Happy Thursday! Today I’m thrilled to share the third installment of my Stories of Moving to Italy series. Meet Emer, an Irish expat who has been living and teaching in Bergamo, Italy since 2012.
For anyone who doesn’t know, Bergamo is in the Lombardy region of Italy. The first and hardest hit by COVID. I connected with Emer after reading her post Finding Out I Did Have Covid-19 After All. A striking tale of a two-person household with one testing positive for COVID antibodies and one negative. Emer is the one who tested positive.
I asked Emer if she would be open to sharing more about her journey. She said yes! We talked about everything from what initially brought Emer to Italy, to recovering from COVID. Here are the highlights from our interview.
Recovering from COVID in Italy
Brandy: Hi Emer! Thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions. First of all, would you like to introduce yourself and tell us a bit about your life and work?
Emer: Of course! I’m Emer, pronounced Eeemer (rhymes with “dreamer!”). I’m was born in Ireland and grew up in beautiful West Cork. I love to write, cycle and do DIY craft projects. I have a degree in primary teaching and psychology and work in a primary school in Italy teaching my students English.
Brandy: If you’re comfortable can you talk a little about what it was like to live through the lockdowns in Bergamo?
Living in Italy During COVID Lockdowns
Emer: Absolutely. What happened in Bergamo was shocking and traumatic. The news headlines were scary with so many people dying that the city’s crematorium could not keep up, even when it was in use 24 hours a day. I’m sure many people have seen the tragic images of army trucks driving bodies to other cities to be cremated before returning with their ashes. We were confined to our homes for 2 months, only able to leave for the pharmacy, doctor, or supermarket. In the first few weeks, you could always hear sirens. It was chilling! I was teaching from home for 16 weeks. I’m very lucky that my family was safe and well. I had Covid with mild symptoms. The doctors had diagnosed it over the phone as allergic asthma but I tested positive for antibodies in June.
Brandy: How are you feeling now? Have you felt any last effects from having had COVID?
Recovering from COVID
Emer: I’m feeling much better now, since COVID. The inhaler worked a treat, and I slowly but surely got back to exercise. I was a little worried about lasting effects when hiking at the start of the summer as I felt I had a lot of difficulties breathing, more so than when I felt at my least fit in pre-COVID times. After a very active summer, my worries were dispelled. Perhaps I was just very, very unfit from two months of being so stationary.
Brandy: Now that you can get out and enjoy Italy, let’s talk about what brought you here in the first place!
Moving to Italy from Ireland
Emer: I am obsessed with all things Italian! My love of Italy was ignited on family holidays to Veneto. I remember as a teen saying, “One day I am going to live and work here.” In 2010, while studying to be a primary school teacher, I spent a summer teaching English in ACLE summer camps. During that time, I was lucky to stay with host families and learn more about their culture. I decided that after my first year of teaching I would move over to work in an English-speaking school.
Why Emer Moved to Bergamo, Italy
Emer: One of my closest friends was already working in Brescia so I applied for schools in the north to be near her. A school in Bergamo offered me a job in 2012 and I’ve been here ever since. I met my Bergamascan husband about a year after moving here and we bought a house together a few years back.
Brandy: What was the home buying experience like? Anything that surprised you/delighted you or frustrated you?
Buying a Home in Italy as a Foreigner
Emer: Buying a home was a relatively easy experience for me with my husband able to assist me over the hurdles of language and cultural barriers. One of the things that really struck me was the sexism from some estate agents. They would say things like, “And this is where the woman could hang out the washing,” to which I would respond, “Ah! And where would the man hang out the washing?” Another one assumed that the woman would choose the house and the man would cough up all of the cash! Of course, Italy being Italy, there was a lot of paperwork involved and mine often involved an extra step as I am a foreigner!
Brandy: Is that one of the hardest parts about living in Italy as an expat?
The Cons of Living in Italy
Emer: I’ve been here 8 years. The bureaucracy drives me crazy at times. Getting paperwork and finding my feet with limited Italian was very challenging at first. Even recently, with a good level of fluency and an Italian partner by my side, getting paperwork for buying our house and for our wedding was complicated and sometimes confusing.
Brandy: Last month I interviewed a Canadian expat who shared a similar sentiment, that the bureaucracy is one of the hardest parts of living in Italy. From my own experience, I have to agree, but I’m curious too to hear what’s been the most rewarding part of living in Italy for you?
The Pros of Living in Italy
Emer: Where do I even start? I love that I live in such a beautiful place with mountains and lakes nearby. It is steeped in history with stunning medieval towns, art, and architecture. I feel like I live on holiday! Coming from a much rainier climate, I love the fact that I can cycle to work and often on nights out too. That’s something I couldn’t do very often in Ireland. I’m big into food so it’s great to be in a country with such good quality dishes and people who can talk about food for hours on end.
Brandy: Now that Italy is doing better with COVID, what are some of the things you love to do in Bergamo?
Emer: My absolute favorite thing to do in Bergamo is going for cycles, particularly on the cycle path along the river Serio. I also love walking around Bergamo’s medieval streets in Città Alta, the old part of the city. I’m looking forward to roasted chestnuts and mulled wine season in Autumn/Winter.
Brandy: Do you have any tips you’d like to share for moving to or living in Italy?
Tips On Moving to Italy
Emer: Try to learn some basic Italian as soon as you can. It will make everything easier, particularly in smaller cities or towns, and help you have a more authentic experience. I highly recommend the Coffee Break Italian podcasts from Radio Lingua. Do also seek out an expat community, be it in your city or virtually. It’s nice to be able to chat to people who understand your unique struggles and who want to go on adventures with you to explore your new country. Enjoy the best bits. Being foreign in Italy can be frustrating at times but the good bits outweigh the bad tenfold!
Brandy: Final question! Where can we follow your journey?
With that I’d like to thank Emer for her time and honesty about living through COVID in Bergamo, recovering from COVID, the pros and cons of life in Italy and best of all, sharing her love for the best bits of life in Italy!