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From the UK to Germany to Parma back to the UK: Alex and Italy

20 January, 2014 11:48  Erin Erin

Alex and Italy Hi, I’m Alex. I’m 25 and have been lucky enough to spend 2012 in Czech Republic and Germany, and most of 2013 living, working and eating in Parma, Italy. Parma was a beautiful city and a wonderful time, and I miss Italy every day! I’m currently back in the UK making plans to explore life in a new country; I hope to move to Paris in the Spring. Here’s what I found of my time in Parma:

1. Why did you move abroad?
I’d always wanted to try living abroad at some point in my life. I wanted to try new experiences and meet different people, and see what life was like outside of the UK. I’d spent years dreaming about it and gazing at pictures of different countries online from behind my desk, but I just got stuck in a rut. Then one day, something just snapped and I went from looking at pictures to booking a flight!

2. How do you make a living?
I taught English. I lived in Germany before Parma, and spent ten months teaching there, and I also taught throughout my entire time in Parma. I taught in a small language school, and also picked up some private lessons. I taught mainly adults and mainly Business English – save for two crazy and exhausting weeks working at a children’s summer camp. I really enjoyed the teaching, but the schedule was tough; I had many “split-shifts” (lessons in the morning and evening with a huge break in-between) and late-night classes. I preferred teaching private lessons because of the flexibility. However, I do think if I had stayed at the language school longer, I could have had more freedom to negotiate my schedule.

3. How often do you communicate with home and how?
Skype was a lifesaver, and with it I spoke with family and friends a few times a week. I also wrote good old-fashioned lessons and postcards to my 82-year-old grandma, who isn’t exactly an expert in Skype.

4. What's your favorite thing about being an expat in Parma?
Parma is a beautiful city, and a very easy place to live. It’s small and not too intimidating to navigate, and there is a lovely, relaxed way of life there; I was told it often made the top 3 for “Best Places to Live in Italy” in terms of lifestyle. I also loved how close it was to other places in Northern Italy – I could hop on a train to Bologna or Milan whenever I wanted. And not to mention the food! I think I literally ate my weight in cheese several times over, and feel a pang of nostalgia every time I see Parmesan cheese in the supermarkets here.

5. What’s the worst thing about being an expat in Parma?
The weather was surprisingly terrible: freezing in the winter and insanely hot in the summer, with not much in-between. It was also more expensive than I realized.

6. What do you miss most when you're abroad?
The British sense of humour! I Sometimes, I just craved a bit of sarcasm. Sarcasm and fish and chips.

7. What did you do to meet people and integrate in your new home?
I forced myself to get out there and meet people right from Day 1 – even when it seemed tough, or I was feeling a little homesick. I went to expat groups, used Couchsurfing and met people through work. I met lots of lovely people through the expat groups. I also tried to get involved in different classes and activities. The more activities you do, the more likely you are to meet like-minded people and feel settled.

8. What custom/ habits do you find most strange about your adopted culture?
The lateness and general disorganization often drove me mad – particularly as I had just come from Germany, a notoriously organized country. It was normal for people to meet at least an hour after the arranged time, and for students to stroll in halfway through the lessons.

9. What is a myth about your adopted country?

I was always told that it was practically considered a mortal sin to drink a cappuccino in the afternoon/evening in Italy, but I saw countless Italian friends and colleagues doing it! I asked one of my cappuccino-drinking friends one evening, and he just said “Bah, that’s just crap we make up for you tourists!” I don’t know how authentic this information is, but it made me realize that the Italian food culture isn’t quite as conforming as we perhaps think. And if you can handle a snobby look or two, order whatever you want, whenever you want!

10. Is the cost of living higher or lower than the last country you lived in and how has that made a difference in your life?
Parma was a significantly more expensive place to live than Germany. Before this, I lived in a small town in former Eastern Germany, where costs overall were low. My rent was cheaper in Parma, but food, drinks and entertainment were all much more expensive. However, it didn’t affect my lifestyle too much. I lived relatively well and had a good social life. It did affect my ability to save, however; it was extremely difficult to have any money left at the end of the month, even with a budget.

11. What advice would you give other expats?
As I said before, throw yourself into as many activities and groups as possible. It really helps you feel settled in your new place when you have a good network of people. Learning the language, even a tiny amount, also helps a huge amount; it surprised me how little English was spoken here. Never underestimate the kindness of strangers. It surprised and humbled me how lovely people were – both expats and locals – and how willing to help other expats can be. After all, they’ve done it all before. I also advise taking more money than planned (especially for Italy), as there were several surprise costs here, such as administration fees for renting property. And you might want to start running too, if you like Italian food as much as I do!

12. When and why did you start your blog?Alex and Italy
I started a blog when I went to study to teach English in Prague, in January 2012. It was so my friends at home could read about my time abroad; it was another way to stay connected. I ended up carrying it on through the last two years, both to keep in touch and for my own records. It’s so nice to have these memories written down – there are little anecdotes and moments I would have completely forgotten about if I hadn’t documented them, and it’s so nice to look back on them!

Blog LinkAlex's blog, Alex in Italy


Guide for expatriates in Rome, Italy

Find out more about being an expat in the South Korea with Easy Expat's

Guide to Rome


Read Alex's articles on Teaching in Small Town Germany and

Getting Started as a TEFL Teacher in Italy

Getting Started as a TEFL Teacher in Italy
Teaching in Small Town Germany


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