Living in Florence is many people’s dream, but actually making it happen – and making it work is a whole different kind of story.
I can tell because I’ve been making it work since 2010 and can call myself a rather weathered Florentine expat. And the weather hasn’t always been bright and sunny the way it is in our photos when dreaming away of a wondrous life in Florence.
It can sometimes get pretty murky actually. Especially when money starts running out, love ends and friends leave. So, I felt inspired to write this post for those of you who desire to live here and wish to get a realistic picture of the “dream life” and, also for the ones who already do live here, but feel like their dream has become a bit less rosy then they had initially imagined.
I’ll do this by taking some ideas that people have about moving here and then mirroring these with reality, or at least the way I have experienced reality. Because in the end, we all know, reality will hit one day or another.
Photo: Shirley Shivhon
“Once I’ll have moved to Florence, all my problems will disappear”
They won’t. After the three-month honeymoon period is over, you’ll start seeing old patterns come back into your life. And that’s not because you happen to be in Florence, Italy or Europe for that matter. It’s because it’s you who moved to Florence, not the other way around. She is a wonderful host, but you do need to take the responsibility for yourself and your own life while in her arms. Her love, tenderness and beauty might make you feel that you’ve been saved, but it’s a bit like being in love; at some point you need to live with the other person and can’t just live off the joys and ignore the burdens.
When you come here to solve your problems, to run away from a love that ended in disaster or you’re trying to find salvation, don’t come. Please, sort yourself out before coming here. You need a solid base to lift off from after landing in your new habitat. Moving countries shakes you to your core and if you don’t have yourself to fall back on, you set yourself up for a bigger challenge than necessary and actually risk moving back before having gone through the full experience.
I nearly plummeted back into serious anxiety disorder after my initial five month period. I had gone home for Christmas to celebrate with my family and to tell everyone how fabulous life in Florence was. I had decided not to follow my initial plan to go to Australia, but to go back to Florence and try to settle there instead. When I came back I heard crickets. No more language class, no more language class classmates, no more language school internship, no more language school apartment, no more structure, no more nothing.
I held tightly onto the dog my then sort of random Brazilian boyfriend had and walked her every day to get out of the house – and out of my head. The silence and emptiness were dreadful and it was literally sinking or swimming in those cold and dreary months of January and February.
Having a degree as an English teacher, being very resilient and willing to do whatever it takes to make what I set my mind to work, saved my Florentine adventure and turned it into a Florentine life. I started advertising my teaching services like crazy and sent out CVs to every English school in Florence. Within a month I had a new place, two jobs and several private students. I was living, working and making it happen in Florence. That feeling was SO fantastic.
I’ve noticed that Florence tends to help people flourish who are in touch with themselves, who love themselves enough to not need anything else to fill the void and who are willing to do whatever it takes to make their love life happen, instead of sitting around waiting to be saved. Again, a great similarity with a relationship. Life in Florence requires work and dedication, not dreaming and wishing it will one day all just magically work out.
“I’ll learn the language in a month and will be able to integrate in no time.”
Italian is a beautiful language, but it’s not easy. No language is easy. Especially when you’re not used to studying languages, like many of my American clients. Having an English teaching background, I know that learning a new language takes time, practise and a lot of self-compassion. I also know this because I learnt to speak – and survive in – Italian myself.
It’s really scary to have to go to local government institutions and not really know what these important people are saying about really important matters like residency, health care and tax. It makes you feel like that tiny little girl in class that sucked at a supposedly easy math exercise and is the only one who doesn’t seem to get it. Yes, that feeling. Let’s just say I’ve been close to tears at several occasions. And then I’m not even counting those first encounters at my (now ex) in-law’s place.
Learning a new language is hard because it’s not just remembering words and grammar structures, but actually learning to read – and listen – in between the lines. When Italians say: “certo, ci sentiamo presto!” you’ll probably never hear from them again. Or when they start using formal structures all of a sudden you know you’ve pissed them off. You don’t know that when you’re thinking “what Lei (she) is she talking about?” when you don’t know that Lei is the formal version of you in Italian. And many other funny tiny little massively important things like those.
Study the language before coming here. Make sure you can converse at least a little. Show the taxi driver that you’re not an idiot by showing him you “know your chickens” (Italian expression that means you know who you’re up against). And when you’re here practise your ass off. Talk to every living Italian soul you run into and just fail your way forward. Learning a language is using it and repeating everything over and over again until it sticks and becomes habitual. This mean taking the leap continuously and being willing to look very, very stupid basically all the time. Nota bene; it’s not for the faint-hearted!
“Italians are such romantic lovers”
Some are. Some aren’t. They’re people. The movies tend to depict them as wonderfully skilled lovers who are just waiting for a helpless blonde to make into their beloved maiden. Some of them do a great job at fooling you into believing that they are. And that’s where the language skills, your intuition and common sense come in. Luckily I had all three and I never fell for the first random “ciao bella” coming my way thinking that I was the only one they’d say that too. I now play with it, responding in fluent Florentine after acting as if I don’t speak Italian for a few sentences. The look on their faces is priceless.
Long story short, some Italian men are on the lookout for lonely expat ladies they can take advantage of and then leave heart-broken when another more appealing version walks by. Be wise, check your radar and select carefully. They’re people too.
“Finding work won’t be such a problem since I’m super talented”
Italy is an interesting animal. There is no such thing as meritocracy and you have more chance of landing a good job because you’re the neighbour’s, cousin’s old classmate than because you’re f*cking good at what you do. Knowing your people is more important than knowing your stuff and that is very frustrating for young, talented and ambitious Italians as well as for expats trying to find a job at their same level back home.
In order to survive here you initially need to be willing to go for whatever job is offered. I’m talking waitress, shop assistant, babysitter; whatever. I was lucky enough to have a degree in teaching English and to offer something they desperately need. But besides that I taught Dutch at a school, was an interpreter at a cooking school, I showed Dutch people around Florence, I did translation jobs, wrote for a Dutch blog on Italy and many other things to make my dream work. The reward was my life in Florence. I was surviving here and that was enough for a long time.
Then after five years I got fed up with surviving and I wanted to thrive. That’s when I decided to go back to school, study how to become a life coach in Italian and then set up my own business here. And now I can finally say my living standard is close to where I desire it to be. This is because I’ve been willing to take the leap of changing careers three times, studying a new profession in my third language and making the “impossible” possible by having my own business in Florence.
Is it easy? No. Is it fulfilling. Yes. And that’s what counts above all else. I’m making this happen no matter what and that’s why I am succeeding.
You need to seriously consider if you’re up for a similar struggle. Or just have a very successful business back home that you run remotely, or just have shitloads of money before coming here so you can basically chill your way through life here. Finding a job here is really hard – and that is no understatement considering I usually refrain from making such negative statements being the most optimistic person I know.
“I have many friends here, I’ll have many friends there.”
Making real friends takes time, investment and attention. Just meeting people because they’re also expats in Florence doesn’t make them good friends right away. Yes, you share something massive that you have in common, and you are in desperate need of social contact, but do select your friends well. Would you also find this person cool outside of this same boat you happen to be in? This will allow you to invest in meaningful friendships instead of random friend-flings that leave you disappointed when they leave again. Because, yes, people come and go in Florence. Hard, but true.
You are setting up your life here. This means creating meaningful relationships with like-minded people, looking for a fulfilling job, being able to communicate with the local people, creating a home that feels like home and creating a solid base for yourself in a new country. This takes time. This takes a strong social network. It takes patience and a lot of courage, determination, a bit of madness and a very, very deep love for Florence. Knowing the right people, how it works and what to do and what especially not to do is of the essence. And that’s where I come in.
I help women who dream of moving to Florence to take the leap and set up their life here. I offer mental support before departure and help you plan out your big, bold move, to get the courage to go for it and gather up the confidence to tell loved ones (and other people that usually don’t get it) about this new venture of yours. I help you connect to your own truth, to trust it and follow it. Then, once here I provide support when landing and integrating into your new life so you won’t be alone in this big, new place called home.
Thanks to my vast network I can even provide connections for possible job opportunities and practical tips & tricks in getting your feet on the ground here. Another valuable aspect of my services is the community I’ve created through my Facebook group The YES Woman. I organise monthly meet ups to bring courageous women together who’ve actually taken the leap. Great connections, friendships and network opportunities arise from these beautiful gatherings!
If you’re interested in my help in taking your leap to Florence or to flourish in Florence more when already here, please book a first discovery call and you’ll tell me more about your dreams and desires, I’ll tell you how I can help and we’ll see if we’re the right match to work together. Looking forward to connecting with you!
Love & courage from Florence,