A New Life in an Old City

My husband and I are not trust-fund babies, nor self-made millionaires,

but like many, we dreamed of living outside the U.S. In August of 2001,

after much discussion, research, and planning, we boarded the airplane

from Houston, Texas with only the allowable two bags each. We arrived

in Rome, Italy the following day to begin what we refer to as “The 21-Month

Plan.”

When I first met my husband-to-be, I overheard him musing about quitting

his job and living in a box on a beach in Mexico. I was immediately

skeptical, but secretly intrigued. Over time, we discovered we had a

common interest in living abroad and learning another language. Fast-forward

two years and we are enjoying our honeymoon in Mexico. Don’t be alarmed,

he did spring for a hotel suite.

Before we got married, we discussed the “box on the beach” idea endlessly.

The “box” was upgraded to a more stable dwelling and European countries

were included in our pool of choices. We had enough money saved to bum

around for a while, but then what? John is 43 and I am 39; too old to

throw caution to the wind, too young to retire. We wanted to live somewhere

and not feel like tourists in city after city. I wanted to know my neighbors

and understand what their lives were like. We needed a plan that would

allow us to experience another culture, but also prepare us for future

earnings.

John spent 25 years in television news and was ready to build on

his experience and try something new. He decided to continue his education

and to study International Affairs. That decision was the catalyst that

made us realize we could move abroad, in fact, should. It would take

21- months for John to graduate and it was a goal that would give us

stability, a home base. My background is in retail sales and marketing.

Learning another language would open new doors for me as well.

After our honeymoon, we got down to work. John began researching

English-speaking, degree-granting universities on the internet. We stepped

up our savings program and started preparing our family and friends.

We expected to be told we were crazy, but received only enthusiastic

responses, even from my financial advisor! John narrowed the field to

four schools and began the application paperwork.

We evaluated the cities and our interest in the culture, language,

etc. The final candidates were in Madrid and Rome. We couldn’t make

such enormous changes in our lives without visiting at least once. To

ease our minds, we planned our vacation to visit both cities for a final

winnowing. One of the universities in Rome filled all the requirements.

We were even shown some apartments during our visit.

By choosing an apartment that normally houses only one student, we

were able to trim costs. This was late March of 2001 and we left a housing

deposit for the fall semester before we departed.

Once back home, we needed to pull together all the necessary documentation.

Our passports were updated, but we needed visas. A visa is required

if you are planning to stay in Italy more than 3 months. There are several

different types; work, student, family, freelance, etc.

The differences and details on how to obtain are covered in an information-packed

book titled, Living, Studying and Working in Italy by Travis

Neighbor and Monica Larner. Since I was going to be enrolled

in Italian classes, we were both able to apply for student visas, which

is one of the least complicated types to obtain. Another document needed

was the permesso di soggiorno, or permission to stay. This document

is applied for after arriving in Italy and requires proof of insurance,

a passport, a marca da bollo which is a stamp (purchased at the tabacchi

shop), 3 passport-sized photographs and if you are a student, proof

of enrollment.

What about health insurance, banking, and utilities? After arriving

in Italy, we each purchased (at the post office) a year’s worth of catastrophic

insurance for about $75 U.S. This insurance covers us only in Italy

and would not be the best option for everyone. While we were visiting,

we checked to make sure our bank ATM cards could access cash. They did,

making it unnecessary to open a checking account overseas. We access

a set amount of cash once a week that covers all our food and incidentals.

Knowing our limit keeps us on budget, too. We rarely go to the ATM

more than once a week. We each have mobile phones that are re-charged

with cards purchased at the tabacchi, so we didn’t have the hassle of

getting a “land line.” The apartment we lease through the university

has water, gas, and electricity included.

We did not own a home in Houston (the lease on our apartment was

expiring at just the right time), but we did have lots of possessions;

a car, a truck, 5 bicycles and many things we didn’t need or really

want anymore. Downsizing our belongings was cathartic. We are very lucky

to have wonderful friends and family who are storing our favorite pieces

of furniture and household items.

We were actually giddy about selling our automobiles and looked forward

to public transportation. We don’t miss insurance payments and upkeep

expenses. Most errands are completed a piede, by foot. Shopping with

a 2-wheeled cart is fun and one can feel good about saving grocery bags

and exhaust fumes.

The summer before we left, we took a continuing education course

in basic Italian. It was a start, but anyone making a move like this

should learn as much as possible before departing. Italians are extremely

patient when you are trying to learn and often will try to help you.

One of our understanding

neighbors, Signora Molinari, keeps telling me “Piano, piano,” slowly

it will come. Shortly after we had arrived in Rome, the horror of September

11 happened. The following day I was shopping at the outdoor mercato

and was asked if I was American. When I responded yes, the vendor lowered

his voice and his words were so sympathetic.

I felt enveloped in a cross-cultural hug and began to cry. Though I

didn’t understand exactly what he was saying, I knew what he meant.

I have shopped with Alberto and his lovely wife, Bruna ever since. When

you think about Rome being almost 3000 years old, we are sharing just

a moment of her history, but she will resonate in us for the rest of

our lives.

By Martha Miller

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