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Jul 12

Written by: Jennifer Kumar, Cultural Adjustment Coach
Monday, July 12, 2010

An American in Italy

I have known “Barbara” a few years in person and now virtually after she left U.S. and has been living in Italy the past year or so. It has been interesting to experience Italy through her eyes, and here through her writings. Thanks for taking time to share about your life with us, Barbara.

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What is your native country or culture?

Which language(s) is (are) your native language(s)?

Where do you live now?
Tuscany, Italy

Where are all the places you have lived?
NYS, NYC, Miami, Tuscany


Living or Staying Away from Home

How did you experience the culture of the different places you lived?
Barbara shares
Food, meeting locals, many experiences through my young family

Have you experienced any place to be more open to outsiders than others? What are these places, and what aspects of them make them more open to outsiders?
Barbara shares

I live in a medieval walled city. There's a reason it's walled. I will always be a foreigner here, but lately, I've taken to calling myself International, which feels great!

Did you have to learn new languages when you moved to different places? Do you have some unique trivia about a language that you found out only after speaking it with locals?
Barbara shares

There are FB groups that talk about the dialects nearby, and even one that addresses a specific vocabulary from my new hometown!

I had studied Italian for 2 years in graduate school before moving here. I found the Tuscan dialect to be very different from what I learned in class!


Learning about Other Cultures

What are some cultures or countries that fascinate you?
Indian, Japanese, Chinese, Malaysian,

What are some really interesting things you have learned about other cultures that you would like to share?
Barbara shares

Culture can make the fundamental differences between us seem very great, or seem almost non-existent.

What have you learned about your culture from an outsider that was interesting or curious to you?
Barbara shares

My husband told me the other day that I was so patriotic. I burst out laughing because I think I'm the LAST person with a clearly American identity. He says he sees patriotism as a fundamental American trait. Italy is just 150 years old as a nation, and the cultural pride comes more from one's city rather than the whole country. You don't see homes or cars bearing the Italian flag (except when the World Cup is involved!). Perhaps he got this idea because I keep making references how easy and smooth life can be in the states, whereas things take a lot longer to get accomplished here. I struggle with that on a daily (hourly!) basis. Comparing how businesses and life is run here vs. in the US. I try hard to remember I chose to be here and I live here now and want to acclimate to the way things get done here.


Remaining Connected to your Native Culture

Is there a cultural group in your home-away-from-home that you attend? What is it called? How do you participate in this group? What are the main events or celebrations of this group?
Barbara shares

Yes! I belong to a few. Tiddlywinks Bilingual Playgroup, Cittadini del Mondo a Lucca (Citizens of the world in Lucca), Lucca Expats, International Families of Tuscany, 

Cittadini del Mondo

Lucca Expat's meetup group

Firenze moms 4 moms (on FB too)

In general Meetup and Yahoo groups are good ways to meet new people when moving. 

Do you think it is easier to remain connected to your native culture in some places than others? Why is that?
Internet! FB! Skype!

What are some of the most interesting questions people have asked you about your country or culture you have never thought of before?
Barbara shares

Here, people pick out I'm a foreigner, but they're not sure where I'm from, which I take to be a compliment!

One afternoon my son was playing in the piazza with a girl he met there. After they had played and chatted about a half an hour, I heard her ask him "What city were you born in?" which I thought was such a perfect, gentle innocent way of saying, I recognize you're not from here, but I can't pinpoint your accent. (He speaks like a local without an accent.)

What qualities do you think your country or culture could benefit from another culture?

Barbara shares

Here in Italy, people really enjoy life. Everyone, regardless of means, seems to take a lengthy vacation in the summer. Meals are a many houred affair.  People walk everywhere, and consequently, though Italians can sure enjoy a big meal, obesity is just not something you see here like you do in the US. I will say that I see more overweight kids and wonder if the prepackaged snacks and car rides to and from school will bring about a shift in obesity levels.

What are some qualities of your culture or country that you feel other countries or cultures could benefit from?
Barbara shares

Technology, organization, systems management... everything youìve heard about how slow things move in Italy is true, and then some!


Lifestyle and Social Adjustment: 

“Culture shock” and “reverse culture shock” are terms used when facing adjustment challenges in moving to new countries or back home. Have you experienced “culture shock” and/or “reverse culture shock”? Please share one or two examples.
Barbara shares

Sticker shock! When I lived here in the 90s, Italy's currency was the Lire, and the USD was very strong. Now, between the strong Euro against the USD and the cost of living in Europe, I find myself amazed at what things cost here!

If you like to try foods from the different places you have lived, what are some dishes that are memorable or that you liked very much? What were some dishes you tried and did not like? Were there any foods you had that you did not expect to find in a particular place?

Barbara shares

I'll just say that it's too bad Italian-American food has led Americans to believe that all Italian food involves pasta and a tomato sauce.

How does moving and adjusting to new cultures and lifestyles affect your personal growth? Your relationships with your family and friends ‘ba
ck home’? How do you think it would be different or similar if you had never left your hometown (native place)?
Barbara shares

Personal growth in a different way, but I’ve found getting acclimated here has taken the energy I usually use to meditate etc... However, the meditation is what helped GET me in a place where I could make this move!

Have you ever experienced knowing people who moved away to live in a different culture or country and come back to visit you? Had you noticed any change in them? What was that experience like for you?
Barbara shares

I have noticed when Americans come here to visit me, they strike me as foreigners. Maybe they're just acting different because they're on vacation in a different country, but I sometimes think "Am I like them?"

In what ways have you integrated into the local culture and daily lifestyles?
Barbara shares

We are involved in a non-profit called “Music Together”.

We also are involved in two local expat magazines called Tuscan Living Magazine and Grapevine: What’s on in and Around Lucca.


Moving Children Abroad

How did you prepare to move your son abroad? What do you think are the unique aspects of preparing a child to move abroad (or move in general) as compared to an adult? Do you think there are some issues that are common to both parents and children?
Barbara shares

It was tough leaving our house in the states and all of our possessions! But he was excited to take on the new adventure. It helped that we saw a child psychologist during this time (for another issue) who was really helpful in making lists of things to look forward to in our new life and things we release and let go of as we move.

I head back to the states for the first time in 11 months soon and am curious to see how I perceive it.  Stay tuned!





Related Posts/Links:

Moving to Italy? You'll Need this book!Looking for an interesting book on tips and advice to moving or relocating to Italy? Living, Studying, and Working in Italy: Everything You Need to Know to Live La Dolce Vita By Monica Larner, Travis Neighbor Ward This book has not left any stone unturned. Want to know what to expect in adjusting to life in Italy before and when you arrive? This is the only book you'll need!! Fantastically written. Of course, I never been to Italy to know the actual accuracy of the information, but I do know what information is helpful in moving to another country, as I had moved from America to India for two years.


My Reflections on "Eat, Pray, Love" the Italy stories by Elizabeth Gilbert:
Parla Come Magni: Speak the way you Eat

The previous interview in this series:  The Authentic Journey of Margarita Gokun Silver: Musings of Multi and Cross-Cultural Life, Sharing and Mentoring from Russia and Beyond

Do you want to be a part of this interview series? Join my Authentic Journeys Facebook Fan Page and be featured! :)


Would you like to participate in the cross-cultural interviews here on Alaivani!? We'd be honored to showcase your life story here.

More information on this post, "Teach Us About Your Culture".


See an archived list of cross-cultural interviews here.


Copyright ©2010 Jennifer Kumar, LMSW Cultural Adjustment Coach/Mentor


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