Sonia Piacente first visited Italy on a school trip, and her heart was won by the country. Later, she met an Italian man on assignment in Texas, where a pen-friendship blossomed into romance, then marriage. Moving to Italy was the next step in her double-barrelled love affair.
Q: Where are you originally from?
A: I was born in Dallas, Texas and with the exception of the three years I spent in Utah, I've lived in the DFW area my entire life.
Q: Where are you living now?
A: I now live in Turin, Italy, which is located in Piedmont.
Q: How long you have you lived in Turin?
A: I haven't been here very long, just two and a half years.
Q: Did you move with a spouse/children?
A: I moved to Turin with my husband, who was born and raised here.
Q: Why did you move to Italy; what do you do?
A: My husband's company sent him to Texas for two and a half years and after his contract ended, he needed to move back home to Turin. Since I met and married my husband in the States, I just played the part of the good wife… more than happy to move to Italy! I took a small break from working to explore the city, but after a few months, I found a job teaching English at a language centre. I'm in my second year of teaching, but I'm still looking for something more permanent.
Q: What do you enjoy most about Turin, how’s the quality of life?
A: What I love most about Turin is that it is a large city but it's so easy to get around. There is a great transportation system, so with the buses, trams and metro you can easily get where you need to go. Once you've gotten a feel for the city, it's nearly impossible to get lost. As far as the quality of life, it's the best of both worlds. I've got all the conveniences of big-city shopping and nightlife yet, small-town feel with neighbourhood parks and markets. I don't have a car, so I walk everywhere, lugging my food and baby at the same time. The change in my lifestyle was so dramatic that I lost 20 lbs within the first six months without trying.
Q: Any negatives? What do you miss most about home?
A: There are always negatives, no matter where you live or your situation. Besides missing my family, friends and having a stable job, I really miss Tex-Mex food. While I can make do with most things, it's still not the same. While I actually don't miss having a dryer or a washer that does one load in less than 90 minutes, I do miss having a car, but only on the days that it rains or snows and I have to walk to the store.
Q: Is Turin safe?
A: Like any city, there are certain parts of town that I will not go to alone, even during the day. For the most part, Turin is a safe city, but you always need to be aware of your surroundings, no matter where you are. As a woman, I can safely walk in the city centre and not have to worry about being in any danger.
Q: Which are the best places/suburbs to live in Turin as an expat?
A: I think any neighbourhood outside of the city centre is good. The more tourists there are, the harder it is to absorb the culture.
Q: What’s the cost of living in Italy compared to home? What is cheap or expensive in particular?
A: Italy is definitely much more expensive than Texas.
Q: What are the locals like; do you mix mainly with other expats?
A: I am so lucky to have made friends with the folks in my neighbourhood. Once people find out that I'm American, they jump at the chance to practice their English and we become instant friends. Since my husband is from Turin, most of our friends are locals, but we do have a few expat friends that we see quite often.
Q: Was it easy meeting people and making friends in Italy?
A: It was easy to make friends with my husband's friends. It was difficult making my own friends. I wanted to have my own circle of friends that were just mine. It took a few months, but once I started becoming comfortable in my surroundings, it came naturally.
Working in Italy
Q: Did you have a problem getting a work visa/permit?
A: I started my paperwork for my visa before leaving Texas and because I was following my husband, I got a Family visa which was valid for a year. Once we arrived, we followed the protocol and I got my Resident permit after four months. I was lucky, most people have to wait much longer.
Q: What’s the economic climate like in Turin, is there plenty of work?
A: Depending on who you talk to, you'll hear that work is easy to find because "you speak English". Some will tell you that "unless you speak fluent Italian" you will have a difficult time. Sadly, the latter is true. I know a few people who can't find a job because their English isn't good enough as well as people who know Italian but aren't fluent. You take what you can get.
Q: How does the work culture differ from home?
A: Americans work too hard and don't take any time off to enjoy life. Italians work hard but make time to enjoy life, even the simple things. I can't begin to tell you how many times, I've passed by a shop during open hours only to see it closed because they're at the bar getting their coffee.
Q: Did a relocation company help you with your move?
A: Yes and no. My husband bought our home shortly after we were married, so we had already had a place to live every time we came to visit. His company did help us in shipping our belongings.
Family and children in Italy
Q: Did your spouse or partner have problems adjusting to their new home?
A: My husband was happy to finally be back home. Everything was new to me but since we had visited several times before the big move, the adjustment was really easy.
Q: Did your children settle in easily?
A: We have one daughter who was born here in Turin. She's lucky that she will grow up in such a great city.
Q: What are the Italian schools like, any particular suggestions?
A: I haven't had any experiences with the school yet. I still have two years before I send my daughter to school.
Q: How would you rate the healthcare in Italy?
A: The healthcare, (which is number two in the world) is fantastic! Yes, sometimes you have to wait in line for two hours, but it is nice knowing that if you are properly documented, you can receive healthcare regardless if you have a job or not. You do have to go without certain luxuries, such as a private hospital room, but it's worth it. During my pregnancy, I only had to pay for some of my blood tests. Everything else, sonograms, delivery, four day hospital stay, was covered under the government healthcare (i.e. free).
Q: Is there any other advice you would like to offer new expat arrivals?
1) Get to know your city ASAP! Learn how to get to your house from the city centre, get to know your neighbourhood and which bus lines can get you home. A few months after I moved here, I was downtown and the metro had closed early! I had to find a bus to take me home and luckily, I had several lines that I could choose from. Keep a map with you at all times!
2) Know your neighbours! Get to know at least one person on each floor and everyone on your own floor. They are the ones who will help you when you need it. Get to know them and remember their faces. I've always been told by my Mother in Law and my husband to NEVER open the door to anyone, but if I see my neighbour with a handyman, I know it's OK.
3) Get to know the people who serve you. Who owns the bakery, and what is his/her name? The man at the newsstand? The cashier at your grocery store? The pharmacist? This is how I made my own friends. Francesca and Pasquale taught me the names of the different kinds of bread they sold. Giovanni would teach me a word/phrase every time I went in to buy bus tickets. I still don't know the name of the cashier at the store, but we're friends. We talk about cooking, kids and English. She also remembers my parents and asks about them. The pharmacist has banned me from speaking Italian because she wants to improve her English. This is what makes life in Italy (or any country) easier.
4) Find other expats! No one can understand better than a fellow expat. Find them online, through friends or church. About a month after I moved here, a lady from my church invited me out to lunch and showed me where I could find some American products. By six months time, I had someone contact me who was new to Turin and it was my turn to show her around.
And finally… enjoy everything your new city has to offer!
~ Interviewed April 2011