Moving To Italy: How I Became An American Expat

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:

  1. Learn Another Language
  2. Stop Burning Food (Learn how to cook)
  3. Live Abroad
  4. Study Art
  5. Write Every Day

This magical list, if completed, would make me a fucking awesome person. I’d always fantasized about being one of

English: Photograph of Ponte Vecchio at night....

English: Photograph of Ponte Vecchio at night. Florence, Italy (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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.

Typical houses by the river of the Arno, Flore...

Typical houses by the river of the Arno, Florence, Italy (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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.

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22 thoughts on “Moving To Italy: How I Became An American Expat

  1. Wow M, thanking for showing your strength and courage to share your raw truths with the world. I hope one day I can do the same and tell my entire story. Our lives have more and more parallels, with each post. I have however, never lost a sibling and pray for continued strength for you and your family. Thank you for opening your heart to us. X

  2. I first found your blog because you’re also an American expat, but your writing style is what keeps me coming back to read your posts. You’ve had a lot of living and a lot of sadness in a short time. Thank you for your honesty in sharing it, but also the humor too.

  3. Wow! I am so sorry about your brother and the grief your family went through. When I went to college, I went crazy (so happy to be out of my parents’ house) and I had ‘way too much fun’, very much like you. I decided after a few years, that I needed a change, so I picked up and moved to another state (just a neighboring state, but I had only been there once.) I had ‘fun’, again, for the next 4 years and decided I needed another change, so I moved again, to another state (never been there before), this time half way across the country. Got married (mistake) and we moved to another state for his job. Then we moved back near the geographical area where I (and he) grew up for his next job. We got a divorce a few years later. I could go on, but it would just be a repeat of the previous sentences. I don’t have as much ‘fun’ as I used to (like never). My ‘fun’ now consists of vodka or wine with nice dinners (and margarita’s with Mexican food, etc.) I am in a rut and want to change my scenery again. I am much older now (don’t look it though!) and have my furry kids, but they’ll come along to wherever my next adventure is. I totally have the same vision of my in my older years – long, thick, gray mane and have stories to tell about the places I have lived! (I am hoping my thin hair that I desperately try to grow long doesn’t get in the way of that vision?) I want the next place to be another country, not the states. Maybe Italy, loved it there. But, I am shocked to hear it is not rainbows and unicorns!

  4. wow.

    you rock.

    and we’re clearly related….”I had to pick myself up off of the dance floor of my favorite gay club and move forward.” HA! #beenThere


    _tg x

  5. I, too, had obsessive tendencies with sidewalk cracks as a child. I had a pretty long walk to/from school and had to step in each paved square only twice (one step per foot), but if a square was cracked, then I had to step in each part twice. Some squares were cracked into dozens of pieces.

    It took me a long time to get home.

    (And: you are an inspiration to me)

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  8. Great post! I am really sorry to hear about the tragedy that your family went through. Although I can’t relate to that in particular, I think I became an expat for something along the same lines you did. I was looking for inspiration and strength in myself, and thought that moving somewhere like Florence would not only inspire me but also show me what I am made of. Keep up the great work, I love reading your blog! I voted for your entry into the magazine, best of luck!

  9. I am a little dumbfounded as to how much we have in common. Speechless even. Besides the fact that my graduate degree brought me to Mexico. I also lost my younger brother several years ago and it completely devastated my family too. Wow…is really all I can say right now… Besides great job on moving to Italy and accomplishing your list🙂 kudos.!

  10. Pingback: Keep Calm And Move To Italy: 12 Steps To Move To Italy |

  11. That made me cry! I love your blog especially the ones involving the Italian family, I lived with my boyfriend in the 90s, we met in London and went to live in Florence, where he comes from, I had one of his relatives in everyday showing me how to clean lol,,,Keep it Up!

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  13. my tickets are purchased, my stuff is being sold, my friends think I’m crazy. Now the question is how not to die. I purchased a one way ticket to Rome. Im completing the Tefl program and was under the Impression they help you find a job and help with visas. Just found out that is wrong. You mention many of your friends teach English. What type of visa did they get and when I exit my flight what is the first thing I should do?

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