Friday, October 25, 2013

International relations

One of the perks I most enjoy about living in Italy is the opportunity it gives me to meet people from other cultures. My Italian friends have been instrumental in giving me the "inside scoop" on Italian life and language, but I've also learned a lot from other international connections.

Haruko and I, 2008
Haruko moved here last year from Tokyo, after making many yearly visits like I do. Over the years, we've supported and encouraged each other in our love of Italy. We're both limited to three months in our length of stay unless we apply for a special visa called permesso di soggiorno, which requires proof of being able to support yourself while you're in Italy. After spending several years making connections with other expats, Haruko landed a job working for a company that caters to Japanese weddings in Europe, and helps to make the necessary arrangements for those events, mainly in Italy and France. She now has a permesso that can be renewed yearly. Since we're both in Florence at the same time this year, we've had the chance to hang out often, going out for dinner or aperitivi, or just walking around centro and enjoying being together again in Italy.

Paola is a native Florentine that I met in 2006, and we try to meet up whenever I'm in Florence. She speaks English fluently and teaches English for Specific Purposes in Italian high schools. She has also written a series of books on the topic: Learning English for Engineering, for Design, for Tourism, for Business, etc. I recently invited her over for dinner (I made roasted carrot and leek risotto, which she pronounced to be excellent, high praise indeed!) and she shared a new project with me. She's developed a new method for teaching language, and has made protoypes (both book and computer) in three languages. She had an interview this week with an international publisher while attending a book fair in Frankfort, so I'm eager to hear how it went. Her ideas and prototypes were very impressing and inspiring. If her books sell, her hope is to be able to spend more time living in England, her favorite place to be. Brava, Paola!

Friends from Norway: Anne, Gitte and Mio
Anne is a new friend from Norway, who lives in the same apartment building that I do in San Niccolo. Anne has come to Italy to experience the life of an apprentice and record her experiences as a project for her post graduate studies. After teaching art in Norwegian schools, she noticed the lack of apprenticeship options, that it was a dying art in Norway. So rather than coming to learn about a specific type of art restoration, she's planning to work with several accomplished restorers of paper, wood, paintings and ivory. Her notebook is filled with writings and drawings about her experiences. In a few short weeks, she's lined up work in several botteghe (workshops) that will keep her busy for the 15 months that she'll be in Florence. Lucky for her, as a European citizen, she can stay in Italy as long as she likes without having to get a permesso di soggiorno.

Digging in on a dessert of Tomino cheese, honey and walnuts
Through Anne, I met her friend Gitte, who came to visit from Norway with her son Mio, and the four of us had several chances to eat together and have long conversations about our cultures. Since they already know a lot about the United States, we've mainly focused on what it's like to live in Norway, which is truly unknown to me. And it's so interesting! Anne, for example, was brought up in a remote part of Norway, where her childhood was filled with pagan traditions and Norwegian myth. Gitte has Danish relatives and once dated a Finnish man, so she had information on other Scandinavian cultures and how they interact (or not). Despite our cultural differences, it's surprising how many things we have in common, including the kind of incense we like to use, the books we've read, and the interests we have. And of course, our love of Italy!

These sketches give some idea of the opportunities available to learn about other cultures while living in Florence. There are many expats living here: people who have come to visit and can't bring themselves to leave. I find it a rich and stimulating experience to be in the company of others who are challenging themselves by traveling and living here, or in Paola's case, leaving Italy to experience other cultures. We encourage and inspire each other, which can be comforting when we are questioning our sanity about why we're here.

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