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Interview with Simona – an Italian expat living in Northern California

Updated 3 Mar 2020

Simona Carini is an Italian-born expat who has been living in Northern California for 25 years. Over the years she has seen many processes and experiences change for expats moving to the US. For example, all her dealings with official services happened before the era of the internet and were done over snail mail and by visiting physical offices. In her Expat Arrivals interview, she reflects on the life she has built in the San Fransisco Bay area. Simona also has a website where she writes about her experiences, cooking and photography.

Read more about expat life in the USA in our Expat Arrival USA country guide.

About Simona

Q: Where are you originally from?
A: Italy

Q: Where are you currently living?
A: Northern California, USA

Q: When did you move here?
A: 25 years ago

Q: Is this your first expat experience?
A: Yes, it was.

Q: Did you move here alone or with a spouse/family?
A: Alone

Q: Why did you move; what do you do?
A: I work as an informatics researcher at an academic institution.

Living in Northern California

Q: What do you enjoy most about Northern California?
A: I enjoy the diversity of people and cultures and love shopping at the farmers’ markets.

Q: What are the biggest adjustments you had to make when settling into expat life here? Did you experience any particular elements of culture shock?
A: Living full time in a country is not like visiting as a tourist. Many adjustments were required, particularly at the beginning, starting from speaking a language that was not my native one. I was fluent in English when I moved to California, but communicating constantly in English required a lot of mental energy.

Q: Is there anything particularly expensive or particularly cheap in the area you live?
A: The San Francisco Bay Area is famously expensive in terms of housing and in general in terms of living costs. 

Q: How would you rate the public transport?
A: The BART (subway) system is great. San Francisco has a good public transport system called MUNI. I don’t use buses in the East Bay Area, because I’ve finally become comfortable riding my bicycle. The availability of bike lanes has been steadily improving.

Q: How would you rate the healthcare in your city?
A: In the US you don’t really choose: you get the healthcare that you can and the health plan you have dictates which hospital(s) you can go and which doctors you can see. If you work for a large company you probably have various options to choose from in terms of health plans. 

Q: What are the schools like, any particular suggestions?
A: The schools and the university I attended in Italy were of high quality. I appreciated them even more after I moved to California. I had a great experience at Mills College (Oakland, CA) where I received my Master’s Degree. My recommendation is to do thorough research beforehand.

Meeting people and making friends

Q: How tolerant are the locals of foreigners? Is there obvious discrimination against any particular groups? Have you ever experienced discrimination in the San Francisco Bay Area?
A: The San Francisco Bay Area is quite diverse. I have never met anyone who does not love Italy and I have never met anybody openly hostile.

Q: Was meeting people and making friends easy? How did you go about meeting new people?
A: The way people socialize in different countries is different. I joined a gym and met people there. I became friends with a number of my colleagues at work. 

Q: What advice would you give to new expats looking to make friends with the locals? 
A: I’d recommend joining an activity (sport, hobby, etc.) you like as that is a good way to meet people with shared interests. 

Final thoughts

Q: Is there any advice you would like to offer new expat arrivals to Northern California?
A: The San Francisco Bay Area has some amazing parks: explore them!

► Interviewed March 2020

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