More advice about expat fatigue and the expat plateau via The Bittersweet Life Podcast

More advice about expat fatigue and the expat plateau via The Bittersweet Life Podcast

Last week I wrote about 10 ways to combat expat fatigue and get through the expat plateau. The expat plateau is that point you reach after the newness and scramble of getting settled that first year wears off and you’re left facing the reality of everyday life. This can lead to expat depression or feelings of regret, but it doesn’t have to.

I wrote to my favourite podcast The Bittersweet Life, a podcast that discusses issues people face when living abroad, to see what they thought about the expat plateau and if they had any advice on how to get through it. Katy Sewall and Tiffany Parks dedicated an entire episode to my question and discussed all sorts of reasons of why someone would reach this sort of plateau and how you can try to get through it. Even if they felt like they were going back and forth on their advice and not really providing anything concrete, I think their discussion was excellent and gave me a lot to think about.

Continue reading “More advice about expat fatigue and the expat plateau via The Bittersweet Life Podcast”
Click on the picture to listen to the episode

The expat plateau that one reaches when living abroad can be caused by a lot of things. Tiffany and Katy mentioned that sometimes we choose to leave our home and move abroad because we want to break free from an idea of ‘normalcy’. But once you get to that other country and settle down, your life can return to that routine of life and for some serial expats that means boredom and then they’re off to the next country. Or maybe the plateau is simply a period of slowing down after that first year of intense growth and you’re finally getting used to life in your new place. Or perhaps even the plateau means that your heart is telling you that this won’t be your permanent home and you might want to think about living somewhere else.

For me, listening to them discuss my question and let themselves meander over different suggestions that might apply to my situation, made me realise something. I definitely don’t want to leave Ischia, and even though living on an island can be tough, especially in the winter when you need to go to Napoli and the sea is rough and you suffer from sea sickness, it feels like home. I’ve lived in cities most of my adult life (Mexico City, New York City, London, and Rome) and one thing I don’t miss about city-living is how anonymous one can be in the city. Here in Ischia, life goes beyond family and your inner circle of friends. You really feel a sense of community and close to life. The negative side of this is that everyone can know and talk about you and it could take some time getting used to it, but I think the positive sides far outweigh the negative.

moving abroad

Choosing to move abroad and live your life in a different language is tough and there are complicated decisions to make and you may have to deal with a lot of uncertainty. But it’s totally worth it and living a life abroad really teaches you how to face your fears and follow your heart.  

I really recommend you listen to this episode and even if you’re not in a similar situation, you can definitely get a lot of insight. Follow this link to listen to this episode of The Bittersweet Life.

Thank you so much Katy and Tiffany for your wonderful podcast and for trying to help me out.

10 Ways To Combat Expat Fatigue And Get Through the Expat Plateau

10 Ways To Combat Expat Fatigue And Get Through the Expat Plateau

I’m in my second year of living in Italy and I’ve been feeling bummed out due to something I’d like to call the expat plateau.

Often times people talk about experiencing a honeymoon period when they first move to Italy, where the joy and beauty of living in Italy can far outweigh the daily grind of bureaucracy, language mishaps, and loneliness as you get used to life here. However, that period (anything from 6 months to 2 years) passes and the reality of living abroad set in. Some people decide to move back home after this period passes while others stick it out.

When I moved back to Italy, I thought I was immune to the honeymoon period and had a grasp on the negative aspects of living here. The first year was difficult and I dealt with anxiety, fear, and guilt. I eventually got through it and I thought I was over it, but lately I feel like I’ve hit another bump – the expat plateau.

Continue reading “10 Ways To Combat Expat Fatigue And Get Through the Expat Plateau”

The Expat Plateau

I call this the expat plateau as it occurs when the newness of living in a place fades and you realise that full integration is going to take a long time. It’s like learning a new language. At the beginner level, if you dedicate yourself and work hard, you can see your level of improvement increase at a relatively rapid rate as you’re comparing yourself to when you started at 0. You’re happy to be able to communicate. But when you hit an intermediate level and you start to learn more complex grammar structures, idioms and other language nuances based on different situations, the learning slows down. You’ve plateaued it can be discouraging and tempting to give up during this phase. It’ll seem like you’ll never improve, but there is a lot going on underneath the surface.

The Expat Plateau works in the same way. In the beginning, perhaps in the first year or so, every step feels like you’re on your way to creating your new life in Italy – getting your documents in order that show that you live in Italy (things like the PdS, carta d’identita, codice fiscale, and tessera sanitaria), renting a place, choosing your local bar, getting to know the locals, finding a job, and improving your Italian. You celebrate every new milestone and can’t believe that you’re navigating the Italian bureaucracy and no one has kicked you out.

But then you hit the plateau – this is the moment where you’ve stopped comparing your life before you came to Italy with your new life, when your old life is enough behind you to make you feel like this is it, this is your life now. And you suddenly realise how far you have to go and you feel like an outsider, that everyone looks at you like an outsider. Your Italian isn’t perfect and maybe it’s even getting worse as you become more self-conscious. You realise the difficulty in making deeper friendships, that people’s curiosity in you and your move to Italy only goes so far as they’re more focused on their family and established friends. Your job may not pay you on time or refuse to give you a contract so you have to live with uncertainty or not be able to take sick leave. You realise how much help you need to navigate a byzantine medical system, from making a doctor’s appointment to getting some tests to filling a prescription. And o! as a tax resident in Italy you’ll be taxed on your worldwide income so you need to find a good accountant that can help you because there’s no way you can figure out the rules on your own.

But is this all enough to make you give up?

No. (I don’t want to try to convince you to stay if you’re really unhappy and would rather go back home or start a new life elsewhere. You’ll know when you’ve had enough.) If you know this is where you want to be, where you want to create a life, then you push through.

But what can you do to help make this expat plateau period a bit better?

10 ways to fight the expat plateau

  1. Change your routine – Go to a new coffee shop, try a different walking route, visit a store that you’ve been wanting to go into for a while. These little changes will break up the plateau and spark something new.
  2. Read books written by other expats – Expats often write about the troubles they’ve encountered during their quest to make a new life in their adopted country. You’ll find that you’re not alone and that yes, you’ll get through this. I’m currently reading Venice resident Philip Gwynne Jones’ To Venice with Love. It just came out and it’s fabulous!
  3. Go on holiday to another city in Italy – Sometimes you need to take a break and go somewhere where you can feel like a tourist.
  4. Take a class in something fun – I’m not talking about taking a class in order to solidify your life here and improve yourself – like signing up for driving school or take Italian classes. Maybe a cooking class, a dance class, painting class or a wine class. Something that that has nothing to do with self-improvement. You’ll get to meet new people who will share some interests with you.
  5. Do Instagram Stories – Social media may not be your thing, but I’ve been able to get to know people in my town through Instagram stories. It’s kind of like a public spying, but when I ran into them at a public event, I introduced myself and said that I was a fan of their Instagram and they were flattered. It gives you something new to talk about with someone and they’ll like that a stranger, rather than just their friends that they’ve known for a million years, noticed them.
  6. Be a tourist in your town – This may be counter-intuitive since you want so bad to not be looked at like a tourist passing through, but if you hire a local guide to take you on a walk around town, you’ll not only get a chance to learn more deeply about the local history, but you’ll also get to make contact with someone new and you can recommend the guide (if you like them) to friends that come and visit you.
  7. Write about it – Keep a journal or a blog and write about your experiences, all the good and the bad. It’ll help you let it out and maybe you’ll be able to look at things in a new way. Later on, you’ll be able to look at this period and realise how strong and resilient you are and how much you’ve learned.
  8. Make your house pretty – Buy a plant, add a picture to your wall and rearrange the furniture. Remind yourself that this is your home and is a nice comfortable place to be even if life on the outside is difficult.
  9. Go to an ex-pat meetup – I’ve tried joining expat groups before and felt like they were too isolating, but sometimes you just want to stop feeling foreign and feel something familiar. Of course, you can always watch a film or listen to a podcast or talk to friends or family back home, but for this type of thing, you want to talk to other people that are going through the same thing as you. Maybe you can complain and commiserate about the difficulties of living in Italy and being far away from family and friends and then share the reasons why you love it here.
  10. Talk to a friendly person about how you feel – You’re probably at a point now that you’ve gotten to know your local barista, have a few friendly neighbours, some people in town that you say hello to as you go on your walk, but you haven’t gotten to a point where you’ve gotten to be friends. This might be the right time to show a bit of vulnerability and let people in. They might not know exactly what you’re going through or understand the difficulties of living abroad (especially if they’ve never left their home town), but I bet someone could empathise and would want to listen. They may like to know what you’re going through and take you out for a coffee or give you some oranges from their garden next time they see you.

I hope some of these things help and if you have other suggestions, let me know in the comments. I’d love to hear!

How to get an Italian driver’s license

How to get an Italian driver’s license

After going through the labyrinthine process of getting your permesso di soggiorno, carta d’identità, codice fiscale and health card, (congratulations, by the way) the next step in your integration into Italian society is get your Italian driver’s license.

You’ll find lots of posts on the internet about people’s experience how to get their driver’s license in Italy, but since I’m going through the process right now, you may want up-to-date info. In this post, I’ll go through in detail the following:

  • The law about driving in Italy
  • Driving school
  • Theory lessons and exam
  • Driving lessons and exam
  • Driver’s License
  • Resources
  • My experience
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Photo essay – the mysterious towers of Forio and its streets

Photo essay – the mysterious towers of Forio and its streets

Sometimes when I get a bit of homesickness for life in the city, I’ll go for a walk to the center of Forio and throw myself into one of the side streets and wander until I get lost and can’t tell where I am anymore. I love the buildings squashed one next to the other, the smells and sounds coming from the windows, the cats darting into garden doors, and the strange and meandering streets that seem like they lead to a dead end, but will then have a passage way that will take you to another curving street. I love the architecture, the windows that are shaped like portholes or flowers, the secret churches that are built into a corner, the little archways that will take you out onto a path that has a spectacular view of the sea, and the sudden opening up onto a cliff with terraces of lemon and orange trees. The most surprising thing are these mysterious watch towers. The streets curl and stretch around these towers at the base and if you look at Forio up from the hills above the town you can see that the town is studded with these phallic beings.

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Want to know more about Italy? Start with these books

Want to know more about Italy? Start with these books

When I lived in Rome, it was my first time living in Italy full-time and it was really challenging. There was so much to learn about Italy, not just how to live there, but what the hell people were actually talking about. I hardly got any of the cultural and historical references that came up in conversations and films and I was always asking questions like ‘why’ and ‘how’. Like who was Aldo Moro and why was he assassinated?·

(This is a long and interesting story, but the very short version is that Aldo Moro, Italian prime minister during the 70s, was kidnapped by the Italian anarchist group Le Brigate Rosse for ransom and then killed and left in the trunk of car in the centre of Rome.)

After a while (and it really should have been much sooner), it occurred to me that I could read about this stuff and find out for myself. There are so many books out there in English about contemporary Italian history written by historians and journalists. I really don’t know why it took me so long to start reading them, but I have been reading these books ever since.

Continue reading “Want to know more about Italy? Start with these books”

Here are two books to start with:

 A History of Contemporary Italy: Society and Politics 1943-1980 by Paul Ginsborg:

This is a dry and dense read written by British historian Paul Ginsborg who has been Professor of contemporary European history at the University of Florence since 1992. It’s a historical analysis of post-war Italy and includes charts, data and statistics. This book will give you all the information you need about the post-war economic boom, the movement of southern workers to the north, left wing politics and the working class movement, the 50 year run of the Christian Democrat party, the ‘anni di piombo’ and the Red Brigades, and more.

It’s a bit of slog to get through, but well worth the read and gives a complete overview of what happened in the country after the war. This was the first book I read about Italy and it blew my end. I understood so many more cultural and historical references and suddenly the names of the streets in Rome had meaning. For example, viale Palmiro Togliatti, a main thoroughfare that cuts through Rome north and south is named after the leader of the Communist Party who helped put together a new Italian government at the end of WWII. This is a significant thing to know about because it helps explain Italy’s relationship with communism and how it helped shape the fabric of the Italian left. Italian communist leaders were respected enough to have streets named after them.

You can follow up this book with his sequel Italy and its discontents: family, civil society, state, 1980-2001. This book will continue its exploration of history during these two decades through the lens of the Italian family and the role it played in the further development of the country. It covers major events such as Tangentopoli that caused the downfall of the Christian Democrat Party, the rise of Silvio Berlusconi, and mafia and corruption.

The Italians by John Hooper:

For something with more of a narrative structure and less heady, try The Italians by John Hooper. Hooper is the Italian correspondent for The Economist and a former foreign correspondent at The Guardian covering Italy and Spain. Taking the title of Luigi Barzini’s book, The Italians digs deep into Italian culture, history and religion to try to dismantle stereotypes and explain why Italy is the way it is today. It’s a fun and very perceptive read written by someone who has lived in Italy for decades. There is still an historical perspective, but Hooper uses facts to explain things like why there’s no word in Italian for hangover (but 12 words for coat hanger), the connections between football and the freemasons, changing attitudes to sex, the north and south divide, and why Italians are reluctant to use a dishwasher.

You can read about some other Italy history and culture books in a previous post I’ve written.

And I also recommend some other books that I’ve read since that last post including:

read about Italy

read about Italy
  • The Sack of Rome by Alexandre Stille – about the rise of Berlusconi from his beginnings as a property developer to his multiple runs as Italy’s prime minister. This book explains the role television played in shaping Italy during the 1980s from the government to family life. Read this and then watch the TV series 1992 and 1993. fd
read about Italy
  • Two Kitchens by Rachel Roddy – another cookbook by my favourite food writer who lives in Rome. This book consists of recipes that are cooked in her home kitchens in Rome and in Gela, Sicily where Roddy’s partner Vincenzo is from. Its sections are organised by ingredients (such as chickpeas, grapes, ricotta, and fish) instead of types of dishes so you get a more literary and deeper sense of ingredients and the role they play in Roman and Sicilian meals.

This post is written as part of the dolcevitabloggers linkup, hosted by Jasmine of Questa Dolce Vita, Kelly of Italian at Heart and Kristie of Mamma Prada the 3rd Sunday of every month.  Click #dolcevitabloggers to read blog posts by other participants