This is a post I’ve been writing for over four years. It’s probably going to be VERY long, maybe it will take several posts but here’s the story — in short. Back in 2008 my husband and I began considering moving to Europe. We had made a few trips there, Spain, Italy and France. Upon returning from one trip he said, “Do you realize we spend 50 weeks out of the year looking forward to enjoying only two? Is this going to be our life, work, work, work and then when you’re too old to enjoy life we travel and find adventure?” He was right, I remembered my dreams of becoming a singer, an artist or a model and opening my own marketing firm. I remember having been a teenager with dreams of traveling to Italy and studying art and music there for at least a year. It was part of my bucket list. But like all dreams, they wither into the past and we are struck with the reality of adulthood. We get married, we get jobs, we jump into the prison of debt everyone else is in and we get stuck there until we’re decrepit. That’s the reality of the American dream. They lead you to believe comfort is the same as happiness. The pursuit of happiness is in reality just the pursuit of money.
For us the void was too big. Once our eldest son left home we had nothing holding as back. NOTHING. Not even our successful careers, our beautiful house on a lake, or our “fleet” of fancy cars and motorcycle. My husband asked, “Material things aside, what is REALLY keeping us from taking the leap, living in Europe 50 weeks, making the swap?” He was right, things should no longer define our decisions, belongings come and go, and comfort was definitely not fulfilling. So we did it, we sold the house in the suburbs, we quit our high-paying jobs, we even left our family behind in the pursuit of a dream — to live in Europe, to live a simpler, more relaxed, connected life.
But it was not easy…One month before we left a miracle happened. After 9 years of trying to get pregnant, I found out I was going to have my first biological child. We though, this means we can’t move anymore, how can we go rough it if we’re pregnant? How can we dive into uncertainty with baby in toe? My response was this, if I think living there is a better decision for me, why would I think differently for my child? So spite how insane we sounded to everyone, we moved to Torino, Italy in November 2009. We didn’t know the people that hosted us well, we didn’t know the language and we had no idea what to REALLY expect. Two years of thoughts and research never really prepared us for what actually occurred. I had a high-risk pregnancy, we had no jobs, no security, nothing. There are many stories to tell about that first year, and I will tell them but today I will share why I was crazy enough to jump ship.
A small preface:
I grew up mostly in the US, I arrived when I was only 3 years old, almost 4. I spent my entire childhood moving back and forth between Colombia (my birth country), New Jersey and Miami. My teen years were mostly in the US, so being adaptable became one of my “gifts”. However, as I became a more confident adult there was something that didn’t feel right about all this “adaptability”. What about who I am FOR REAL, what about my identity? I realized I was too Colombian for America and too American for Colombia. I was the “gringa” when I visited home but I will always be a minority immigrant in America. Many people to this day don’t consider hispanics “real” Americans. Most immigrants in America can agree that it’s difficult to really blend in with the culture, the identity of being “american” is so diverse! It all depends on who you ask. So… I couldn’t go back to Colombia my American side could not tolerate it and staying in America meant I had to sacrifice some of the values I learned from my Hispanic roots. I missed the endless hours we’d sit on the porch and just talk, the importance we give to family time, the value we give to food, the love of being latino, the passion we have for life and not just work. How could I raise another son with values I didn’t share? How could I see him taking on a cultural identity that didn’t feel fully mine? Did I want him to grow to believe that work comes before family? That we should live to work and not work to live? Going back “home” felt strange. Colombia is still very much behind in the times and sadly it has taken on some of the most unattractive aspects of the American culture, the consumerism and materialism. Colombia is already a vain culture, adding these elements to the mix made it easy for me to opt out.
The Reasons Why I Moved to Italy:
Europe felt like the middle ground, a place somewhere in between my two loves. It’s not perfect, by far, but here is my top five list of reasons why I decided it was the place for me.
1) Food: We eat to live, right? So you would think that such an advanced culture like America would put stock in that. Instead, fast food is the norm, sitting at the dinner table is “old school” and the process which gets that food to our plate is sickening. Farmers are now business men or factory operators. The assembly line process is so ingrained in culture it became the way food is done too. In Europe food is still respected, highly regulated, and the culture is centered around the dinner table. Nowhere is this more true than in Italy. Food is a part of cultural pride. Each course is carefully categorized, manners and table traditions are carried on generation to generation. Oh and the taste!
2) Healthcare: I had a high risk pregnancy right before moving here. As a middle class person in America who had cancelled her insurance (because I was moving) I was no longer eligible to see a Dr. and I was too “rich” for medicare or a government clinic my only option was a 5K visit to the ER just to see why I was spotting and to have a darn ultrasound! The third day after arriving in Italy I had been seen by a Dr., given an ultrasound, given instructions on how to deal with things and offered insurance even as a foreigner with no papers yet. Peace of mind is priceless.
3) Education: Is your kid creative? Is she kind of an odd ball, a free spirit? Try making her sit down for more than 15 minutes in front of a board like a little robot. Careful, if she’s not ready to do so by age 4 or 5 she’s not going to measure up to the rest of them! So why not another method, Montessori, Reggio Emilia? A Montessori school in America costs an arm and a leg. You may say to me but there’s the free stuff the state gives you! Yeah, but the teachers are not rewarded based on teaching they are rewarded based on the ability to make your kid pass a standardized test. Early education SUCKS in the US. And it’s no secret that the smartest kids are NOT in America, maybe the food, the healthcare or the education that’s causing that, not sure which point to blame. Let me curb my negativity a bit, there are good school in the US they just aren’t available to everyone, as they should. Europe understands that education is an important investment not a nuisance that costs tax payers money.
4) Culture: Europe is unique, it’s a bunch of small countries with distinctively different cultures and languages all mushed together. People here travel, learn different languages and find a way to still maintain their identity. I was bored last week so we drove to France for the weekend. Maybe in a few weeks we’ll go to Austria or Switzerland. A new culture even within the same country is just one train ride away!
5) Travel: Ok so we sorta covered that on point #4 but it’s worth giving it its own point. When in Torino, where my son was born, I was one hour away from Milan and Asti one of the most important wine areas in the world, three from the Cote D’Azur in France and Venice. Four hours away from Rome on the fast train and so close to so many hidden gems I can’t list them all here! When in Holland I was a few minutes from Amsterdam, four hours from Paris and only two from several amazing destinations in Germany and England.
6) Quality of life: People here know how to STOP, even in countries like Germany and Holland who have high GDP. There are times of the year here where EVERYTHING just stops. Sundays used to be like this and their fear of not being competitive is changing that but in many places Sunday is still a day for rest, many countries shut down ALL businesses except markets by 5. There’s a week in Italy in August called “ferro agosto”, the city is silent, the stores are closed and people just stop to live, flock to the beach, mountains or lake and enjoy. The pursuit of happiness in the US (or the almighty dollar) never gives you a moment to just STOP. Even when you go on vacation you either have to do the work for that week before you leave or when you get back because the money machine never stops.
There are more reasons and I will share more, just subscribe to the blog…
I started this blog to highlight the things I’ve learned and continue to learn on this journey. I change my mind all the time as I grow. Take nothing here personally, I am just journaling my thoughts, feelings and experiences. If in some ways it helps you or challenges you, great. If it doesn’t skip forward.
This is after all just what Mavi Says… 😉