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From the USA to Italy: My Life In Transit

03 February, 2014 10:33  Erin Erin

my life in transit

Hi! My name is Brendan Monroe. Originally I’m from Phoenix, Arizona but I spent the last half of my American years in Orlando, Florida. At the current moment I’m residing in Rome, Italy.

1. Why did you move abroad?
Haha, how much time do you have? I had just graduated from University and the most terrifying thing to me, then and now, was to end up slaving at a desk job. There’s more to it than that, the cliché thing to say would be that I left to “find” myself, but that actually sums up my feelings at the time pretty well. I wanted to leave what I knew and was comfortable with for the mystery of the unknown and, along the way, meet new people and experience a bit of culture. Maybe educate myself on the places I didn’t know and gain some inspiration for my writing… for starters!

2. How do you make a living?
I get paid for the odd travel bit of travel writing but the vast majority of my income over here comes from teaching English. What a luxury we have as Native English speakers to be able to go more or less wherever we want and be almost guaranteed to find a job teaching! It’s a great way to support the travel fix. Better than selling my kidneys anyway. So far I’ve lived in the Czech Republic, Morocco, Ukraine and now Italy! I don’t plan on slowing down anytime soon, either.

3. How often do you communicate with home and how?
Thor Bless the Scandinavians for Skype! If you look back at the things that have revolutionized travel, the steam engine, the airplane, email, Skype has got to be right up there with them. Having said that, my communication with home has certainly slipped a bit over the last two years, to the point where I’ll go a couple of months without a proper chat. A brief message over Facebook though is a weekly occurrence. Needless to say, my idea of home has since been majorly uprooted, like a U2 song. Still haven’t found what I’m looking for.

4. What's your favorite thing about being an expat in Rome?
It’s Rome! You can’t go buy a bottle of tomato sauce without passing a pile of rocks dating back 2,000 years. Plus, as anyone who has visited can tell you, a few days in Rome barely brushes the surface of all there is to do. Everyone should spend at least a few months here just to experience the history and culture! Not to mention staying in Rome long term has other advantages as well, namely gaining enough knowledge to avoid certain over hyped attractions and “authentic” pizzerias that are in reality as real as the Gucci purses being shilled by Tunisians in front of the Vatican. After a while you learn where the great restaurants are as well as those hidden spots the guidebooks don’t tell you about.

5. What’s the worst thing about being an expat in Rome?
That there are so many of us! It’s almost as common to run into an expat on the bus as it is to run into an Italian. And what a painful experience that can be! I was on a bus full of American teenagers a couple weeks ago, and if experiences like that don’t damage our foreign relations with other countries than no amount of Snowden revelations and drone strikes can.

Getting back to the question, there are certain cities, London, Paris and Prague belong here too, where being an expat becomes a majority experience. Upon moving to Rome I had nearly everyone I knew back home offering up places to eat and things to see, and that kind of put a damper on the experience for me. I’m a bit selfish in this way. Is it possible to discover anything new in this increasingly globalized world? It’s certainly a challenge in Rome.

6. What do you miss most?
Mexican food. Europe does a lot of things right, but Mexican isn’t one of them. Even a Chipotle burrito would do the trick. I’ve actually had dreams about it.

Books translated into American English are longed for as well. The books you find here are all in British English. Which is better than reading ‘The Fountainhead’ in Italian, as it normally takes a year to get through anyway, but in Italian?? Fuggedaboutit! Nevertheless I’m constantly coming across all kinds of strange words for things. “Skip” rather than “garbage” for example… that ruined the ending of ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’ for me… or “boot” rather than “trunk,” as in, what’s that Murakami character doing talking about stuffing his belongings into a “boot”? I was reading a novel the other day and one character asked another if he had a “rubber”. Needless to say, I was quite confused as they were both children, BBC scandal aside. Plus reading the British English dialogue makes me picture the characters as Gordon Ramsey, or Helen Mirren, or Judi Dench, or… I only know so many British personalities!

So I miss those things… oh, and friends and family!

7. What did you do to meet people and integrate in your new home?
In Rome it’s a bit different than in my previous country, Ukraine, because there’s obviously a much larger expat community here. I spend a good deal of time with colleagues from the U.S. or Britain.

As for meeting locals, Couchsurfing is always good, but Italians I’ve found to be generally open enough so that I even became really good friends with some I met who worked at a restaurant I frequented in a small town in the Puglia region down south.

8. What custom/ habits do you find most strange about your adopted culture?

The obsession with hair gel. I watched ‘American Hustle’ the other day, and found that a lot of the people leaving the cinema afterwards could have passed for extras. The fashion sense here makes me feel at times like I’m living through the last decent John Travolta movie… in other words, the 70’s or 80’s.

9. What is a myth about your adopted country?
That Italians are all laid back people. That’s true in the smaller towns, but in the bigger cities, Rome and Milan in particular, the only Italians who are laid back are city employees, which is why public transport and other public services are all screwed up.

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?
Since the last country I lived in was Ukraine, where a centrally located flat in a major city runs you no more than 300 euros and a train ticket to the other side of the country costs less than 10, it’s easy to say that the cost of living in Italy, in particular Rome, is much, much higher. I was in Belgium last month and museums there, if they cost anything, cost no more than a couple of euros. Here you can’t get a ticket to any museum for less than eight. Couple that with the fact that most schools in Rome pay English teachers a pittance and you’re left on the weekend to decide whether to pay admission to see some Ancient Roman ruins or go out to eat somewhere.

11.  What advice would you give other expats?

Definitely research the place and if possible talk to an expat already living there before deciding whether it’s really where you want to go. Don’t rely solely on stereotypes when making your decision, otherwise you’ll end up hyperventilating the first time you take the metro during rush hour. That done, try not to spend all your time with other expats but branch out and meet some locals. It’s by far the best way to experience and learn about your new home. And, most importantly, know when to follow the axiom “When in Rome…” and when to abandon it. i.e. don’t use it as an excuse for thuggery.

12. When and why did you start your blog?my life in transit
I started my blog over 3 years ago as an outlet to talk about my travel experiences. I’ve since expanded it, so that now I also post short stories as well as restaurant and café reviews. I never sought to become just another travel blogger, especially because I think most expat bloggers aren’t honest enough. The expat blogs I read are almost universally positive in their praise and adulation of their new home. I realize there is a very fine line that exists for a foreigner between criticizing another country and acting like a self-righteous colonist seeking to import their own values but at the same time you can still be honest and even critical about certain things while maintaining a sense of respect for the people and culture of your new home. I would much rather read a black-and-blue account of life in Italy than yet another happy-go-lucky “they eat pasta all day here!” one.

Blog LinkBrendan's blog, My Life In Transit

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