Our next piece for Enchanted Serendipity’s EXPAT SERIES is written by Elaina.
This time last year I was settling in to Italian idiosyncrasies and passionately waving my wrists about as if I had something significant to say about the weather or sliced pan (loaf of bread).
Between the wagging wrists and weather related discussions; I had mastered a mixture of Italian and Irish mannerisms that made for quite the cultural fusion!.
The quirky characteristics of Italians can’t help but be digested as you soak up the culture of the southern island of Italy. At the time I was still quite bright eyed and bushy tailed on the first leg of my Italian journey, never having anticipated where it would bring me next.
If you had told me about my solo move to South Korea less than a year from this, I wouldn’t bet on it; but yet here I am.
Having been to Italy before, I knew to a certain extent what I was in for – divine dining, rigorous road rage and passionate socialites. That being said I had no idea what was in store for me, and although at times I was pushed to my limits; I made it through the 10 months as an expat, and look forward to my next trip back to the beautiful Mediterranean country in future.
When I think of Italy and my time living in the southern, underdeveloped and poorer end of the country in comparison to the rest, I’m left with mixed emotions from my temporary home that kept me on my toes and allowed for a thrilling Sicilian lifestyle as an expat in Palermo.
Life As An Expat: Settling In To Italian Life
Leaving my home back in Ireland wasn’t difficult for me, because my eagerness to explore other places exceeds any home sickness I may feel. At times I missed the home comforts and duvet days, and mostly I missed my dog and rabbit (the animals are so tough to leave!); but when I yearned for things from home, I took it as a challenge to replace the memory with a new Italian one.
I knew that my time would be temporary, and soon I would be missing things from Sicily! So I tried not to let things spoil my time, and enjoy all aspects of my experience there.
There were so many milestones, speed bumps and boulders I encountered in my time there. Living in a new place, absorbing everything I experienced along the way; it was as if I was living through an encyclopedia – each day a new page learning about the culture, people, and places surrounding me.
I learned so much just by simply living there. I had amazing career opportunities and started building my teaching career from Sicily. It prepared me in so many ways for future jobs and teaching environments, which I will always be thankful for.
Making the adjustment wasn’t easy in any respect, and I wouldn’t have appreciated it being any easier. The learning curve is in the difficulties you encounter. I will always think back on the tough times with appreciation, because of how I was able to deal with each situation and how they prepared me to deal with further difficulties along the way. You get thicker skin, broader knowledge and better senses when dealing with crap and things that are out of your control. That’s just one of the ways that travelling teaches you – and no formal education prepares you as efficiently.
Living As An Expat In Italy: The Good & The Bad
An example of such difficulties that I remember thinking back on my time in Sicily was its narrow-minded atmosphere. Although this is also what makes the Sicilians wonderfully interesting and culturally proud, it doesn’t come easy for a foreigner living on the island.
English was rarely spoken, so the practicality of getting around and such never came easy. There are not many foreigners that live there either, at least not in Palermo (I only knew 2 others, and that is because they worked with me!) – so we always stuck out like sore thumbs.
This I don’t mind; but we didn’t always attract the right people, or get the most welcomed of encounters. I had no choice but to start learning the language asap if I wanted to get anywhere or talk to anyone; (which I can’t complain about) because I thoroughly enjoyed the challenge – and learning the native tongue is something you should do as an expat anyway.
On a more positive note, the love expressed and shared in Sicily is another memory I have of my time there.
The passion the Italians have is a breath of fresh air. How everyone greets each other with kisses, hugs, and pure excitement. As you open your arms to each other you also open your heart; thus truly ‘connecting’ as you greet, which automatically opens a relationship with one another.
In this day and age with everyone living fast paced digital lives that have closed us off from each other, it was nice to see that this isn’t the case in Sicily. Being Irish it took a lot of getting used to – kissing everyone and anyone; and being surrounded by a lot more emotion and passion than I’m used to back in Ireland. But once I was comfortable with the Italian way, I must say that it seems a lot healthier (and nicer) to be more open and welcoming to everyone. (Rest of the world – take note!)
So a year on from being pushed to the limits, and 6 months on from leaving Sicily, I had the courage to move to South Korea and do it all again!
I love Sicily for the beauty of the island and the amazing friends and memories that I have; but more importantly I love Sicily for teaching me so much. I owe a lot to this place for the speed bumps and boulders that I had to cross; that pushed and shaped me into the person I am today – a solo traveler teaching English in Korea and writing an adventure travel blog.
I can’t thank the Sicilian people and this place enough for helping me on my way.
If you want to read more expat stories, check out Lottie’s story about living in Canada and Africa, all the way from London!