I met Jonathon Fasano, or”Fatty,” as he introduced himself, in an airport in 2009. We were both on our way to Italy to attend the same art school. I was in the grad program because I’m old and he was barely twenty-one-ish yet we hit it off straight away and remained friends throughout his three month stay in the program. A year later he returned to Florence to live with me for a bit and then returned again a year later for a visit. He’s kind of like an adopted little brother, but I’m not being biased when I say that he’s an amazing, talented artist. He’s brilliant in every medium from sculpture to photography and he’s even an experienced jeweler. I kind of love him (if you can’t tell). And he totally puts up with how weird and mildly embarrassing I am in real life. He currently lives and works on the East coast, USA. These photos are from Florence, Pomerance and Volterra.
So, You Want To Move To Italy?
A decade ago I dreamed of moving to Europe after college. I don’t know why, it just seemed like it would fix everything. I didn’t want to change myself, necessarily, I just wanted to be an even cooler version with my multiple languages, fancy clothes, and ultra-bitchy, bitch-face. I also wanted a posh British husband who looked Italian but spoke like Jude Law. I wanted the wit of a brit, along with the prudishness of one. I was never really interested in latin lovers because I always assumed that latin lovers came with latin diseases. Their diseases sounded prettier than ours but still ate your bits away. No thanks.
It’s not that surprising that everything that I wanted totally didn’t happen how I planned. However, I DID move to Italy and my bitch-face is way bitchier than it used to be, but I still look homeless and speak like a drunk toddler. Oh, and my husband isn’t British, he’s Italian, because life is funny like that. Did everything turn out exactly as planned? No. But I’m pretty damn happy with how things worked out because my husband is awesome. Italy, despite the many irritations (like with anywhere) is a place where everyone should live at least once in their lives. I’m certainly not what I thought I’d magically become but I did become a stronger, better person because of my experience abroad. Not only did I get to do all kinds of soul-searching, growing, and all of that fun stuff, but I also got to stuff my face with amazing food, cheap wine, and spent my days in the Tuscan sun with my cracked-out poodle. The golden sunlight alone makes it worth it. There is no experience quite like being an immigrant, nothing else is nearly as simultaneously traumatic and thrilling and I highly recommend it.
I get dozens of emails every week from people asking me the same question, “How did you do it?” They desperately want to see the world, experience new things and a new culture but they’re not exactly sure how to get it all together. My advice more or less sucks because what I normally write back sounds more like a Nike commercial than genuine advice, “Just Do It.” But attitude is all that it takes. Everything else is just a “to do” list of various levels of difficulty. I tell them to go. JUST GO! They usually have similar, understandable concerns and respond with, “One day…” or they make a bunch of bullshit excuses of why it won’t work for them. But really, that’s all they are giving themselves: Bullshit excuses. There is nothing special about me. I’m not genetically superior. My DNA didn’t allow me to survive abroad where others would perish. Guys, it’s 2014, the other side of the world is a one day trip. That’s nothing when you think about the fact that going to Europe used to take weeks and weeks by boat, with rats, and a navigator with scurvy and mother fuckers STILL DID IT. If you want to move to Italy, if your dream is to move to Florence for one year or two years, or forever, the only thing you need is the guts to make it happen and Google. Google makes everything possible.
A List Of Common Concerns And How You Can Overcome Them:
1. I have kids. Sell them. Just kidding. Kids are portable. It’s totally not going to be EASY but it’s something that hundreds of people do every year. Homeschool them or put them in an Italian or find a school for foreign kids. Lots of people move their kids abroad and their kids are fine. So far none of them have turned into serial killers.
2. I have stuff. Yep, we all have stuff. You don’t need all of your stuff. You need clothes so you don’t get arrested, a computer, and that’s just about it. Most apartments are furnished in Florence until you buy so you don’t need anything.
3. It’s expensive. Sure, moving is expensive and plane tickets are super duper expensive but it’s nothing that some tight budgeting and selling some or your stuff can’t sort out. By “stuff” I mean like your T.V., not your penis or vagina. Prostitution isn’t a recommended way to get yourself to Italy.
4. I have pets. COOL! I do too and we travel with him all the time. Florence is especially dog friendly and there are numerous services that specialize in transporting animals safely. If your dog is small you should get checked out mentally to see if you’re insane like us and need an ESA, if you’re too sane to get an anxiety buddy, you can hire a service to transport Fido so that he’s safe and sound. One of my co-workers transported her GREAT DANE from Germany to Utah. You can do it.
5. I can’t be there legally. Sure you can! There are grants, fellowships, student visas, tourist visas, extended visas, and self employed visas, and marriage visas. All sorts of ways! You can be here for 3 months without any kind of visa at all if you’re from a first world country.
6. I don’t speak Italian. Use Duolingo and Babbel. There, solved, facile!
7. I have a house. Rent it out. Sell it.
8. What about my job? You probably hate your job anyways. Now is your chance to do something crazy and take a leap. You only LIVE ONCE. Change jobs (find something you can do online), ask for a 1 year sabbatical, or ask to work remotely for one year. Remote workers save the company tons of money. Tell your boss why you’ll be more productive and save him/her tons of money by working in your jammies from Italy. Worst case you can find a job in Italy or make your own. I know loads of expats who teach English, walk dogs, clean houses, work at bars or coffee shops, or run theaters and art programs. You can do anything.
9. Doing stuff is scary. Totally, but sometimes you just have to buck up and get it done.
HOW TO MOVE TO FLORENCE (ITALY) IN ONE YEAR
1. Make A Decision. Decide to go and JUST GO. Pick a date a year out, buy a ticket, and do a happy dance.
2. Save $$$. Start saving as much money as possible and preparing for a career shift. You’ll need as much as you can for the move but I’d plan on at least having $4,000 in the bank before you go. Commit to putting as much money aside as possible. Sell stuff you don’t really need. Cash in CD’s or break open your piggy banks.
3. Chang Jobs. Look in to jobs you can do from your home country in Italy. Start looking into website design, content writing, blogging, copywriting, Etsy, and any other “work from home” type positions. Do whatever you can to build that up on the side a few hours weekly for the next year. Worst case you can get a job in Italy but it’s always easier to work from the homeland. If you do want to work in Italy make sure you work on your Italian, and your Italian history. It’s also helpful to get your TEFL certificate. You’ll probably have a “tourist” related job at a hotel, in a pub, as a tour guide, etc. A tour guide is a particularly good choice because they pay well. If you’re confident that you have amazing skills that will land you a job that will result in you being sponsored (a university professor, etc) then go for that. If there’s one thing I’ve learned it’s good to have a backup plan.
4. Language Lessons. Sign up for Babbel or start using Duolingo every single day for at least 10 minutes. Put it on your phone and do it on the subway, or listen to it in the car. 10-15 minutes per day can really make the experience a lot easier and better when you land in Italy.
5. Research Visa Options. There are loads of different kinds of visa options that will allow you to live in Italy legally. You don’t want to get deported because that would just be embarrassing. Luckily for you Italy is not all that strict in terms of staying long term. You get 3 months visa free, but then you’ve got to get on it. There is an extended tourist visa, student visa, or a artist or self employed visa. There are also work visas or marriage visas but obviously you need to marry an Italian or find a company to sponsor you, those options can be more difficult.
6. Get Your Passport. If you don’t already have a passport you might want to get one. Depending on your state it can take anywhere from 2 weeks to 8 weeks. However, putting this off to the last minute is a bad idea. You’ll have so much to do before you leave that this is something you’ll want to get out of the way as soon as possible.
7. Apply To Schools. If you’ve decided to get a student visa to attend some sort of school in Florence you should start researching schools in Florence now. There are a lot of schools that vary from cheap to insanely expensive. The more Italian you speak the more options you’ll have for a cheaper school. Obviously, many of the schools in Florence are art schools but you can find a program for pretty much everything. You’ll want to start applying for schools about 9 months before you want to leave.
8. Make Friends In Italy. Join a few expat groups on FB and get to know some of the locals. Expat blogs are also a great way to develop an understanding of what being an expat in Italy is like so you can prepare yourself for some of the bumps ahead. Living in Italy is awesome but it’s obviously not always wonderful being an immigrant. You will be an immigrant. 🙂
9. Break Your Lease And Arrange For Pets. Start making arrangements to break your lease, to bring your pets, or to leave them with a family member you trust. I emphasize trust because every time soldiers leave for war, of the thousands of dogs left with friends and family, a huge percentage end up euthanized at the pound or adopted out to strangers and weirdos (many dogs adopted out on Craigslist are abused and murdered). Remember, nobody will love your dog or cat as much as you do and bringing them is not that difficult. Seriously, Italians love dogs. You can bring them EVERYWHERE (we do!). They’ll be very happy in Italy (more happy than with your creepy uncle John, for sure).
10. Apply For Visas. Once you’ve applied to schools or decided which type of visa you want you want to start getting stuff together and applying. Visa applications can take up to 2 months so you’ll definitely want to do that early enough to give yourself some wiggle room.
11. Find An Apartment. Prices for apartments can range from $300 bucks for a rented room to $1,200 for a 3 bedroom apartment. It depends on what area you’re in with the city center being the most expensive and the Noveli area being one of the cheaper areas. My husband and I live in the Campo Di Marte area and it runs us around 800 euros for a one bedroom but it’s a really nice area and we love it. Some of the best places to find an apartment is on the European Institutes “flatmate wanted” wall, or through a website like Housing In Florence or Studentsville, or longterm rentals at Airbnb.
12. Kiss Your Family Goodbye And Prepare To Be An Expat In Italy!
If you have any other helpful resources or if I missed something let me know! Feel free to leave a comment below with your advice.
I’ve been compulsive since I was eight years old. That was the first time I had a panic attack and the first year I started doing weird things like counting the white lines painted on the streets and avoiding cracks so that my mom didn’t have to spend her life in a wheelchair (take that, Joan of Arc). That’s pretty much how I ended up in Italy.
At twenty-seven years old I had two bachelors degrees, lived in Utah, and spent pretty much all of my time either drinking myself stupid or slumped over my computer at a coffee shop called Nostalgia located in the city center where I’d write short stories about my life and then absolutely fucking nothing with them. I wanted to “be a writer” but I really had no idea how to do it. I thought at the time that I could write and some kind of elf would sift through my computer one day and send some snippets to a publisher who would fall in love with me and make my life totally awesome. That never happened. And that’s why I don’t believe in elves anymore. I didn’t want to give up my dreams of being a narcissist for a living, I didn’t want to live in Utah anymore, and I knew that something needed to change when your mom calls you at one a.m. and you scream into the phone, “I can’t talk right now because there is a stripper on my lap taking money out of my hand with her butt. I’m with my friends. I’ll tell them hello when they gets back but right now they’re doing blow in the bathroom.” And then my mom was all, “Don’t do too much cocaine. It’s not good for you.” The next day I woke and headed to my mom’s house to figure out what in the hell I wanted to do with myself because I was a hot mess and that was not exactly how I saw my life playing out. I knew what kind of person I wanted to be but I was clearly making some weird decisions in getting there.
I sat down one evening on the doody colored carpeted floor of the guest bedroom at my mom’s and wrote a list in one of my many journals.
Who I’d Like To Be In Five Years:
- Learn Another Language
- Stop Burning Food (Learn how to cook)
- Live Abroad
- Study Art
- Write Every Day
This magical list, if completed, would make me a fucking awesome person. I’d always fantasized about being one of
those successful old ladies, the incredibly cultured ones who, instead of having a giant head of pink backcurls, had a silver mane kept loosely, yet stylishly in a french twist, who drank wine while assembling cheese plates. The kind of seventy-something that sketches of nude models would pepper the hallways while I chatted about “this one time in Ireland” with my grandkids. Most importantly though, I wanted to write, and I believed that living an interesting life would make me an interesting writer. The only way to accomplish all of these things at once was to study abroad. At art school. Because it totally made sense for me to do graduate school in art so that I could become a better writer. Who needs grammar when you can paint?
One week later I found a graduate program in Florence, Italy with financial assistance which I needed because I didn’t have enough money to live in Europe and pay for an education because I’m not rich. There. Now you know. I’m sure you’re surprised because of all of the class I emanate. I applied and was accepted (along with everyone else who had ever applied) and planned for the big move that Fall in September of 2008. By planning I mean I filled out the proper paperwork and informed my family that I would be fleeing the country. My friends didn’t really take it seriously because, “Hey guys I’m moving to Italy!” while wasted and drooling wasn’t that convincing.
The next six months were a blur because I had to do five billion things. I had to apply for my student visa, make plans to move out of my apartment or have someone else sublet my room, purchase plane tickets and apply for scholarships and enormous loans that show how totally irresponsible I am. I filled out student housing forms, picked classes and decided that my emphasis would be in “painting” for absolutely no fucking reason. I took one painting class in college and earned a “C” because I sucked at it. Now I was heading off to a foreign country to study painting full time in a graduate program because I was obviously overly-confident of my learning curve.
A few months into my planning process I found out that my younger brother had been crushing up pills and shooting them into his arm. I decided to put off Italy to support him in getting clean and help him get into cooking school which was his dream. He did get clean. He started cooking school the last week of August and was loving it. Unfortunately, a doctor had given him valium for his panic attacks and failed to inform him that he couldn’t drink beer while taking them. In the end of September 2008 my little brother went to sleep and never woke up. The tragedy was more than my family and I could handle and we spent the next year completely devastated in ways that I could never explain in one paragraph. It was the worst thing to ever happen to us and it completely changed my life. My mother, youngest brother, and I spent the next year trying to cope in our own ways. I partied even more. Drank even more. In late summer of 2009 I realized that diving into hysteria and a bottle of vodka was not going to bring my brother back. I had to pick myself up off of the dance floor of my favorite gay club and move forward.
I decided once again to leave for Italy. I needed the change and growth more than ever. It was the only way I would ever be complete. The only way I would ever be perfect. I finished the entire paper process again and received my student loans and visa the second week of August. I bought a plane ticket, packed my things, and on September 1st of 2009 said goodbye to friends and family. I wasn’t nervous or afraid of the unknown. The prospect of everything I could become was far too exciting for nerves. I assumed that Italy was going to be a sort of “Eat, Pray, Love” experience. Little did I know that living abroad really isn’t unicorns and rainbows all the time. It’s more like UTI’s and rabies and a mother-in-law who brandishes sauce pans at you.
My favorite parts of Italy are the parts that nobody goes to see. I love the old farm country, the tiny cities where there isn’t anything substantial in terms of tourist sites. My husband’s parents grew up in Campania and so we spend a lot of time there cruising around in the country. My husband took this photo in Cellole, Campania, Italy. It has gorgeous landscape and I’ve never seen a tourist there (I’m sure they exist, but they are so few they are undetectable).
Okay guys, I’ve never been in a contest before and I’ve never won anything in my life, unless you consider stabbed with a spork winning. I really want to be voted for the best blog post. The post that I was nominated for is 21 Ways To Survive Being An Expat and I did actually spend a lot of time on it AND I wrote it (mostly) sober. By supporting this post you’re pretty much supporting my sobriety too? Sort of.
So, please, if you have a minute, go here and vote for me really quick. Every time you vote for me a kitten is saved from being eaten by an alligator. Pass it on to your friends! Let’s save all the kittens AND prevent alcoholism! Everyone mostly wins!
One of the biggest mistakes that I made when I moved to Italy was not studying Italian before I arrived. I assumed that I could take classes once I lived in Italy or just figure it out by listening, since, I decided without any grounds at all that I was some kind of language genius. Surprisingly, it didn’t work. I did take one three month class at SACI Florence where I studied but it was only enough to lay the foundation and not nearly enough to say more than the present tense. For the first long while I sounded like a monkey making strange noises and pointing ferociously towards objects that I wanted or needed. That wasn’t necessarily the worst part though, the worst part was that not knowing the language made me feel incredibly vulnerable. While walking down the street at home if someone cat-called I could turn around and scream, “shove it up your ass freakshow!” but here all I could do was put my head down and speed up. I didn’t have the knowledge or the muscle memory in my tongue for verbal conflict. Super tough for me guys, because usually my tongue is bitchy.
At one point I started using my friend’s Rosetta Stone software which helped a lot, especially with speaking. However, that friend moved away and Rosetta Stone is fucking expensive and I didn’t think that my family would approve of me engaging in prostitution so I could afford language software. They are so close-minded.
Luckily for me at some point I stumbled across Babbel, a language website that is a lot like Rosetta Stone, except it’s really cheap and can be used on tablets, cell phones and pretty much any device with an internet connection. You can also make friends with other Babbel users so you can chat with them and practice. Most of them are not perverts. Some of them totally are, in five different languages. There are like five billion languages to choose from so whenever I am feeling bold I can switch from learning Italian to learning French or learning Spanish or Turkish (because obviously Turkish is super useful). I’m kind of obsessed with it.
The best part about finding this website was that I finally improved my Italian. Yes, I have a husband who is Italian but it’s just not the same. Seriously. Every time he corrected me I would start crying and get all snotty and be like, “I’m stupid and I sound three and obviously you’re going to fall out of love with me which is FINE because you totally suck at English too and you belong with your own kind!” Although he didn’t suck at English because he’s one of those smug assholes who can speak like five languages fluently. Sometimes I hate him.
- Pointing the finger at me: My 5 biggest mistakes as an immigrant expat in Italy. (marriedtoitaly.com)
- Why Everyone Should Live In Italy At Least Once In Their Lives (survivinginitaly.com)
- Important Information On Moving To Italy: Shit That You Need To Know Before You Date, Drink, Or Move Here. (survivinginitaly.com)
- More than half of Italian men live with their mums (thelocal.it)
- Why Study Italian? (notjustanotherdolcevita.wordpress.com)