My story of moving abroad: From reluctant expat to loving my life in Rome, Italy

Moving abroad has never been a dream for me like it is for so many. Perhaps that’s because I didn’t travel much outside the United States, my home country, for most of my life. Or perhaps it’s because I love my hometown of New Orleans so much, I’ve never wanted to leave for good.

Despite this, I moved abroad twice, once to a small town in rural Japan and now to Rome. Both times, I moved for opportunities, teaching in Japan and a position for my wife at the United Nations in Italy.

How a two-year teaching stint in Japan changed my views on living abroad

I’ve moved away from New Orleans several times for college and my career, always with the intention of coming back at some time or another. I spent the majority of my 20s in career limbo, working in service industry positions at restaurants throughout the city. It was fun then, and I was making a great living.

After several years of this, I knew I wanted more for myself in terms of my career. I visited my brother in Japan; he had recently started a job teaching English as a Second Language in a couple of high schools in Kitekami, and I really enjoyed my time visiting him. Not knowing what I wanted to do with my life, I thought, “Japan seems great; why not follow in his footsteps?”

I applied, got the position, and worked three jobs preparing for the move. When I moved to Japan, I kept one of the jobs, an online writing gig, to supplement my menial teacher’s salary.

After two years, I was ready to get back home. I actually really enjoyed teaching, interacting with students, and seeing their improvement in English speaking skills and confidence gave me such a feeling of pride. I wanted more responsibility, though, so I moved back to New Orleans to start a position teaching in high school.

“For the first time… I was falling out of love with the city I grew up in, New Orleans”

To keep this part of my life brief, I worked at two different schools for a total of five years, two of which included the COVID pandemic, and I was burned out. I was working 60 or more hours a week on grading, lesson planning, and time in the classroom, and I found it impossible to try to stay in shape and have a social life. My friends would invite me over, and I’d fall asleep on the couch at 8:30 pm.

I loved being in the classroom, interacting with students, coming up with lesson plans, and more. But there was so much extra stuff to deal with. Mountains of grading. Angry parents. Complaints from helicopter moms about books I was assigning. Arguments about masking. Extracurricular activities.

Though there were tons of things I loved about teaching, so much extra baggage consumed my life, and I found myself dreaming of something different.

During this time, living conditions in New Orleans were getting harder and harder. The cost of living was shooting up, and the last big hurricane that went through the city did significant damage to the home my wife and I purchased.

I spent around 30 hours driving with my dog in the front seat, first evacuating to Atlanta the day before the storm hit.

Car-jackings, blighted homes, unfinished construction, and other structural issues that were already part of daily life were compounded by weeks without trash pickups, the garbage rotting on the curb waiting for someone to take it away.

For the first time I could think of, I was falling out of love with the city I grew up in, New Orleans.

The first six months in a foreign country are the hardest

When I first moved to Japan, I was warned the first six months would be the toughest by my Japanese coworkers. I was placed in a small town called Ina in the heart of Nagano, a town many of my students couldn’t wait to get out of because it was so small.

I met some other foreigners who lived in town, but I really didn’t make close connections. I’d talk to myself in private, and sometimes coworkers would hear me making jokes to no one in particular. “That’s the first sign of insanity,” my coworker said. “You need to make some friends.”

It took some time, but eventually, I went to English Camp, met a lot of other teachers in Nagano who put on tons of events, joined a gym, and met an English-speaking Japanese friend. I spent hours of my weekend at the gym, getting in the best shape of my life because, well, I didn’t have anything else to do.

After six months, though, I had a semblance of a social life in Japan, and my weekends were full. I started spending more time with other foreigners that lived in town, and enjoying the experience.

But in Rome, it’s been a different story. My wife took the brunt of the first six months, moving here in January 2022 while I finished my last semester teaching in New Orleans. Knowing my worries about making friends, she joined a WhatsApp group for expats, went to some events, and put herself out there.

I learned this is definitely a different experience for women than men. While “putting herself out there,” she was messaged by plenty of people, but mainly men. Whatever their intention was, she felt a bit vulnerable, so she decided to only go to public events where she knew plenty of people would be there.

From there, she met certain groups, went out to events outside her comfort zone, and joined other subgroups on WhatsApp. She found a group that plays chess in Piazza Navona, and though she doesn’t play the game, she joined. One day, some members of the group decided to make a hiking group.

The first day I landed in Rome, I spent the evening on her friend’s rooftop with a group of ten or so people, drinking wine and watching the sunset. So, am I a bit spoiled? You better believe it.

From there, we’ve spent tons of amazing weekends seeing little-known treasures of Italy, met some great people, and enjoyed some cool events. This WhatsApp group is now at almost 200 people strong and is more of a social text than a hiking group. But we still do a lot of hikes in the smaller towns around Rome.

Support and resources made my move to Italy easier

I should start the story of my move to Rome with a disclaimer. There are several backup plans that allowed me to move and live comfortably while I changed careers. I still own that house in New Orleans, a double which generates enough money to help me cover some expenses and get by to some degree.

My wife was able to cover the cost of our Rome apartment thanks to an allowance through her job. As I previously mentioned, when I moved to Japan, I had an online writing gig that I could use to supplement my otherwise low income. I know not everyone has access to these resources, so please take my story with a grain of salt if you’re looking to make a similar change in your life.

Preparedness is what will get you through a move to Italy

I’m usually a “just wing it” kind of guy. Sometimes I feel like my wife and I are the embodiment of the traveling meme, as my wife, Nicolas Cage in this instance, exhausted and annoyed, does all the planning, while I’m the blissfully happy Pedro Pascal, simply showing up and having no idea what is going on.

Bureaucratic things like getting a codice fiscale were much easier because my wife had already gone through the process and could tell me exactly where to go and what to say.

The toughest part was getting all the paperwork together to bring our dog overseas to Italy and dealing with the stress of traveling in the plane with him for the first time. My veterinarian told me I needed to get USDA-approved travel paperwork within ten days of him leaving. Scheduling appointments was difficult, and I had to pay a lot of money to request the documents and have them rush shipped.

Of course, when I landed in Rome, no one even batted an eye at my dog. If I’ve learned anything, it’s that Italy has a form for everything, but they’re almost never checked. The USDA-stamped files I worked so hard for are now gathering dust in my living room closet.

Despite my overpreparedness, I was still worried. Most of the stress that I felt was self-inflicted; I’d rather have the documents if I needed them than have my dog quarantined.

“This [Rome] is definitely a city I can see myself living in long-term”

Even though I never really wanted to move away from New Orleans, I’m coming up on two years living in Rome, and I haven’t looked back. We’ve settled quite nicely, and, probably naively, the problems in the States and in New Orleans seem far away from our vantage point in the “dolce vita.”

Rome offers so much for our interests. Settling in the first six months, bureaucratically, was difficult. But we had support from a ton of different places: friends, the UN, coworkers, and more.

This is definitely a city I can see myself living in long-term, though I guess you can ask if I feel the same way in a few years.

“It took me a solid year until I could live comfortably in Italy on my writer wages”

I came to Rome with a vague idea of becoming a freelance writer, banking on working with the writing company I had previously worked with in Japan and coasting on the last two months’ of salary from my teaching position. I reapplied to the position and waited for a bit, not in a particular rush, as I was enjoying the end of spring and early summer in my new home.

Complications piled on quickly, as far as work goes. After emailing the company about my previous working experience, I received a friendly email stating that the company had to cut back staff because work was much slower. This, plus my lack of ambition in looking for work in Italy, left me in a bit of a slump.

I applied to tons of positions through Indeed, LinkedIn, and Google with no response. Editing my resume, rewriting my cover letter, and adding keywords and phrases to my documents became a full-time job in itself. This part of work is one of the most time-consuming and disheartening parts of society, often putting in hours of effort to simply not hear anything back.

I reached out to one of my friends who I met in the service industry years ago, who was a full-time freelance writer, curious if he had any tips for me. He sent me a few resources, and I started slowly getting to work. I took a ton of jobs that paid pretty insulting wages for the expertise that they were asking for, but one lead often led to another.

As I developed a good reputation as a writer and editor, received positive feedback, and really started to understand certain niches in the online writing industry, I climbed my way up to better and better jobs.

To make a long story short, it took me a solid year until I could live comfortably on my wages, and I’m even starting to recoup some of the savings I had to chip away at in my first few months in Rome.

The uncertainty of being able to make a living in Italy is the worst part

We’ve been here for almost two years now and have really fallen for the city. But, my wife works for as a contractor for the World Food Programme, meaning she has 11-month contracts that aren’t guaranteed beyond their duration. On top of this, she has to reapply for her job after four years to “keep things competitive,” and budget shortfalls keep everything unstable.

This, plus the inconsistency of my freelance work, makes us worry about the future. We haven’t bought a ton of things in Rome, even though we want to be here long-term, our time here can be cut short without much notice. Why would we buy a full kitchen of pots and pans, a large TV, or other non-essentials to make life more comfortable if it just leads to extra hassle when we have to leave.

Making any plans that span beyond the next years, like starting a family or buying property, are complicated by the mere fact that we have no idea where we’ll be next year, let alone five years from now. Not knowing our employment statuses has us second guessing any major decision.

There are the bright sides to uncertainty, though. Packing and moving is simplified. The downsizing process we had in the States also encouraged us not to buy anything we don’t deem totally necessary. This also means we thrive in our small apartment. If we don’t have anything besides the essentials, cleaning up the house only takes a few hours rather than all day.

Loving Italy despite the challenges of life abroad

Long story short, though moving to Rome has had its major challenges, living here has been one of the best periods of my life. Evenings on our apartment balcony, listening to music, eating delicious pasta, and drinking amazing local wine have made every challenge worth it.

The post My story of moving abroad: From reluctant expat to loving my life in Rome, Italy appeared first on Moving, living, retiring abroad.

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