Living in Italy, What it’s Like for Foreigners
Documentary filmmakers chat about what living in Italy for foreigners is like. Plus, my journey from Iowa to Italy.
This weekend I had the honor of being a guest speaker in a chat for the upcoming feature-length documentary Tied Into Me.
For the event, the filmmakers Caterina and Riccardo asked if I would talk about my own story of what living in Italy as a Foreigner is like. What brought me to make the decision and what living in Italy is like as a foreigner?
We were all nervous.
For Caterina and Riccardo, this was their first virtual event for the film. They worried about technical issues. I was worried my nerves would get the better of me and my neck and face would flush red.
All of our fears came true.
There were technical difficulties and my neck flushed as red as a beet. Yet still, the virtual chat had some really powerful moments that I’m proud of.
So I’m sharing it with you with a caveat. For the first few minutes, you’ll only be able to hear us. Stick with it though and Riccardo managed to get the video feeds working, just in time to see my neck flush!
A fellow American who also moved to Italy in 2020 recently told me “I feel like I was robbed of the experience of moving to Italy.” I share those feelings. When we spend a lifetime building up to a dream and the reality falls short, it stings.
Since moving to Italy I’ve been socially isolating like so many others. My first two years of trying to live in Italy as a foreigner, has looked like this.
Living in Italy for Foreigners Means Learning to Speak Italian
Learning a language through masks means missing the visual cues we count on. Honestly, it’s been hard. A barrier to connecting with the world I now live in that boasts so much beauty it’s painful. Painful because I am still a foreigner and I’m not sure how long it will take to feel like the Italian citizen I actually am. I might live in Italy now, but I’m still on the outside looking in.
As I mentioned in the chat, this is a big part of the reason I connected with the protagonist Daryl in Tied Into Me. You see his desire to live a simple, yet beautiful life in Venice and life just hands him a raw deal. I love what Daryl says in the film about looking at life as an adventure because it’s going to be one anyway. Life makes us flinch, but the stories we share with each other should be unflinching. Otherwise, it’s fiction, and fiction shared as truth is dangerous.
This is why I’m inspired by independent documentary filmmakers Caterina and Riccardo and why I agreed to speak with them during the virtual chat.
Below is the original copy of the script I wrote for myself to get through the chat. I’m an introverted, nervous type, thus the flushing. When the filmmakers asked me to speak about myself for 10 minutes, I knew I needed a crutch. What follows are the notes I used during the chat, to sum up, my story from Iowa to Italy. Since ALOR Italy has turned into a diary of moving to Italy, I figured I’d include these here with a few photos from my past in New York City and my future in Bardonecchia, Italy.
My First Year of Living in Italy as a Foreigner
My name is Brandy Shearer. I am a dual American Italian citizen and since April of 2020, I’ve been living in Bardonecchia, Italy. Bardonecchia is a town in the Italian Alps with about 3,000 people. If you’ve heard of Bardonecchia it’s most likely because you ski or you were watching the 2006 Winter Olympics snowboarding events.
Bardonecchia is as picturesque as you would imagine an Italian Alps ski town to be. It’s also as different as you could possibly get from Iowa, where I was born. Ohio, where I grew up, or New York City where I was living when I met this handsome Italian photographer named Paolo. Paolo is the love of my life and now my husband.
Ever since I can remember my Mom has been calling me Lucky Jo. Jo’s my middle name, her middle name, and my Grandfather’s name. Grandpa was lucky and so am I. In my life, I found money by swimming in public pools. On my 18th birthday, I bought my first lottery ticket and hit four numbers, and the night Paolo and I got engaged we were in the same room as Tom Hanks, Eric Idel, Kevin Klien, and Alan Alda. True story. I’ve been meaning to write it for ALOR.blog for a while now, but that’s a story for another time. Today I’d like to focus on what brought me to Italy that had nothing to do with being lucky and everything to do with living small like Daryl in ‘Tied Into Me.’
Moving From New York City to Italy
I’ll start by saying, what brought me to New York City was pure ambition. I was hungry to make something of my career and like a lot of women my age ‘Sex and the City’ made me want to wear Jimmy Choos in the Big Apple. So off I went working my way up the corporate ladder from InStyle to HBO to Food Network chasing salaries and titles. The following photos are the highlights of my career in New York City.
Why I Moved to Italy
By the time I met Paolo, I was the Executive Producer for Discovery Digital Studios. I had a team of Producers creating all the online video content for 14 networks including Discovery, TLC, and Animal Planet. It was a big job. I was commuting once a week via train between DC and New York City and I was exhausted. I remember coming home from one trip, setting my bags down, and melting into tears in Paolo’s arms saying “I’m just so tired.”
The more time Paolo and I spent together the more I saw working for himself meant he loved his work, controlled his schedule, and had plenty of time to work on his own creative projects. Meanwhile, the longer I worked in corporate America the worse my chest pains got. When they started to be a daily occurrence I knew something had to change.
Deciding to Leave Corporate America for Italy
While on the last day of our vacation in Costa Rica, I took some time to sit alone by the waves and think. In my head, I said to myself “If I don’t start living for myself now, it might be too late.” The very next Monday I went to work and gave my notice. I didn’t know what was going to happen next. I left without a plan. This was back in 2013, well before the great resignation.
Which in a way is what brings me to Italy. Since 2013 so much has changed. Paolo and I both became dual citizens and we set our sights on retiring early in Florence. One day when I asked Paolo how he had saved so much money he said “I didn’t spend it” which is when I realized I married a genius saver. So that’s what I became too. We changed EVERYTHING about the way we lived, earned, and spent money. Our goal was to increase our income and decrease our cost of living every year. I create a mantra Earn American, Live Italian. We became minimalists and nomads and never looked back.
Figuring Out How to Move to Italy
By 2019 I remember turning to Paolo and saying “How are we going to do it?” He said “What?” I said, “Move to Italy.” He said, “Call Delta.” We were ready. That was it! Or so we thought because COVID hit days after we gave notice to our family, friends, and apartment building that we were leaving. For us, isolating in place was no longer an option. From that moment on, we were on the run. When we heard rumors of lockdowns in our area and called our movers to see if they could move us sooner. They arrived the very next day at 9 am. After they left, we drove our car to Carmax and sold it. The following day we took a flight to Florida and hunkered down with my family till we could catch a repatriation flight to Italy.
Living in Italy During Lockdowns
When we got to Italy we were quarantined in Paolo’s parent’s vacation home in you guessed it Bardonecchia. We had spent time here before but never considered living in Bardonecchia because it was too remote. If we needed to work, it would be difficult. Then we ran the numbers. If we invested the $300,000 we had set aside to spend on a home in Florence, in 20 years with a modest compound interest rate, we’d have over a million dollars to add to our retirement accounts. At that moment we realized how much time we would get back by continuing to live small. For us, freedom of time is everything. So we took the opportunity to stay right where we were, in Bardonecchia and that’s the story of how I got to Bardonecchia, Italy.
It also explains some of the reasons I was so drawn to ‘Tied Into Me’ and by extension the filmmakers Riccardo and Caterina. While ‘Tied Into Me’ does tackle global warming as a topic, it doesn’t hit you over the head with it. The realization that our dreams, no matter how small, could all be impacted by climate change sort of sneaks up on you during the film. While I’ve never had a houseboat sink in Venice on me, I do know what it’s like to have a risky lifestyle choice turn into more of an adventure than you bargained for. So don’t wait. Don’t trade your time for things. When life gets hard embrace the adventure it is because it’s going to be one anyway.
I LOVED the photo of you with Paula Dean! I never realized how tiny she is with her larger than life personality. I recall your comments that she was a genuinely nice person, down to earth and probably your favorite. You did it: living NYC in your own Jimmy Choos! Now 180, with near daily hikes in the near solitude of the Italian Alps. Cheers to embracing your challenges! Cheers to a world recovering! Cheers to embracing new, unfiltered, real-life friendships!
I missed this earlier! Sorry Sis. Yes, Paula is tiny, tiny! Funny what 10 years will do, looking back. How different life is these days. Who would have guessed we would have both ended up in vacation towns for life.