. Have patience. Don't get discouraged by setbacks, because in Italy where there's a will, there's almost always a way. Don't expect Italy to conform to your expectations and don't expect people to understand where you're coming from or your opinions. Don't judge your experiences, just observe them and learn from them.
What inside secret could you pass on to others looking to move over?
Inside secret? Well, maybe it's not such a secret, but the truth about living here and finding work in my experience is that you can't really do it online like maybe we are used to when we make a move back home. I think making the move to Italy requires a bit of backwards thinking: first you move, then you set up your life, of course, within the confines of the bureaucratic requirements. Save enough money so you can live for about 6 months without a job, to see how you like it, that way you have some breathing room to evaluate as well as set up your life if you end up liking it here, and you also have an "out" if you don't like it and you aren't stuck in a commitment you want to go back on.
Do you have any disappointments, things you thought would happen but haven't for whatever reasons ?
None. I think this is because I had little to no real expectations when I came here. I really viewed it like an adventure and took whatever came, working through it all day by day.
What has changed about you since you have been here ?
I have definitely become way calmer and more patient--in the States I was more high-strung and needed everything NOW. Here you have no choice sometimes but to wait, and it's a good lesson for life. I have become a bit more assertive which has been healthy. I have learned to appreciate good food and wine, and learned how important family and friends are for helping you get through the daily struggles--in the States I had a much more "I can do this on my own" mentality, but here in Rome, you have to count on others to help you get through, and it's a great feeling knowing you can rely on other people who care about you to help you.
Do you think that you will stay forever?
People often ask me this. It's been 5 years now and I'm getting married. I think eventually my life will evolve into a 2/3 year in Italy and 1/3 in the States, bringing my children back for summers to get to know their US family. This for me would probably be an ideal set up. I like life here and I feel at home here but I don't want to lose contact with my home culture and I want my children to know their American culture as well.
Can you think of any other questions that should be added to this questionnaire?
What are some resources you think are essential for people planning a move to your particular city? (For Rome I would definitely recommend www.wantedinrome.com.) What do you think is the biggest stereotype or myth you believed before you came, that changed once you lived here? (I thought all Italian men were womanizers, I had been taught this and told this by many women who had dated Italian men, but I wouldn't consider any of my many male Italian friends to be this way, nor obviously my fiancee'!) Do you have an insider secret for dealing with the Italian bureaucracy? (My solution is to keep all my documents in a binder and always bring everything with me to any public office. You never know what random doc they may ask you for, and if it's at home you've wasted the morning or afternoon and will likely have to go back another day.)
Thanks! Wonderful site! I look forward to contributing more to the forum.