Interview with mschoen in Milan
Date of Interview: Oct. 2, 2006
Area of Italy you live in?
Let us know a little about yourself?
Why did you decide to move to Italy?
Unlike many other people interviewed I was not one of those "Italy lovers" who came over here chasing the "bella vita" dream. I met my now-husband through friends in New York and came over for "a year" (it's now going on 7...) while I waited for him to finish up his degree, and it was more difficult than I had ever imagined. I had lived in Mexico, had traveled a lot and had lived in various small and large cities throughout the U.S. so I naively didn't expect to have major adjustment problems. I think what I hadn't counted on was the fact that I was very happy with my life in New York so coming here was not initially this fantastic adventure I had imagined but more a life upheaval. People who come for themselves and not following the Italian boyfriend/girlfriend tend to have a much easier time.
What type of process did you go through to be able to move here?
First I had a student visa. Then I went back and forth a couple of times just to keep the passport active (and my "tourist" status). I was finally legalized during the big sanatoria and now I'm married, so I should not have any more problems. But it was pretty nightmarish for the first four years or so. Just when I thought I had all of my cards in order, something would come up and complicate everything. I think my experience is typical of many Americans who just try to "get by" with the various Permessi until they can figure something better out. I was probably in the questura every six months.
How long have you been here?
What type of adjustment problems have you had?
I had major adjustment problems because as I mentioned above, I came to Italy...I wouldn't say "grudgingly" but I came knowing I was leaving a great apartment, great job, great friends, great city, etc. so I made the classic mistake of constantly saying to my husband (then boyfriend) "But in New York..." Everything was "better" at home and I wouldn't let my husband forget for a minute what I had left to be with him. Bad, bad, bad idea. I would say to anyone in the same situation, save yourselves the fighting and just accept that it's neither "better" nor "worse" here - it's just different. And avoid those "But in Italy..." or "But in America..." fights. They don't get you anywhere.
What do you wish someone had told you before you made the leap?
I don't know if anybody could have told me anything that would have made me do anything differently. Maybe I could have had that portion of my brain extracted that makes me question "Why?" (OK, the shops are closed on Monday mornings but why are other places, such as hair salons or libraries, that don't need to "do inventory" closed as well?) or "How can they do that?" (Ride a bicycle in rush-hour traffic with a kid on the front and a kid on the back and no helmets to speak of?) and will not allow me to just "go with the flow" sometimes. Sometimes I think I'm too Type A to live in Italy. I guess it's a good thing I'm in Milan.
What inside secret could you pass on to others looking to move over?
Not to get too corny but I do believe that love can conquer all - at least when it comes to being in a "mixed" relationship. If you truly love someone, you can overcome the cultural difficulties and you get to a point where you forget the other person is any "different" than you are. And you create your own traditions together, which is I think is really cool.
Do you have any disappointments, things you thought would happen but haven't for whatever reasons ?
I thought that with time, persistence, meeting people, etc. a great job in my field would materialize. That has not been the case. The Italian job market is really hard if you have your heart set on doing something specific. If you don't mind teaching English (which I actually like) or working as a bilingual secretary or something, there seems to be work. But if your skills are in a specific field, there's no guarantee you will find that work here.
What has changed about you since you have been here ?
I've completely changed in that I'm no longer American (not that I was ever one of those rah-rah Americans anyway...) but I'm absolutely not Italian. I know a lot of people feel this way.
Do you think that you will stay forever?
I will be forever linked to Italy because I am married to an Italian. But ideally I would like to return to the U.S. because I think I operate better in that system. Perhaps it'd be different if we lived in a smaller town in Italy. Personally I think Milan has all of the negatives of a big city (smog, overcrowding, ridiculous housing prices) and few of the positives. That said, I don't necessarily hate it. But if I have to do the "frenetic city" thing, I think I could do it better in the U.S. and have a good job, access to ethnic food, etc.!