American Expat Living in Italy, Interview with Sarah

Published: 5 Feb at 2 PM
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Filed: Interviews,Italy
Sarah Dowling is a Southern American gal living in Bologna, Italy. She’s an English teacher and Communication Science student at the University of Bologna. In her free time, she enjoys attempting to make authentic Italian recipes, taking photos, writing restaurant reviews and of course, bringing Italy to everyday life through her blog, Italy Project 365. Sarah's expat blog is called Italy Project - bringing Italy to everyday life (see listing here)

Meet Sarah - US expat living in Italy
Meet Sarah - US expat living in Italy

Here's the interview with Sarah...

Where are you originally from?
I was born and raised in Roswell, Georgia in the United States. It’s a small little, about town 20 minutes north of Atlanta.

In which country and city are you living now?
I”m currently living in Bologna, Italy.

How long have you lived in Italy and how long are you planning to stay?
I’ve lived here for about a year and a half. At the moment, I’m here indefinitely. The decision to stay or go is a constant battle! But I haven’t left yet, so something is obviously working here.

Why did you move to Italy and what do you do?
I decided to move to Italy just after I graduated from graduate school. I realized that if I didn’t move to Italy right away, I would end up getting lost at an office desk job and be bored out of my mind. I’m an EFL instructor for both children and adults. I’m also a Communication Science student at the University of Bologna. Of course, when I’m not teaching or studying, I’m exploring and blogging about Italy.

I never leave my house without my bike!
I never leave my house without my bike!
Did you bring family with you to Italy?
No, but I’ve definitely met enough people here that I can call family! I’ve somehow managed to acquire a lovely British roommate and two Italian guinea pigs named Zingarella and Zuccabella.

How did you find the transition to living in a foreign country?
I had studied abroad for a semester previously in Florence, so it wasn’t a completely foreign experience for me. Nevertheless, my study abroad experience and my real life “expat” experience have been completely different. It was much more difficult making friends the second time around, as well as trying to accomplish the practical side of things without someone holding my hand the entire way.

Was it easy making friends and meeting people; do you mainly socialise with other expats?
The first month that I moved here I was doing a TEFL course in Florence and so I met tons of people and made a lot of new friends. We had a such a great time! After that, I moved to Bologna because I found a teaching job here. I didn’t know anybody when I first arrived! The first few months were a bit difficult because it was hard to enter the social sphere. Of course, after a few months, I started to make friends with my colleagues and some of my students. Then you sort of meet friends of friends and so on. I would say after 5 months of living in Italy, I finally started to feel like I was settling in.

I find that I get along well with other expats just because we can easily relate and always joke about the differences between Italian and non-italian culture. I also have some dear Italian friends, but it is more difficult to “enter” the Italian social sphere, particularly because many of them have their group of friends that they have known since childhood.

A snapshot from one my hikes through the Bolognese countryside
A snapshot from one my hikes through the Bolognese countryside
What are the best things to do in the area; anything to recommend to future expats?
By far, the best thing you can do in Bologna is EAT! Emilia-Romagna is the food capital of Italy. My typical weekend usually consists of sharing a nice meal with some friends and going for a nice long walk through the city. I also really enjoy hiking and I think the countryside in Emilia-Romagna with its green rolling hillsides is one of the most beautiful places in Italy.

What do you enjoy most about living in Italy?
The constant element of surprise. I’m always discovering something new about Italy - a new restaurant, an interesting historical fact, a hidden garden tucked away on some quiet side street. Plus, I’m constantly learning new Italian words. I love learning and I love the fact that when you’re in a foreign place, there’s always something new to discover.

How does the cost of living in Italy compare to the US?
That’s a difficult question! It really depends on where you live. Generally speaking, I think for things like rent and food it’s relatively comparable. Although here I don’t have a car and don’t really need one, so I save a lot of money that way. I use my bike to get around and if I need to go outside the city, I can take the bus or the train. I feel like it’s impossible to live without a car in the U.S.

My attempt to make Tortellini in Brodo - a typical Bolognese dish
My attempt to make Tortellini in Brodo - a typical Bolognese dish
What negatives, if any, are there to living here?
Sometimes things don’t function like you expect them to. It takes 5 times longer to repair something here. Trains don’t arrive on time. You ask for directions from multiple people and you get completely different answers. You just have to be persistent and patient and be able to say, “Oh well!" when things don’t work out exactly like you were hoping.

If you could pick one piece of advice to anyone moving here, what would it be?
Be open-minded and embrace the differences. You’ll have a much more enjoyable experience and other people will respect you for it.

What has been the hardest aspect to your expat experience so far?
Overcoming the difficulties of immigration law. It’s really difficult for non-EU citizens to live and work here permanently because you need a visa, which is really difficult to get. I’ve spent hours waiting at the Questura (the Italian immigration office) and maybe even DAYS figuring out how to get my legal documents in order. I’m pretty much best friends with the Italian Consulate of Boston (can you sense my sarcasm?). It’s not easy and a lot of people give up and go home. But hey I’m living proof that it is possible and I’m willing to help anyone who may be going through the same experience.

When you finally return home, how do you think you'll cope with repatriation?
If I go back to the U.S., I think the most difficult part will be readjusting to the lifestyle. Here, I have such a flexible work schedule. For example, I’m usually able to come home for my lunch break and sometimes I don’t even start work until 3pm. It’s just a bit more relaxed in comparison to the American work/life balance. Also, I swear there is something magical in the pasta here. Even the same box of Barilla pasta tastes better here than when I make it in America.

One my favorite views of Bologna
One my favorite views of Bologna
What are your top 5 expat tips for anyone following in your footsteps?
  1. Be persistent. You’re going hear “no" a thousand times - push back.
  2. Be curious. Go down the quiet side street instead of taking the main road. Ask people questions, don’t just google it. Look at a map, point somewhere and go there.
  3. Learn Italian. It’s your best weapon. If you can make a joke in Italian, you will be set! Also, you need to be able to defend yourself. Sometimes people will try to joke with you when they know you are a foreigner (and it’s not always polite) and it’s really satisfactory to be able to rattle something back to them in Italian. Plus, there are a lot of places where people speak nothing but Italian and you’ll have a different experience if you can communicate with them.
  4. Share your culture. Don’t brag about it. There’s nothing wrong with being passionate about where you come from, so as long as you share it openly and respectfully. Most foreigners will already have their stereotypes about you in their mind. You can prevent them from putting you in that box by being open-minded and curious about their culture as well.
  5. Remember your roots. Although you left your home country to go somewhere else for a specific reason, don’t forget about where you came from. Stay connected somehow, whether its through the news, music, or simply chatting with friends and family. You’ll feel much better returning home knowing that you didn’t completely lose touch with everything and everyone!

Tell us a bit about your own expat blog.
My blog is called Italy Project 365. I originally started blogging before I even decided to come to Italy. It was my own personal project to learn more about Italy within 365 days. After those 365 days, I made my decision to actually move to Italy and so of course, my little 365 day project turned into a much bigger ordeal! My hope is that Italy Project 365 can “bring Italy to everyday life”, in the sense that people outside of Italy can experience Italy in some way, even if it's virtually. I also try to help people who are looking to move or travel in Italy. My philosophy is that Italy is everywhere - you just have to know where to find it!

How can you be contacted for further advice to future expats coming to your area?
You should check out my blog, Italy Project 365, where I’ve already posted lots of advice about moving, travelling, and working in Italy. I’m also on Facebook, Pinterest, Google Plus and Twitter!

About the author

Expat Blog ListingSarah is an American expat living in Italy. Blog description: Whether you're actually in Italy, or in some far off place, Italy can be found! Italy Project brings you advice on Italy, Italian cultural tidbits and personal ramblings about the everyday Italian life.
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