Art, Travel & Life in Italy & Europe

How to put down roots in another country

Someone, perhaps it was I, had the bright idea of the theme of “roots” for this month’s Italy blogging roundtable. As spring starts to rear its little head, I get to thinking of plants, and thus roots, and recall that this is my twelfth spring here. That’s a long time, a third of my life, and I do really think that I’ve put down my roots right here in Florence. I’m not sure how this came to be, nor when, though I do know that I can make myself at home pretty quickly, just about anywhere. I think once one decides to stay somewhere, it is possible to do a few things to make it better/ tolerable/ wonderful/ home. Are you an expat? Do you need some help with your roots? Here is what worked for me.

Are you an expat?

Test #1 to determine if you’re a permanent expat with roots (and I don’t mean when you haven’t been to the hairdresser in a while): A new acquaintance asks you “How often do you go home” and you answer “most nights, unless I am with my lover.” People always want to know how often I go “home” to Canada, at which point I say “oh, you mean to my parents‘ house!”

Test #2: Count the number of people you know in your chosen city. Count how many you know in your home town. Use whatever criteria you want – I’d say “knowing” people means regular interaction on social media or email or in real life, that I’d make an effort to visit more than once a year. If the number of people you know “here” is more than “there”, you are probably a pretty solid expat.

Test #3: You need a new health card/ building permit / knife sharpening service/ or whatever. Do you know where to get it within a radius of 15 kilometers? If yes, you have arrived.

Do you want roots? this might help.

Everyone has a different story, different reasons to settle down in another country, different goals, and different needs. Me? I came to study and loved it, then I met “the guy,” kept studying elsewhere, but found it logical to be here. As friends “couple up” and have kids, having a one-to-one social life with friends tends to be difficult, but it’s important to me to have friends and activities beyond my “couple” relationship. It’s not easy to meet new people beyond the workplace, and for a lot of expats there may not even be a formal workplace. Here are a few tips that I found helpful in making myself at home in Florence.

1) Business networking. I am part of a business network group called ToscanaIN. It was actually my husband who got me into it. Just about every city or area has some kind of networking group; some are fun, some are really dull. I was lucky that this one turned out to be a lot of fun, and has introduced me to a large group of diverse people. Some have become closer friends, others I see at monthly events. Either way, we both get out about once a month to go to these events and mix with other people. There are also groups for businesswomen, mommy support groups, and even Girl Geek Dinners in many cities around Italy and the world – find the one that works for you. (Yes, Rebecca, I realize that in a small town it’s a whole lot more difficult. But I’ve seen women in small towns become part of the local sagra planning committee… you do what it takes, I guess.)

2) Twitter. I am not kidding. Especially if you’re a blogger, it’s really easy to go on twitter and meet other like-minded writers in your area. If you’re just a regular technology geek, you might find events like meetups for twitter users – in Florence there are occasional pizza dinner meetups organized on twitter. (Disclaimer: regular common sense applies. May cause headache, nausea, or sudden death. Parts sold separately by Mattel.)

3) Give yourself a mission. If you’re new to a place, get to know it well. Take the time to explore it by foot and go see everything there is to see. Then, create a meaningful relationship with some element of it, or, put in another manner, give yourself a mission. For me, blogging about art and life in Florence was a mission that helped me get to know the city but also to put down these roots as I became a kind of “expert” that has put me in touch with lots of people.

Notice that I did not say “learn the language” (a given) nor “frequent expat groups” (nothing wrong with other expats, but why separate them out?). I am sure readers will have much to add to this, and I look forward to your comments.

Roots by the Italy Blogging Roundtable

This is a monthly blogging project in which us five female knights of the roundtable write about a pre-determined topic each month. Here’s what the others have to say about roots:

By: arttrav

Alexandra Korey aka ArtTrav is a Florence-based art historian and arts marketing consultant.

  • http://zerotheone.blogspot.com/ Katerina Bon Vora

    great topic! i feel i am in the same space thinking similar thoughts. thanks for sharing yours

  • http://www.brigolante.com/ Rebecca Winke

    I’m glad you brought up Twitter…I feel like social media are treated like kids’ play still, but they have been so helpful in the past year or two for me as an expat, as a business person, and as a writer. If I were to have written this article, I would have listed the exact same points…valid, all. 

  • http://www.arttrav.com arttrav

    thank you Rebecca, you are so sweet! I felt like I had said too little, or things with which many would disagree.

  • Anonymous

    This was interesting to me for a number of reasons. I’m definitely not an ex-pat at this time, but I put myself in the category of connected to many places. I’ve had an Italian partner for the last 3 years, have worked and lived for a number of years in Asia, Australia, the US and in various cities in Canada. I’ve been back in Ottawa for six years as my permanent base (for now, at least), and I’m connected to people and things here, but I’ve sustained my connections to other places. I like that it’s possible in this day and age to move around with relative ease (depending on one’s citizenship and employment of course). It’s such a great privilege to be able to experience the world in the depth that one chooses (and to return to one’s country of birth and to “know the place” a little bit better than before).