Francesco moved to Melbourne to follow his Australian wife. Unfortunately after a few years tensions in the couple became too high and the marriage ended. In this interview with Barbara Amalberti (Barbaraexpat), Francesco shares his difficult journey and tells us how, in spite of all, he has managed to find peace in his new life. Thanks Francesco for your generosity and openness.
Translated from Italian by Barbaraexpat
Tell us about how you decided to move to Australia…
I arrived in 2000, for family reasons as I was married to an Australian woman I had met in Italy in 1994. In 1996 we got married and we lived in my home town, in Italy, for seven years. Two of our children were born there, P in 1998 and T in 1999. It was after their birth that my wife started to feel homesick.
What was her reason to be in Italy? Had you spoken about the possibility of moving to Australia?
As many young Australians, she was travelling. She had performed in the Edinburgh festival with a theatre show and was making her way through Europe. We met when she visited my hometown.
Initially she loved living in Italy and we got married with the plan to stay. After a few years, though, she changed her mind and decided she wanted to go back. She thought she would have better job opportunity in Australia and she was homesick. Perhaps the birth of our children brought up the homesickness.
I was hesitant at first, but then I decided to take my chances.
How was your English when you arrived in Melbourne?
My English was fairly good but initially I worked as Italian teacher and waiter, so I didn’t need to have perfect English. The language was definitely not an obstacle for me.
When you left for Melbourne, did you plan to move there permanently?
No, we left with the idea of trying for one year. This was a big mistake as you can’t try to live abroad for one year. I believe it’s the wrong approach, particularly if children are involved. One has to jump into it, leaving all doors open. Trying for just one year is silly, you need more time to understand.
I had decided to stay one year but after seven months I started to be really homesick. In fact I was homesick a lot earlier. We arrived in November, the beginning of summer, and the first two months went well, but with the first rains I started to think “I don’t like it here!”. I got to the point of feeling really bad and our problems started.
She was trying very hard to make it work in Australia but I just wanted to go back to Italy.
All this wavering created distance between us and the damage was done. We went through a very tough time and I decided to go back to Italy. I took the children with me and we stayed a month, I still had my job there and I didn’t want to lose it. At the end of the month, we went back to Australia and, as she hadn’t changed her mind, I returned to Italy by myself, hoping that they would soon join me.
I went back to my old job and to my life.We were very close to separation but, although I was far away, I called her everyday. I often asked: Have you made a decision?
But her answer was always the same: she did not want to come.
Finally I left everything and went back to Melbourne. I made the right decision.
The first few months were difficult and also a bit awkward as we had been living apart for a long time and we had been close to separation. Slowly we managed to get closer.
I believe our relationship improved as my life in Melbourne got better. I went back to study and this opened a lot of doors. The children were growing up, they started going to kinder and I started to meet other parents. My life acquired some meaning and it was more pleasurable.
In the morning I took the children to kinder and then I jumped on my bike and went to uni. I was back at three, ready to pick them up. We had afternoon tea, we played and I made dinner. When she came back from work we spent time together and then I did some studying.
For the next three years this was our life and I felt a lot better. I started to enjoy my Australian life. Around that time I started to make some friends and my life became more meaningful, my relationship with V. improved, too.
Unfortunately the damage was too deep and we were never able to heal the wound completely.
In 2007 more tensions arose. We decided to buy a house and as soon as that was done, something happened that made us hit rock bottom. She stopped talking to me and five months after she took the children and left.
A very troubled relationship. Do you think that the cultural differences between you had an impact on your problems and, ultimately, your separation?
Our problems were initially due to poor communication. Of course this can occur with people who come from the same country, but having different backgrounds can certainly increase the problem. For example, some things can be normal for her but not for me, and viceversa. Therefore it gets more complicated.
We have had many happy years when those differences were not an issue. It was only when we started to have problems that differences started to play a part in our relationship.
My other problem was to be so far from Italy. When I was feeling bad I didn’t have the option to go away for a couple of days to recharge my batteries, with family and friends. Viceversa when I was in Italy, I couldn’t just drop in to see my children.
Has the distance from Italy highlighted your pain after the separation?
Yes, I would have liked to go home and be close to my parents, my friends, the people who have always known me and would have understood my predicament.
However one of the upside of living abroad is the opportunity to create very deep friendships and, in time of need, I understood that I had many people I could count on.
Have these friendships helped to make you feel less abandoned?
I never felt abandoned. It’s important for me to point out that one of the benefit of living abroad is to be able to form very strong friendships, particularly during difficult times. We are all in the same boat and we are so far from the shore that we must help and support each other. At that time my friends were a great comfort to me, much more than I would have thought.
Can you talk to us about your present situation? Eight years since your divorce, how is your life as an expat going?
In the past eight years my main reason to stay have been my children, although there are many positive things in my life today. When it was very hard, though, if it hadn’t been for them, I would have gone back.
My children are now 17, 15 and 10 years old. I have a great relationship with my youngest daughter and things are slowly improving with the other two. I keep all my doors open. I believe that when living abroad you can’t say “I’ll be here for the rest of my life” or “I’ll go back soon”, it’s better not to commit. At the moment I am enjoying life. I try to be happy but, obviously, a small part of me thinks: “I’d like to go back one day”. I make no plans, though. I try to be healthy, physically and mentally and to be financially secure. For me it’s important to keep strong and independent, to be able to hold up if difficult times arise. My parents are getting older and I need to take into account the possibility of receiving that dreaded phone call. On top of other things, feeling well for me means to have the ability to get through potential hard times. As an expat I believe I am more aware of that. I am like the bear before his winter sleep, I need to gather all my nourishment and strength.
Thank you, Francesco. One last question: do your children speak Italian?
When we lived together they spoke Italian perfectly.
The oldest one now doesn’t speak it anymore but my daughters still speak fluently.
My youngest one spends quite a bit of time with me and when she comes to my house it is like going on an Italian holiday. We are always together, we see my Italian friends, we listen to Italian music and watch Italian movies.
I don’t see S. very often but she is studying Italian for her final exams at school and she is doing her best to always speak Italian to me.