It only takes six weeks and one foreign language for the average expat to figure out that life overseas is not for the faint of heart. I’m sure my grandparents felt the same way at a very young age, when they left Italy for America.
Our comfortable support system of friends and family becomes voices on the phone or words in an email. Creating a new, local support system takes a lot of time and emotional energy. There is a certain loss of independence, due to language barriers, making everything from understanding appliances, shopping for necessities, navigating your unknown neighborhood, to ordering a pizza over the phone very frustrating. Building a social network alone, without the benefit of a spouse or family, and not having a sense of community or roots … being abroad can be a very lonely endeavor.
I became an Initiator!! I wanted to pick up the phone and say, “Hey! What are you doing today?” realizing, first I had to know the language! I began to frequent the same places daily, adding “come stai” to my “buongiorno “ and forced myself to accept the invitation to a neighborhood caffe’, as awkward as it may have felt. It’s necessary to take an active role in something you enjoy and invite someone to come along. Go on a daytrip, when you’d rather stay home and scream into your pillow “What have I done !” (that was me a few months ago). When people at home heard of my move, the usual response was “you’re so lucky”. HA!! Luck has nothing to do with it. We all know living our dream is hard work….from Consulates to Questuras to the Ufficio Postale and more.
I’m happy to say, life now is quite different from a few months ago. Today I found it necessary to make an appointment calendar for all the events I’ve been asked to attend with so many new friends. I’m juggling days, nights, and weekends as not to offend any invites. My shyness to speak the language incorrectly, has improved immensely with the help of locals who are happy to help. I actually enjoy every encounter and any challenge to learn. By getting to know the local people first hand, not only through books or cross-cultural training, and making friends from the culture I’m immersed in, I’m better able to understand what they do and why they do it. It gives me a view of their world that only they can give. It’s invaluable! Enjoy every moment of your journey…sail away from the safe harbor.
by Barbara Felice