10 Years in Europe. Happy Anniversary to me!

Wow wow wow. Ten years ago today I got on a plane with three suitcases and left my home in New York for London and now I’m here, 6 visas later, living in a little yellow house in Ischia. The plan back then when I first started was to study in London for a year and then move to Rome and see how long I could last there.

My 29th birthday and saying goodbye to New York and my friends. I was so excited to move to London and be closer to Italy. That’s my friend Phillipe on the left and my cousin Marina, laughing gloriously, on the right.  New York, August 2008.

There were so many moments during those first years in which I felt like my nerves were stretching like piano strings while I flew back and forth between Italy and the UK playing the visa game, keeping up with friendships and trying not to fail and move back to New York. Immigration laws and visa woes drove me crazy and created oceans of anxiety. Also the solitude, isolation and loneliness from living abroad and in new cities. The unrelenting effort to start a new life from scratch in all of these different places. The insecurity of learning and speaking a different language. All the unsuccessful job interviews and having to navigate through low self-esteem.

Sometimes it felt like no one understood what I was trying to do and the things I was doing to make it happen. While people could understand the effort and ambition you need to go after a career, trying to live where you want to live isn’t really recognised as something commendable (just look at all the anti-immigration rhetoric that’s dominating politics). I mean no one was giving me a high-five as I filled out applications and went to visa appointments and immigration offices. Most of the time, I felt like I was a brat for wanting something that I couldn’t have.

Me in class getting ready for a class trip to the Venice Biennale. London, June 2009.

I could have stayed in the US and gotten a career in something and become a professional who wore nice clothes to work and felt like I could take care of myself. Instead I threw myself into uncertainty, cobbling together jobs and studying for two more masters, walking the streets a perpetual over-educated and underemployed non-EU citizen hoping that something would turn out in the end.

Me in my kitchen in Rome wearing an apron from Ischia. Despite the solitude and heartache, I loved loved loved Rome so much. Rome, August 2010
When I moved back to London, I had a bed, Ikea furniture and 11 boxes of stuff that I put on a truck. Everything arrived 3 weeks later. A lot of those things came back with me when we moved back to Italy. Rome, February 2011.

10 years on, I’m still here and it’s turned out pretty good. I’ve slowly learned how to deal with the uncertainty and not treat the set-backs as a reflection on my character. I’m proud that I made it this far. Looking back, I would have done some things differently (like study in Rome instead of London), but then I might not be sitting here today, writing this post from my home on an island in the Mediterranean where I live with Marituccio. I’m stronger than I was 10 years ago, have met amazing people along the way, especially artists and writers, developed strong friendships that can withstand the distance, and created a new way of living in different cities, languages and accents. I’ve had tons of jobs and learned new skills. I’ve worked in art galleries, an auction house, and a bakery. I’ve been a private English tutor, a translator, and freelance writer. I’ve written, performed and published poems and essays. I haven’t made a lot of money or stock-piled a nest egg, but I did manage to fill up the pages in my passport and had new pages put in.

During these years, I’ve seen this tide against migrants and refugees swell across Europe and I’ve been caught in the changes in laws as conservative governments have come into power. And it’s really ironic, that now as an immigrant married to an Italian and having had to go through immigration in Italy, I feel more welcomed and legally accepted than I ever did in the UK (even before Brexit). I’m painfully aware of the disgusting racist rhetoric against immigrants coming from the government and Italians on the street, this perpetual blaming the other, as if kicking out immigrants is going to automatically make life beautiful for those that were born here. The irony, contradictions and awareness of my privilege is something I deal with every day especially when I get into an argument with someone over immigration and I hear them say something offensive about immigrants. ‘But Giovanna, I wasn’t talking about you.’

I sometimes still struggle with the idea that I could have stayed home and I question myself wouldn’t it be easier to move back home and establish a career, buy a house, start a family, save money for retirement? But the longer I’m here, the less I ask myself that. Moving back to Italy is definitely not the way to go for job and life security and who knows what I’ll be able to achieve here, but living in London and going through Brexit taught me that there is no single place or career that will give you security. Something will always happen that will change everything you planned for, so why not just follow your heart and do what you want to do?

My favourite job was at Christie’s in London. This was my last day at work hanging out in the post room with the boys. London, July 2012.
Learning how to make pasta. That’s my mother-in-law in the background. Venice, August 2012
Me and Marituccio happy, tired and drunk on our wedding day in London. August 2013

I don’t know what’s next in store for me and I don’t have that dreamy eyed excitement of starting a life abroad as I did 10 years ago, but I’m still certain that this is where I want to be. I’ve applied for Italian citizenship (which will probably take years to come through, I’m not holding my breath), so one day in the future I won’t be considered an extracomunitaria but an Italian and EU citizen. Something I’ve wanted ever since I was a little kid. When that happens, will that change how I feel about who I am and where I belong?

Doing chores at our first place in Ischia. December 2017.
Speaking at a round table discussion during La Palabra en El Mundo Poetry Festival in Venice. I was terribly unprepared, but I pulled myself together and spoke in Italian about culture and identity. Ca Foscari, Venice, May 2018. (photo by Alexandra Mitakidis)

When I was little, Italy was where I had family that made me feel loved and welcomed and I wanted to be with them and live where they were. Despite being a foreigner, I didn’t feel out of place here. Of course, now that I’m an adult and live here, it’s a bit more complicated, but it still feels like home, even though the longer I live here, home is a harder place to define. But I think the biggest thing is that while for decades, home and Italy felt like a childhood dream, a magical place, now that I’m here, I realise home isn’t a perfect place. But it’s where I want to be and I’m finally allowed to be where I want to be, so  I think that’s good enough.

5 thoughts on “10 Years in Europe. Happy Anniversary to me!

  1. I found your blog from your post on naturalizing.

    This is so insightful and beautifully written. I just had my sixth anniversary in Europe (Belgium then France via Austria) and hopefully will be able to apply to be French and then Italian (French through residency here and Italian through a Spanish-French-Italian partner).

    As per your question about whether things will be different, one thing I studied in my masters and hopefully will continue into a PhD is the question of administrative transformation in naturalization. An American friend finally got approved for nationality and when her passport came in the mail she ran to my apartment and we just looked at it sitting on my kitchen table, almost afraid to touch it and make it vanish. I asked if she felt different. She said she thought she would, but opening it and seeing “born in New Jersey” on the ID page took that feeling away. Obviously her birthplace would never change, but seeing “nationalité française, lieu de naissance : New Jersey (États Unis)” felt jarring.

    At what point is a passport a tool to move, work, study, and at what point does it become a vessel we pour the idea of re-invention into, only to see we’re still from New Jersey no matter what?

    1. It also made me think of the time I met a German children’s author who said she was riding her bike and saw a sign that said “achtung: würzeln” (caution: roots) and it made her laugh because in a roots can be very scary.

      I relate a lot to your post (over educated, underemployed; translator, English teacher, writer; no nest egg, but full passport). Especially in regards to roots. Am I moving toward something or away from something? Maybe both. I’m adding something or trying to erase something? Definitely both and neither.

      Anyway, great post. It made me do a lot of thinking.

      1. Hi Charles,
        O wow, thanks so much for reading and taking the time to comment. You ask a lot of great questions that are making me do a lot of thinking, too. Like the idea of a passport being a practical tool as well as a vessel of re-invention. Has my quest to live abroad been a quest for transformation? Do I feel transformed and re-invented? Have I erased a part of myself in order to fully integrate myself here? I don’t really know. Right now I’m studying for my driving theory exam that I’ll take in a few weeks and I find it really strange to be taking these classes where the teacher goes back and forth between Italian and dialect. It’s like my 16-year-old self is sitting next to me and going ‘woah’ while I take notes. She hasn’t disappeared, she’s right there reminding me about time, place, and where I’ve come from. But maybe I’ll be like your New Jersey friend and when I finally get my passport one day. Thanks for giving me a lot to think about, this is great! x Giovanna

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