Moving to Italy: An Interview with M. Elizabeth Evans
Elizabeth Evans: Moving Your Life to Italy and Flourishing
|M. Elizabeth Evans is a very funny, very PG-13, expatriate blogger living in Italy. She moved to Italy after college to work on her masters degree when she met her husband, fell in love, and decided to stay. She now writes for SurvivinginItaly.com, designs apparel at House of Ossimori, and does some modeling. She is working on a book of her memoirs that she plans to publish in the near future. We encourage you to follow Elizabeth’s adventures on her blog and buy her book when it gets finished!|
After reading Elizabeth’s blog and learning about her international travel to Italy, we asked her if she would be willing to share her knowledge of international moving with our readers and she was kind enough to oblige.
Elizabeth, give us a little backstory. Where did you grow up and what were your interests as a young person?
“I grew up in Salt Lake City. Yes, you should feel bad for me because it’s a weird place. No, I’m not Mormon. The Mormon kids weren’t allowed to play with me because my mom drank and swore. I went to college for Literature and Sociology in Utah.”
What was your inspiration to move to Italy?
“I’d had a weird night in a club with friends and decided I needed to leave Salt Lake City to do something different. Plus, I’d always planned on grad school at some point.”
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Why did you choose Italy over any other country in the world?
“I’d been there before. I liked it. And Google. I was twenty-eight and working as a freelance copywriter. Then I decided to do grad school in Italy. It’s a long, short story. I’m writing a book about it.”
Did you already speak Italian when you moved to Italy?
“No. I should have learned it first. It’s not the most difficult language in the world but it has a huge vocabulary and unless you want to sound like a drunk toddler for years, it’s best to learn it first. At least as much as possible. I didn’t learn it first and it made things super difficult for a long time.”
What advice would you give others to help them fit into their new environment in Italy?
“The most important thing is learning the language BEFORE you go to Italy. Watch movies in Italian, use Rosetta Stone, download DuoLingo on your phone. Practice every day.”
When you told your friends and family about your impending departure, what type of reaction did you get?
“My dad was pissed and didn’t talk to me for like 6 months. My mom just shrugged and said, ‘you gotta do what you gotta do.’ My friends weren’t that shocked. I loved to travel and did it often already. And I had other friends who were studying abroad.”
How did you find a place to live and work before you moved to Italy?
“I lived in student housing at first. Then, I moved to an apartment with a friend. We used an agency to find the apartment. I would NOT use an agency. They really only represent luxury apartments that are way too expensive. Finding a place on Kijiji is probably the best way. Or in person once you arrive.”
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What did you take with you to Italy?
“I only took two suitcases with clothes, books, and some bedroom stuff. If I could do it again I would have taken less clothes and brought more ‘home comforts’, like a great bathrobe and pillows.”
Did you have any issues with customs?
“No, because I moved with a student visa. That’s probably the easiest way to move to Italy.”
What were some of the biggest obstacles that you faced?
“Communication was the most difficult. That, and my in-laws. They were impossible. I overcame the issues by learning Italian and avoiding my in-laws unless absolutely necessary.”
How do you keep in touch with friends and family in the United States?
“Skype, Whatsapp, Imessaging, email, and Facebook. Honestly, in our digital world it’s pretty easy to stay in touch. The eight hour time difference can make phone calls and Skype a little difficult since most people work all day.”
What is the housing like in Italy?
“Everyone lives in apartments, they’re smallish, with cement walls and tile floors. Italians hate carpet, they consider it to be dirty and germ infested.”
When you got to Italy, what were some of the first things that you noticed that were different from your life in the United States?
“The personal space. In the US we like as much room between each other as possible. In Italy, people stand close, bump into each other, and they don’t say, ‘excuse me’ when they pass in front of people (like in the grocery store for example).”
Is it easy to travel throughout Europe from Italy?
“Ryanair makes travel within Europe super cheap. I went to Barcelona for 20 euros once, for example. The trick is to book the flights way in advance and to invest in a really small carry-on bag that you learn how to perfectly pack. My favorite places to visit would probably be Budapest, Slovenia, Munich, and Barcelona. Although, I also love driving through Italy and the south of France.”
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How is the Italian culture different from the United States?
“Italy is much more relaxed. Sometimes so much that it’s irritating and you want to punch everyone. Getting business done is insane and takes forever. Everything has to be done in person and it’s like the digital age never happened. Nobody operates online. The positive side of this is that you’re not stressed, it’s a very low anxiety place, and people spend a lot of time drinking and eating and enjoying each other’s company. Also, people are much less pretentious in terms of career in Italy. People rarely ask you what you do for work.”
Is the Italian food scene as great as advertised?
“The food is fresh because Italy is a very small country. Even produce from a different region arrives in just a few hours or a day. There aren’t preservatives, GMOs (many countries in the EU banned them), and there isn’t sugar in everything. Italian cuisine is about simplicity and letting the quality of the ingredients shine without a lot of additives. Italians have a zero tolerance for crap food. If it’s not freshly made or high quality, nobody will buy it.”
Beyond the hype, what are some of the best things about Italy?
“The food is fresh and delicious and the architecture is unbelievable. It’s gorgeous. Truly.”
And what is the most overrated aspect of life in Italy?
“The men. They’re passionate, and attractive, for sure. But a lot of them are giant man-babies whose moms still do their laundry for them even in their forties or fifties.”
What is your, hands down, best memory since making the move overseas?
“Hmm, too many to count. Once in the south of France I talked my way onto a river cruise ship with my husband and drank with the captain and crew. Walking down the Arno with one of my friends from school, drinking a bottle of wine and accidentally wandering into someone’s house (we mistook it for a small gallery).”
What has been the biggest challenge in moving to Italy?
“Culture shock and isolation. Expat depression is a very real thing and probably 50% of the emails I receive are from expats who can’t stop crying and can’t get out of bed. No matter how much you embrace or love another culture, you’re still an outsider. For example, the sense of humor is different in every country. That alone is enough to make you feel really lonely at a dinner party.”
Why did you decide to start your (awesome) blog, SurvivinginItaly.com?
“I was struggling with expat depression and I felt really alone. I wanted to document the journey and connect with other people.”
Would you ever consider moving back to the United States?
“Yes. The economy is much different in the US. Companies pay a great deal more in the US for the same work. The cost of living is pretty high in Italy, yet, engineers make about 30,000 euros per year. That’s why many Italians live with their parents into their forties or live in apartments with 3-4 other roommates.”
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Reflecting on this entire experience, how has being an expat in Italy impacted your life?
“Well, that’s something that I can’t answer in a short question. It completely changed my life and in a way completely changed who I am. Or at least has changed a large part of me. When you live abroad you have to really change a lot about yourself to cope and fit in. You have to learn to be really vulnerable and laugh at yourself. Those were not things I was good at before. I really took myself seriously and in retrospect that’s common for American culture. It’s also kind of sad. In Italy I learned to really stop taking myself seriously because otherwise I’d have lost my mind.”
What overarching advice would you offer to anyone considering making a move to Italy?
“Don’t do it for a boyfriend or a girlfriend. You’ll regret it. If you’re going to move, do it for school, or yourself, do it because you want to grow as a person or learn about the world. Don’t do it to find a mate or to run away from your problems at home. Those problems will just find you in Italy, when you’re alone, without a support system, and you’ll go nuts (I see it all the time). Also, learn the language first, and read everything possible about Italy. Read about the government, the politics, the food, history, all of it. Otherwise, you’ll never understand the culture.”
Editor’s Note: I would like to personally thank Elizabeth for taking the time to sit with us and share her experience. I hope her journey helps some of our readers out there. Follow Elizabeth’s adventures on her blog, SurvivinginItaly.com.
Do you have any questions about Elizabeth’s story or moving to Italy? Ask them in the comments section below!
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