Canadian Expat Living in Italy - Interview With Sarah

Published: 28 Nov at 9 AM
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Filed: Interviews,Italy
Sarah Mastroianni was born and raised in Oshawa, Canada but has always felt strongly connected to her Italian roots. A trip to Italy when she was 15 sealed the deal and gave il bel paese a permanent place in her heart. Now, with two university degrees in Italian Studies, Sarah has lived, worked and travelled around Italy, and is able to happily call it her second home. Her blog, Not Just Another “Dolce Vita” gives her an outlet to write about Italian culture, language, food, and her (mis)adventures in Italy. (see listing here)

Not Just Another Dolce Vita

Here's the interview with Sarah...

Where are you originally from?
Oshawa, Ontario, Canada. (Near Toronto)

In which country and city did you live as an expat?
I lived in Siena, Italy, right in the heart of Tuscany.

How long did you live there and do you ever plan to return?
I lived there for a total of about 7 months, and I would absolutely love to return again for an extended period of time.

Why did you move and what do you do?
I moved because I had always wanted to live in Italy for an extended period of time, to really immerse myself in the language and culture and to be able to live like a local.

I first found an internship at a local tour operator, then I begged them to hire me back the following year. They did, and I temporarily transplanted myself to Tuscany to work in the booking office of this tour operator. It was quite the experience, let me tell you!

Not Just Another Dolce VitaDid you bring family with you?
I didn't bring any family with me (I'm not married, nor do I have any bambini) but a few relatives and friends did manage to come visit while I was living in Siena. It was so wonderful to show them around what I refer to as “my hometown in Italy”.

How did you find the transition to living in a foreign country?
To be honest, I took to living in Italy like sauce on spaghetti. I won't say it was effortless, but it was a fairly easy transition for me. I still encountered the same hurdles that anyone faces when they relocate to a city where they know practically no one, but other than that, Italy didn't throw me too many curveballs - unless you count the country's infamous, nightmarish bureaucracy.

Was it easy making friends and meeting people; did you mainly socialise with other expats?
I believe it was easier for me in some respects to make friends in Italy because I already did have a fairly decent command of the Italian language when I got there and I fit in pretty well with the culture. Italians are friendly, so conversations are easy to start if you have a language in common.

While I did socialize with a few other expats, I certainly wouldn't say I mainly socialized with them. I was friendly with my colleagues from work and with other locals I met along the way. I will admit that I did find it lonely at times, since I'm used to being in the midst of a large, loving family which also occupies a fair amount of my social time.

Not Just Another Dolce VitaWhat are the best things to do in the area; anything to recommend to future expats?
Tuscany in general is wonderful. My recommendation is to go there to eat, relax and take in the scenery. When I was there I really felt as if I lived in a post card.

I will maintain that Siena is one of the most beautiful cities in the world, and it still retains its small town feel. Go for the Palio (Medieval horse race) on either July 2nd or August 16th, if you can stand the heat and the crowds. If not, go in the fall and visit some wineries, attend one of the many local sagre (festivals) climb the facciata of the Duomo, relax in the Piazza del Campo and browse through the Pinacoteca Nazionale (art gallery). If you’re looking to visit some other hill towns, be sure to go to San Gimignano, Monteriggioni, Pienza and Montalcino.

What did you enjoy most about living there?
I hate to sound cliché, but I really enjoyed the pace of life. Everyone seemed to have time to meet with friends, to enjoy a good meal together, to help one another out – it was a refreshing change from the frenetic pace that life in North America can sometimes take. I also loved eating fresh, local foods all the time, perfecting my language skills and also being able to walk almost everywhere I need to go on a day-to-day basis. (It helped keep me in shape after all that fresh pasta and good wine!)

How does the cost of living compare to home?
Hmm… I want to say that rent prices (I rented a room in a shared apartment) might be comparable, but I think that in general real estate costs more in Tuscany. I didn’t find food prices to be outrageous as many things are locally grown or produced, so you don’t incur the large transportation costs we often fall victim to here across the pond. I did find things like clothing and makeup expensive, but because Siena is a reasonably small city there aren’t many places to shop around at, so your budget is impacted by that.

Not Just Another Dolce VitaWhat negatives, if any, are there to living there?
Like I said, Siena is great because it is a small city, but that can also make it tough to find new things to do. Also, it was sometimes difficult (often impossible) to find non-Italian foods in Siena. This was quite a shock for me, coming from North America, the land of multiculturalism and many cuisines. Don’t get me wrong, I love my pasta and pizza, but by the time I left Italy I was ready for some curry, a hamburger, and peanut butter – not all together though!

If you could pick one piece of advice to anyone moving there, what would it be?
Get out there and meet people. Friends who are locals are an excellent source of support for navigating some of the difficulties of being an expat, and through them you’ll learn all the great places to go and things to do.

What was the hardest aspect to your expat experience?
Loneliness, hands down. While I did have various friends, colleagues and acquaintances in Siena, they couldn’t take the place of the family and friends I had left behind. Like I said, I’m used to always being around people, never having to eat alone, etc., so moving to a city where I had to build new friendships and relationships was tough at times, but certainly worth it.

When you returned home, how did you cope with repatriation?
Part of me had a very hard time coming home. I missed (and still miss) Italy terribly – the lifestyle, the language, the food, and the friends I had made. On the other hand, I was very excited to come home to the family and friends I had missed so much, and to share my experiences with them. I love Canada, and I’m proud to be Canadian, but there’s a part of me that will always want to be in Italy.

Not Just Another Dolce VitaWhat are your top 5 expat tips for anyone following in your footsteps?
  1. Do your research. Know the laws regarding renting houses, buying cars, working, etc. for the place that you’re going. Many things we never have to think about while living in our native countries pop up in new places and make our lives difficult – i.e. not being allowed to buy a car if you’re not a legal resident of said country.

  2. Have some money saved up and don’t be afraid to spend it. In today’s economy nothing is a sure bet, and in life nothing ever goes as planned. The last thing you want to be doing when you set foot in your adopted home is to worry about money on top of everything else. Also, sometimes spending some money on nicer accommodation, etc. makes your life that much easier in a new place. Just be sure you can sustain it.
  3. Put yourself out there. Make friends. Meet people. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Smile. Try new foods, new activities. Immerse yourself in your new home and culture.
  4. Learn the language. It makes your life a million times easier living in a foreign country if you know the local language. Try your best and don’t be shy about making mistakes. People will applaud your effort, and at the end of your time as an expat (if it comes to an end) you’ll have a transferable skill in that language that can also help you at home.
  5. Be resilient. You’ll probably encounter many bumps along the road. Remember why you’ve chosen to do what you’re doing, and what it’s worth to you. Grow a thick skin, become resourceful and you’ll flourish in your life as an expat.

Tell us a bit about your own expat blog.
Not Just Another “Dolce Vita” was born as a distraction from my Master’s Degree. No, I’m serious. I created it while I should have been writing my final essays right before I left for Italy. Good choice? I think so! Over the last year and a half I’ve tried to build a platform where I can share my (often funny or embarrassing) experiences in Italy, and try to maybe cast “la dolce vita” in a different light. I write about culture, language, travel tips, food, trips to other countries, movies, music, books – you name it, it’s there. The blog been a great way for me to connect with other expats and writers, and it’s become a hobby I love.

How can you be contacted for further advice to future expats coming to your area?
You can always contact me via the comments section of Not Just Another “Dolce Vita”, on the blog’s Facebook page (, or via Twitter at @s_mastroianni. I love to engage with readers and meet new people, so please, don’t be shy!

Sarah blogs at which we recommend a quick visit if you haven't been already. Not Just Another “Dolce Vita” has an listing here so add a review if you like! If you appreciated this interview with Sarah, please also drop her a quick comment below.
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Comments » There is 1 comment

Earl Wolff wrote 10 years ago:

An interesting read. I would think that one could say many of the same things about Toronto,Kingston, etc. You express yourself well. Keep on writing

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