Welcome to the fifth edition of Stories of Moving to Italy. This week’s interview is with Barbora from Turn Italian. Originally from Slovakia, Barbora left home at the age of 19 with one suitcase. Since then she’s lived in Switzerland, the UK, and Italy. As a polyglot in Milan, Barbora is on a mission to “help expats navigate the ex-pat’s sea.” Barbora encourages expats to speak out about the impact our hidden struggles have on our mental health. Here are the highlights from my chat with Barbora!
Stories of Moving to Italy | Barbora on Mental Health Struggles for Expats
Brandy: You’ve had a lot of experience being an expat having lived in Switzerland, UK, and now Italy. What’s the story behind your moves?
Barbora: I was born and raised in Slovakia. After high school, I applied for a scenography (the design and painting of theatrical scenery) course at The Academy of Performing Arts in Prague. I was not admitted, and honestly, I did not know what to do. I had spent years sewing in my spare time, had even a few exhibitions, and supplied local fencing clubs with costumes. I was very disappointed and did not know what to study, so I thought I could go abroad for a year, and then I would have to make up my mind.
I applied for about 1,200 vacancies in hospitality between Italy and Ticino, and eventually got hired in Switzerland for a seasonal waitressing job. Once my contract expired I thought I could improve my English so I looked for a job in England. I was enjoying England and wanted to enroll at university there however, the school fees rose drastically that year and I could not afford it. As I could speak Italian (something Barbora learned to do as a teenager) I thought Italy would be a good solution for me. It was not an easy decision, but I went for it. To make a long story short, I moved to Milan, settled down, found a job, and enrolled at La Statale University.
Brandy: Now that you’ve been in Milan for nearly eight years, let’s talk about life in Italy as an expat. What’s the hardest part of living in Italy as an expat?
Pros and Cons of Moving to Italy
Barbora: Expats are seen as “stranieri” (foreigners) by quite a lot of people. Sometimes, some locals (not all of them) tend to be rude and treat us differently, which does not allow us to feel truly at home. However, I do not want to discourage anybody and do not blame all Italians. It is really about individuals.
Brandy: What’s the hardest part of finding work as an expat?
Barbora: I would say, it might be challenging especially at the beginning when we are alone with no network. Having no job is difficult in various ways. Firstly emotionally, as we tend to feel like a loser, and there is nobody to speak with about it. Secondly, financially. A lot of us have to start from scratch, we have little or no savings, and have to face the high cost of living.
Brandy: You recently gave a speech about languages and mental health, can you tell us a bit more about it?
Barbora: Sure! I organized a Language and Mental Health conference because I firmly believe that mental health is not a luxury, but a primary right of each of us. Unfortunately, there is still a huge stigma about it, and at the same time, we tend to neglect it. Moreover, expats are under further pressure, because they live their dream life, they have no right to complain, right? Well, not at all. Nobody sees the struggles connected to job hunting, looking for a decent place to stay, making true friendships, reinventing our routine, dealing with a language barrier, and cultural differences.
That’s how the idea was born and I’d like to say a big thank you to my 11 colleagues who embarked on this journey with me. We tried to offer our perspective and ready-to-put-into-practice advice on expat’s life, language learning, and of course on mental health.
I was amazed to receive all that wonderful feedback, and cannot wait to run the second edition next spring.
If you’re an expat who would like to learn more, contact Barbora here!
Brandy: Now for the fun part, what’s the most rewarding part of living in Italy?
Barbora: Actually, there are different rewarding parts. One is more personal, and it is about my personal journey from studying at university to figuring out my dream job, from facing the most difficult moments in my life so far to the best ones.
The second is about Italy on the whole. One might take it for granted, but I am in love with its landscape, food, museums, and culture.
Brandy: Thank you for being open about the struggles expats face and the impact they can have on mental health. In closing can you tell us a bit about your services with Turn Italian?
Barbora: My mission is to help expats to navigate at the ex-pat’s sea. Expat’s life might get challenging, that is why we need somebody to speak about it, a person who can understand and advise us on our journey. When our loved ones are not able to support us, I’m here to help. I offer a safe environment where to speak about expat’s troubles and provide takeaway tips to stand up for ourselves confidently.
Brandy: Barbora thank you for your time! For anyone curious about the expat experience in Italy Barbora has an amazing series of expat interviews on her blog I highly recommend! She’s also on Instagram with videos from her interviews including one with Amanda who you might remember from my interview with her about dealing with feelings of loneliness and making friends in Italy.