The first time I ever moved in my life, I was 15 years old moving from Rio de Janeiro to York, England. Let me tell you, the culture shock was seismic. Literally nothing was or felt familiar, or even similar. This was in 1991 long before we were all connected and could go on Google Maps to see what a city looked like before visiting, phone calls were very expensive, letters took a week to arrive, hours to write, international travel was the privilege of a few. To cut a long story short, I went 5 years without going back to Brazil, it was just such a long time. Most importantly though, was how radically different my life was from one country to another. In Brazil I enjoyed relative freedom, I had a wonderful group of friends that I had known all my life, I had boyfriends, I loved my life. I had never felt cold, not the kind of cold that we feel when we leave a swimming pool, that one I knew well, I mean the cold you feel in the wind in the middle of January in the Northeast of England, that cold I had never felt, and it didn’t feel good. I remember being very angry, angry that humans had settled on that island at all, I couldn’t understand it, why stay there when somewhere temperate existed? To make matters worse, I was expected to be grateful for this move, for this opportunity, for this new life, I really wasn’t. I was well aware of the fact that this was good, not just for me, for my dad too, we went there for him to do his PhD, this could spell a wonderful and fruitful career for him, a very comfortable retirement in years to come, but to expect a 15 year old to live on these truths? It was a tall order.
In the end I stayed in England until my early 30s, of course I fell in love and got married, and just stayed, but I never liked it, I never adapted, not really. To be honest the minute I felt I was beginning to adapt, settling, and this was now 16 years after my original move, my husband landed a job in Paris. At first I said no way, the post was for 6 months and I had just signed a permanent contract with my job, I was looking at starting a Masters, things were looking optimistic. So he went ahead to do the 6 months, but soon after arriving he realised that this was a much more permanent post than he first thought, we could come (I had my first son who was 5 at this point). So we went.
Paris was the polar opposite experience of England. Of course it helped that I was an adult and felt I had some agency over the matter, but I’m sure it also helped that I fell so hard in love with Paris that now that I don’t live there anymore, I miss it like a relative, or a very good friend. In my first few months there, I would leave my son at school and go to museums, walk the city with no destiny, talk to all the merchants on my street (without speaking a word of French), and just taking in my new reality with a happy and open heart. This time adapting to a new country was a piece of cake, or a piece of gateau ; ). I still miss Paris, I haven’t lived there for almost 7 years, but I listen to French radio, I go as often as I can; I’ve kept all my French friends, I feel a piece of my heart is in that city. But I must admit when the time came to leave, I was ready. My move to Florence was very desired.
Although I was more than ready to leave Paris, moving to Florence was not easy. I remember wishing there was someone like me now to help me then. All the small things I couldn’t understand, so much bureaucracy and complications that made no sense to me. To top it off I was just the spouse, so my husband’s HR department wasn’t at all interested in helping. Where in Paris we had a good HR department, support for me, here in Italy they dragged their feet to explain the health insurance to us. It was up to me to figure it all out by myself. We lived away from the city, we got a big house in the hills, so we had to drive everywhere, even getting food shopping was complicated, not to mention internet for the house. It was a nightmare. I was lucky to have my children at an International school, so I had a ready made community of friends, I guess this is what kept me aloft in those early days. Time passed fast, and I learned quickly. But adapting to a new country this time had taken a toll, I wasn’t enjoying it and I was counting the days to our next move, the one that promised to be to New York, I dreamed of my new home in the suburbs, of Halloween and Thanksgiving, of things that I had only really heard about, but really wanted to experience. All the while around me I had all these Americans loving their new life here. People from these places in New York, in Boston, Texas, and they loved their new life here. I also realised that after 2 years in Italy, I still hadn’t embraced so much that was available to me. I was trying to live my French life in Florence, and this is simply not possible, but it doesn’t mean one is better or worse, they are different and both can be wonderful.
Embrace the change
The minute I decided to be proactive about my life in Italy, to actually learn Italian better, to join a gym and see real life Italians (I’m doing a blog entry just about the gym, brace yourselves), when I took and accepted all the opportunities that were right in front of me, life improved exponentially. Opportunities brought along more opportunities, after a short while, I understood Italy and, was ready to live here and stay as long as was necessary, I felt at home in Florence and in my life. It’s just as well, because my marriage of 21 years broke down and I found myself « stuck » here. This was almost 5 years ago, and after the initial shock and appropriate period or mourning, how fun it was to be a single woman in Italy (yes, there will be a blog entry all about this!).
Now I see it was my responsibility to settle and my attitude made all the difference. Being proactive and brave, not being embarrassed to speak a new language, actively seeking out new friends and experiences, all this makes or breaks your adaptation into a new life. I could have stayed in Italy miserable forever, imagine now being stuck somewhere I disliked, but instead not only have I accepted life here as it is, I’m helping others in their journey also. Adapting to a new country is never easy, but looking back at my own experiences, trying not to judge my teenage self too harshly, I see stark differences in my attitude each time I moved. The move to Florence being closer to my move from Rio to England than England to Paris, I found Italy hard to swallow. Being Brazilian, but having lived in countries where things go pretty smoothly (UK and France), it was hard for me to accept all the difficulties I faced to complete simple tasks in Italy. I wanted Italy to change for me. Now it seems hilarious that I ever felt that way, especially since I make a living helping people navigate the system, giving shortcuts and a listening ear when all you can do is wait. Does this mean I have a ready made recipe of how you can adapt to life in a new country? Does it heck! It means that I can do my job well and help you help yourself. It means I will teach you to be independent and self-sufficient, that I can guide you and make the way smoother. Of course I’m not doing this alone, I have a team behind me, guiding me! Always learning, always curious, always here to help.
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