Expat vs Immigrant, an interview about why the difference matters. Part of a series about the beautiful complexity of life in Italy.
Expat vs Immigrant
Welcome to the fourth edition of Stories of Moving to Italy. This interview series started as a way for me to virtually connect with fellow expats after moving to Italy during COVID lockdowns. It’s turned out to be so much more than connection, it’s been eye-opening. Take for example my interview with Evelyn aka @collinemontagne. Evelyn is a multi-talented entrepreneur who loathes the label expat for reasons I now find difficult to get comfortable with myself. Here are the highlights from our very honest chat.
Brandy: Hi Evelyn! Would you mind if we started with what brought you to Italy nine years ago?
Evelyn: Sure! I’m originally from Vermont. In high school, I studied Latin because it was the easiest language to pass, and I knew it involved a trip to Italy. I fell in love with Italy instantly. When it came time to choose a university I wanted to get out of Vermont. So I chose the most interesting option that was farthest away and still affordable.
Brandy: Which was the American University of Rome correct?
Evelyn: Yes. I graduated with a Bachelor of Archaeology with a concentration in cultural management and a double minor in Business of Art and Art History.
Brandy: You also have your Masters Degree too right?
Evelyn: I do. In Arts Management and Administration from SDA Bocconi in Milan.
Brandy: Plus you’re CTEFL certified and a level II Sommelier, how did that come about?
Evelyn: Having the CTEFL certification to teach English as a second language was really about being able to stay in Italy longer. That was how I was able to renew my Permesso di Soggiorno (Residence permit). Plus when you have a CTEFL certificate, there are always jobs available, you’re never without an opportunity. I got my Sommelier Level II with ASPI the Professional Italian Sommelier Association for fun. I’ve always liked, and been interested in wine. When I came to Italy, I didn’t care if the wine was a Euro, I was fine with it. Slowly though, I started to learn more and as I did, the prices of the wine I liked got higher. I don’t really remember the exact moment I was super into wine. Probably during my visit to Fontanafredda. I like the idea of how wine plays out with history. The tradition that surrounds it is completely different from food culture. So while it all sounds different, it’s really all related to art, history, and culture.
Brandy: So wait. You gained all your degrees and certificates after moving to Italy, which was nine years ago. So you were what… 18 when you moved here. I’m curious what that was like. Can we talk about the pros and cons of moving to Italy on your own at 18?
Pros and Cons of Moving Abroad
Brandy: Okay, let’s start with the hard stuff. What are the most difficult things about living in Italy?
Evelyn: Well there is the obvious. The bureaucracy is tiring. Every year, review this, and apply for that. It’s not hard, just exhausting. Mentally, the hardest part is finding friendships and a sense of belonging. English is still my go-to language. I get really stressed speaking Italian. I have an accent in Italian, I always will. Everyone still points it out. Plus culturally, I don’t find the same things funny. I also don’t fit into expat groups. The fact that we both ended up in Italy doesn’t mean that we’re similar.
The expat girls I’ve met usually fall into one of two groups. The first is an older woman who married an Italian and had kids. The rest tend to be girls my age or younger who come over to study abroad or work as an Au Pair. They don’t know where they are going yet in life and tend to move away after a few months.
Finding friendship is difficult because I fit squarely in the middle. Making Italian friends can be exhausting with the language, but making expat friends is also difficult because we are in a different space in life.
Brandy: Are you okay being called an expat?
Evelyn: I actually hate the word expat. It sounds rich. I refer to myself as an immigrant. The difference is privilege. I find it annoying when people come to Italy and don’t try to integrate or make their space in Italian culture.
Brandy: What’s been the most rewarding part of integrating into Italy?
Evelyn: The word rewarding makes me think of how much stuff I had to do on my own. Coming to live in Italy at 18, I was really thrown in the deep end. I had to figure stuff out. I had help from friends and boyfriends, but a lot of stuff I had to figure out on my own. Also, the people here are great. Even just with day to day stuff. I love the food. Italian food in general is way better. Plus, the cost of living is great. I’m not constantly in debt here. I don’t have to worry about credit card bills. Things are just a little clearer, more day by day. In Italy, you live for that week, or that day. More in the now. You worry less and basically can get along better in Italy. Life is just better here for my mental health.
Brandy: In what way?
Evelyn: Honestly it’s hard to explain. If I go home for vacation, it only takes two weeks and I start to get depressed and grumpy. I get annoyed at everything. All the little things. The price of food. The quality of food. The price of going out. Plus, I walk everywhere in Italy. All those things add up to a big picture. I just live a little better in Italy.
Brandy: Do you have any tips you’d like to share for moving to Italy?
Moving to Italy
Evelyn: Whenever someone writes to asks me that, the very first thing I ask is “Do you have a legal reason to be here?” The truth is, if you have the dream of moving to Italy, you have to do the research and make sure you have the right to legally be here and can afford to stay here. Are you wealthy? Do you have a large passive income? Do you have family that you could get citizenship from? Do you have a job? Are you going to study? You have to figure this stuff out first.
Brandy: So let’s say someone has the legal side of moving to Italy figured out. Any advice on how to prepare for moving to Italy?
Evelyn: I would definitely say mentally prepare yourself. It’s important to strengthen your mental health because you need to be ready for criticism and hard times. If you’re not in a good mental space, it’s going to be a shit show because you run into stressful things like culture shock. Just make sure you know what you’re getting into and make sure you’re ready for it.
Brandy: That’s so true and honestly something I wish more people would talk openly about when it comes to moving to Italy. For me, not speaking Italian fluently before moving here has definitely been mentally challenging. It’s embarrassing to struggle to speak in front of strangers.
Evelyn: Definitely learn to speak Italian before you come. The earlier you start the better. It makes it easier to make Italian friends which I would say is another good tip. Don’t stick to the expat community, make Italian friends. You can make an expat friend in one night over a drink talking about shared experiences. Making Italian friends takes more time and effort but it’s worth it to have a deeper more authentic experience. A final tip, don’t pin yourself to a spot in Italy until you’ve visited as much of the country as you can.
Brandy: Speaking of which, you’ve seen 15 of 20 regions in Italy. Why did you settle on Turin to live?
Deciding Where to Live in Italy
Evelyn: I just got back from Sardinia which makes it 16 now! With Torino, it was half boyfriend, half I just really liked it. During University, I had visited the city a few times and really loved it. After my Masters, I ended up doing an internship at the museum and, after that, I worked for Slow Food. Rome was great while I was a student. Going out every night, meeting new people, but that’s better when you are younger. I just always loved coming to Torino. I like how green Torino is. It’s manageable size-wise. Really, it’s beautiful. So when it came time to settle down a bit, Torino just felt right.
Brandy: Okay, last question. What would you like people to know about Colline alle Montagne.
Evelyn: With Colline alle Montagne I plan personalized trips to help curious travelers discover Italy off the beaten path, away from tourist traps. I also offer gastronomic tours in Torino for coffee, chocolate, cheese, and wine.
With that, I’d like to thank Evelyn for her time and for sharing her experience. Evelyn made me think about the privilege and challenges of moving to Italy in a very honest way. I know firsthand her advice about preparing yourself mentally for a move to Italy, or any new country is critical for potential expats, immigrants, or foreigners living abroad!
Such a great read! I met Evelyn while in TO, on an ‘art trip’ long past my au-pair days and really at the end of an amazing and terrible adventure. My heart longs for a return, and this will do just fine in the meanwhile.
Hi Chloe! I like the idea that Italy takes a piece of your heart and holds it for you till you can get back for it.