Jennifer Doohan is an English photographer, retoucher, expat, sports lover and much more. We already met her when she shared her professional story. Today she is back to tell us about the ups and downs of becoming an expat in Italy. Thanks a lot Jennifer!
In my life I have been passionate about two cultures, Japanese and Italian. Having realised one dream with a visit to Japan in 2014 I decided to realise another: to become an English teacher in Italy. Italy for a lot of people seems the answer to some unknown, inner questions. My career in the UK was in photography as a retoucher, but over the years I had noticed that I was really good with people. I’d had this teaching idea in my head for about five years, and had even started a TESOL qualification (which I abandoned half way through) because my lack of English grammar knowledge really worried me! Turning 30 helped me decide to leave my well-paid job, embark on a CELTA course in Milan and try to achieve what I originally set out to do.
I knew nothing of the mountainous ‘Trentino’ region I am living in now, but it is super sporty, like me, so that was a good bit of luck!
For the first eight months of my time here I was teaching in a private language school with nice owners. I was living and working with English speaking people, so my settling in wasn’t too challenging. It was fun exploring a new place together with like-minded people.
One of my main issues you could say was starting to date a local guy who doesn’t speak English. I’ve always liked a challenge! There was lots of Google translate at the start! This relationship has led me to living in two small villages, the one I am in now is much better. But people here speak local dialect, which is not formal Italian. However people speak Italian with me. My level is B1, more or less. I shan’t talk about Italian bureaucracy as that paper labyrinth is universally renowned, and yet still no one understands it.
With moving to another country there follows the highs and lows. The highs that, wow I did it, I am learning a language, I am speaking that language, look – the seasons are so defined and I am discovering so much…followed by: I have no friends, I have no real career or money… I want to speak English and be myself (social occasions can be exhausting when you’re having to try twice as hard to follow a conversation for example and can’t express yourself as you normally would.)
I have felt incredibly isolated and lonely at times. But this is all NORMAL! Meeting other expats only reconfirms this idea that you are in fact not alone in this feeling.
In the past I saw the mountains as life-givers, and I worked hard to escape to them. But living in them has made me feel something totally different, that I had never imagined! At times I have felt restricted and closed in, like everything was so far away. This sounds like a complaint, it’s not – call it an observation!
I am aware this feeling of restriction is as an emotional as well as physical block…try driving around here! And I am also aware that it is totally normal. To work around it, I need to get away – to take a trip somewhere new if I can. Nothing big, just something different! This act teaches me that all of my brilliant common sense and lust for life and adventure is still there within me.
Being an expat is something I imagine gets better with time as your contacts for work and friends grow. But I am also aware I have chosen to come to Italy for the love of it rather than it being a shining beacon of career opportunity for people with my media background. (n.b. I don’t see teaching English as a long-term option for me). In all honesty, I don’t know how long the label of ‘expat woman’ will apply to me, perhaps it will become: ‘Ex-expat woman who tried!’. It is very, very tough in Italy and I have learnt that you can live in the most beautiful place in the world, but if you love having a career or finding fulfillment through your work and you don’t have that same choice or access to stability, well…it’s easy to stay – hard to remain! Everyone has their own fulfillment and significance of what ‘expat’ means for them.
My advice for anybody striving to live and work in another country, even just for a little while: feel the fear and do it anyway! It will definitely change your life.
Jennifer Doohan (https://www.53northcreative.com)
All photos ©Jennifer Doohan