Unexpected Connections

The other day I was at the gym, completely absorbed in my own thoughts, when suddenly I heard something very surprising and wonderfully familiar. Two women nearby were talking to each other in Italian. My neighborhood is not a particularly Italian one, so I had never thought to meet Italians at my local gym. I stuffed any shyness I felt into the nearest locker and asked them, in Italian, where they were from.

We had been chatting for a few minutes when another voice piped up from the far side of the room, “Scusate, siete tutte italiane?” It turned out she was Italo-Australian. Before we went our separate ways, I told all of them about the Italian Professionals of Philadelphia, our local expat organization, because I know how hard it can be to find community. Sometimes you just need to be with other people who know the songs you listened to when you were a teenager, the cartoons you watched when you were a kid, the books you read in college, your favorite actors, authors… the list goes on.

Nevertheless, connections don’t have be based on shared cultural experience. For me, the greatest part of the story happened a couple of days later, the next time I was back at the gym. A woman I hadn’t spoken to before came up to me and said, “Excuse me, I just wanted to ask, what was that language you and those other women were speaking the other day? It was so beautiful.”

“Italian,” I told her, “and it is beautiful, isn’t it?”

In a moment, she had reminded me of the first time I’d heard Italian and the reason why I’d wanted to learn it in the first place. She didn’t speak Italian or have those Italian experiences to share, but it didn’t matter. We had both shared that moment of recognizing the same beautiful thing––and that, right there, was an experience in common. I felt more at home, suddenly, just for having shared it. It reminded me that I don’t have to go looking for community. It’s all around me, including in unexpected places––I just have to reach out and make myself a part of it. That is how any expat can make a home.

p.s. As usual, you can find this post on the PI-Philly Facebook page as well (see link above). 

And now, all the way from Philadelphia… the Expat Returns (again)

img_1766Hello, dear Readers! It has been a couple of years since I moved up to Philadelphia and, after a long hiatus, I’ve decided it’s time to get back to my blog.

I’ve got to say, I’ve liked this town from the moment I first visited, and that feeling has only grown since. Of course, the fact I moved up here to be with my Special Guy has probably colored my view of things, to say the least.

Some things haven’t changed so much. I still go running in the mornings, although now the view from my running path is quite a bit different from what it was in Virginia, as you can see…img_1872…no more deer, but plenty of neighborly locals with their dogs; no more woods, but I get the Schuylkill River trail.

My Special Guy has been ensuring I get my share of Americana, too, because although I might be technically American, having spent nearly three decades overseas pretty much guarantees that I feel as much the expat here as I ever did anywhere else.

What better place to get the full American experience than Philadelphia? (For my foreign friends who don’t know, this town is where the U.S. Declaration of Independence and Constitution were drawn up and signed.) I’ve seen the oldest continuously inhabited street in the U.S., run a 5K that started at the base of the “Rocky Steps” of the Art Museum, even been to my first ever baseball game… the list could go on for a while!

Having an American guy to show me the ropes goes a long way to making me feel less of a stranger here, but, as is always the case in a new country, it can mean a lot to have a community of people who are strangers there, too. If they come from the same place you do, well, all the better. That’s why I was so happy to discover the Professionisti Italiani a PhiladelphiaThis group of Italian professionals welcomed me with open arms, understanding that, although I may not have an ounce of Italian blood, nearly two decades spent in their country makes me feel more Italian than anything else. Not only did they welcome me, but they asked me to start contributing a column to their Facebook page, to talk about the expat experience – both as American in Italy, and as an ‘Italian’ in America. It’s been nearly a year since I started, and beginning in 2017, I’ll be posting those monthly columns here on my blog, as well. What better place to publish vignettes of the expat experience, after all?

You can expect the first one shortly! Meanwhile, I look forward to seeing much more of you all in 2017.

Ciao for now!