Expat Interview With Carmen, US Expat in Florence, Italy

Published: 8 Aug at 5 PM
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Filed: Interviews,Italy
Carmen is an Italian-American woman living in Florence, Italy via San Diego, California. She moved to Florence with her husband Kyle because they value adventure and want to live an extraordinary life. Carmen is a law school graduate, singer/songwriter and documentary filmmaker. Carmen's expat blog features stories about her experience moving to and living in Florence; honest reflections about the challenges and blessings of living in Italy; and practical pieces about attaining Italian dual citizenship and navigating daily life and logistics in Florence. Carmen's expat blog is called Finding My Italian (see listing here)

Meet Carmen - US expat in Florence
Meet Carmen - US expat in Florence

Here's the interview with Carmen...

Where are you originally from?
I was born in Santa Monica, California and grew up in the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles. I moved to San Diego when I was 20 and lived there for the past 12 years, except from the summer of 2008 to summer of 2009 when my husband and I lived in New York City.

In which country and city are you living now?
I am now living in Florence, Italy.

How long have you lived in Italy and how long are you planning to stay?
We arrived in Florence on July 1, 2013. We plan to stay for one year and then evaluate whether we want to stay longer, go home to San Diego, or have another adventure somewhere else!

Why did you move to Italy and what do you do?
We moved to Florence because we were ready for another big adventure. We also wanted to slow down, simplify, and take a sabbatical to focus on our passions. For me that means music, dance, reading and writing, the arts, and connecting with my Italian heritage. I am Italian-American, first generation American on my father's side, and when I turned 30, I felt a deep calling to go to Italy and discover and connect with my roots, including studying the language. My husband loved the idea of living and traveling abroad for the cultural experience. He is a high school teacher and has also been coaching soccer in the States for about ten years. He was ecstatic at the opportunity to come to Italy and immerse himself in the European soccer culture.

Kyle and me overlooking Florence from Piazzale Michelangelo
Kyle and me overlooking Florence from Piazzale Michelangelo
Did you bring family with you?
It's my husband and me!

How did you find the transition to living in a foreign country?
We are still in the thick of trying to adjust. It is quite difficult. Everything is different - the lifestyle, the food, the water, the language, the cultural values and customs, the weather, businesses' hours of operation...I could go on. Everyday we learn something new about how to live life here in Florence. In one day we experience a range of emotion so vast that by the end of each day we are exhausted in every way. As we explore the city we are overcome with awe at its spectacular beauty, the massiveness of the monuments and structures, and the rich culture in which we are immersed. We feel blessed to be having this experience. We are elated, excited, grateful, and overwhelmed at the breathtaking dreamscapes surrounding us. And in the same hours as we feel this joy and fulfillment, we also experience frustration and irritation at the daily logistics of life that we're just not used to yet. One day at a time...that's how we're living life, and that is a blessing in itself.

Was it easy making friends and meeting people; do you mainly socialise with other expats?
We've done more socializing in one month here in Florence than we did in an entire year in San Diego! We're not typically a very social couple; we tend to be relatively homebound and value spending as much quality time with each other as possible. But now that we're in a new country immersing ourselves in the Italian way of life, we've opened up to being more social. We've met several expats, and Kyle has made some great connections with native Italians in the local soccer community. Connecting with other expats has its value, but for me especially it is essential to meet and develop meaningful connections with Italian women. One of the reasons I wanted to come to Italy was to connect with my Italian heritage, to realize the parts of myself that are born of the Italian archetype, culture and personality and to see those parts of myself reflected back to me in the mirrors of Italian women and my Italian relatives. I also want to experience the nature of friendships with Italian women. It would be counter-productive to these goals to associate only with the American expat community.

Beautiful Santa Maria Novella
Beautiful Santa Maria Novella
What are the best things to do in Florence; anything to recommend to future expats?
I recommend exploring off the beaten path. Wander around the quiet residential streets away from the shopping and dining to see the humble yet extraordinary beauty of Florentine neighborhoods. Costa dei Magnoli for example is a gorgeous residential street in the Oltrarno that took my breath away. Taking back streets and veering away from the major tourist centers is the way we have found some of the coolest spots in town. Some of the best places to eat authentic Tuscan food, enjoy a cappuccino while sitting down without paying a sitting fee, and experience a taste of the Florentine lifestyle are found in the streets and neighborhoods where the locals live. Our favorite spots so far are La Cocotte, a hip and gorgeously decorated caffé in our neighborhood on Via Gioberti that serves a delicious cappuccino, fresh pastries, and a beautiful and affordable authentic lunch menu; and Caffé Letterario, another hip haunt that attracts students and literary types to its rustic yet sophisticated caffé-eatery, also serving an authentic and incredibly tasty lunch menu for between 5 and 8 euro per plate (plus free water!) and is set in a beautiful piazza surrounded by what used to be an ancient prison. Both of these caffés are unique in that they welcome patrons to sit and stay for as long as we like, whereas many caffés in Italy are places to stop in, grab un caffé, drink it down while standing at the bar, and say arrivederci all in less than ten minutes. Our favorite neighborhood for strolling is the Oltrarno, which is the artisan area across the arno. The Oltrarno has an artsy ambiance, the streets feel older and are filled with a sort of moody creative energy, and the shopping is fabulous! We love the grainy Piazza Santo Spirito and the particularly charming and spirited Il Chicco di Caffé for food and drink.

What do you enjoy most about living in Italy?
I love the artistic history, culture and energy of Florence. This city lives and breathes art of every kind, and it is deeply inspiring to be living in such creative air.

How does the cost of living in Italy compare to the US?
Monthly rent for our studio apartment in urban central San Diego was $860 per month. For our one-bedroom plus loft apartment here in Florence we pay 750 euro per month, which is about $921 American dollars, so rent is comparable. Dining out in the types of inexpensive local eateries we enjoy costs about 12 to 20 euro total, which is also comparable to what we paid in San Diego to eat out. A cappuccino in most caffés costs about 1.20 euro, again, very similar to a cup of coffee in the States. So far, cost of living is not much different from our life back home.

Rinsing my hands in the Buontalenti Fontana in the Oltrarno
Rinsing my hands in the Buontalenti Fontana in the Oltrarno
What negatives, if any, are there to living here?
The weather is wretched. It's the middle of summer right now, and we are roasting. And the winter will be very cold. Coming from San Diego, where the average year-round temp is about 72 degrees with 0% humidity, we are spoiled and really enjoy easy weather. Humid heat and freezing cold are not easy. We're having a very difficult time with this aspect of life in Florence right now.

If you could pick one piece of advice to anyone moving here, what would it be?
In the beginning, while you're in the adjustment phase, be patient with yourself, with others, and with the whole process. Don't turn this into a burden when it was meant to be an adventure!

What has been the hardest aspect to your expat experience so far?
The language barrier is really tough. For someone like me who has been a writer and lover of words all my life, I value clear communication. Not being able to express myself and having such difficulty understanding others makes daily life much more trying than when language is not an issue. But this is only a temporary impediment; we are picking up the language fairly quickly, and we're enrolling in a language course in just a few weeks!

When you finally return home, how do you think you'll cope with repatriation?
We love life in San Diego. It's home. The adjustment was very easy when we moved back there from our year in New York City, and we anticipate the same easy transition when we return from Italy. We know San Diego. Everything is familiar and relatively easy. We're having the adventure of a lifetime here in Florence, but we consider ourselves incredibly lucky to have San Diego as the city to which we can return and call home.

Taking in the massiveness of the Palazzo Pitti
Taking in the massiveness of the Palazzo Pitti
What are your top 5 expat tips for anyone following in your footsteps?
  1. Learn the language!
  2. Immerse yourself in the culture!
  3. Pick your battles wisely; some things we just have to accept and tolerate lest we literally go crazy fighting a futile fight! Against mosquitos, for example.
  4. Have the courage to stretch yourself out of your comfort zone and experience new things!
  5. Meet and connect with as many people as possible, and be open to what unfolds.

Tell us a bit about your own expat blog.
My blog is called Finding My Italian. I started it so I could document my process and experience discovering my Italian heritage and to chronicle our adventures here in Italy. I also write a bit about logistical things and try to provide some useful information about moving to and living in Florence.

How can you be contacted for further advice to future expats coming to your area?
Anyone can feel free to add me on Facebook at www.facebook.com/carmencaserta43 and connect with me on Instagram at CarmenCaserta. I can also be reached on Twitter @CarmenCaserta and through my blog!

About the author

Expat Blog ListingCarmen is an American expat living in Italy. Blog description: Living in Italy and discovering my Italian heritage. (by Carmen Caserta)
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