Diana Zahuranec comes from West Virginia and currently lives in Turin as a writer, editor, and translator at Wine Pass, an online magazine (in Italian and English) on wine and wine tourism in Piedmont. Check out their facebook page, twitter (@wine_pass), & Instagram (@wine_pass)! You can also find her on her blog Once Upon a Time in Italy, where she mostly writes about her expat experiences and food; Instagram @dianaz48; and twitter @zrdiana.
What brought you to Italy and why have you stayed?
I fell in love with Italy when I came for a vacation to Europe for the first time. We went to Rome, Venice, Florence, Pompeii, and back to Rome in 11 days. I was only 14. I know, it’s so stereotypical, but Italy does that to you. From then on, I just wanted to keep coming back. I studied abroad during college in 2009 in Florence. But I still wasn’t here to stay—I had to finish up my junior and senior years in college first. I came back for good when I was accepted into the Master’s program in Food Culture and Communications at the University of Gastronomic Sciences (UNISG) in 2011.
How did you land your first job in Italy? What is your job like?
I got my job as the English editor, journalist, and translator with an online wine tourism magazine in Piedmont called Wine Pass through UNISG, who is great about sending interesting offers to their students and alumni.
My job gives me the chance to get out and travel through the region, meet people and producers, and learn about and of course taste Piedmontese wine; but there is plenty of time behind the computer, too. We publish articles about the wine regions of Piedmont, routes you can follow through vineyards, interviews with wine makers, recipes and wine pairings, and much more. I love writing, so I’m glad my job gives me a chance to write; and I even enjoy translating. I’ve learned a lot about using social media for promotion and publication, as I use different platforms for Wine Pass every day.
How were you able to legally stay in Italy? What documents did you have to apply for?
The most important thing you need to stay in Italy is the Permit of Stay, or Permesso di Soggiorno (which comes in various forms), and if you’re from the US, a visa. When I came as a student, it was easy to get a study visa and student permesso. But you have to make sure it doesn’t expire before you can renew it, because then things get messy. A word of advice: once you’ve got it, hold on to it!
When my internship began with UNISG, I delayed graduation for 6 months to remain a student longer and have a viable reason to renew my permesso when I went to the immigration office. With a funny and totally Italian twist of events, my permesso was renewed for yet another “bonus” six months at the end of my internship. Score! I gained half a year, which proved to be invaluable when I went looking for a job several months afterwards.
The second part of the adventure was me finding a job and converting the permesso to a work permit. Of course, this was confusing for everyone involved, and the immigration office nearly stalled out at every unforeseen obstacle. Like, “But you got your first permesso in Bra, then renewed it in Parma, and now you want to convert it in Turin?” (I don’t know what was so difficult about that, but they definitely let me know it was really hard to figure it out).
Any advice for visiting the “dreaded” Italian consulate?
Ask multiple sources about what documents you need, triple check everything, and have at least two copies of everything. Go in armed with patience.
And very important: Leave nothing to the last minute.
What has been the most difficult part about moving here?
Knowing that I was leaving all my friends and family back home. That’s still hard. At least we don’t have to traverse the ocean in boats, anymore.
But another obstacle that constantly reminds me of how difficult it can be to live in another country is navigating the bureaucracy. It’s always waiting for you, to suck hours or days of your life away…need to get a driver’s license? Medical certificate at auto school, pay at the post office, go to the DMV to make an appointment, return for the test, and jump through this burning hoop. Need to renew your Permesso? Go to five public offices, provide your own passport sized photo times four, make a dozen copies, and sign your soul away to the devil. At the risk of sounding like I’m complaining, sometimes the inefficiency of these things drives me insane. I like to be very efficient in my everyday life.
What kind of ‘culture shock’ did you experience? How did you cope?
I don’t know how much of my culture shock can be attributed to moving to another country, or leaving undergraduate college to live in the real world! They happened at the same time, so it had the potential to be a double whammy. But I did what I think anyone does—getting involved in things in your new place, inviting people over for dinner, focusing on work and hobbies. Basically, make your new place your life and home, not a landing spot in another country. Don’t be afraid to grow a couple of roots. I think some level of “culture shock” can happen wherever a person moves, whether to another state or another country.
When you go back home to America, what is difficult to adjust to?
My best friends have all scattered, so I rarely get to see them the single time a year I go back. But that’s to be expected, and it probably happens to some people even if you just move to a different city and not another country.
Unexpectedly, it is becoming harder to eat earlier than 8:00 pm when I’m back.
The preoccupation with food in America is difficult to adjust to. In Italy, food is so clearly something to be enjoyed, and eating in moderation comes naturally. In America, it’s like Cholesterol or Fat or Lots Of Calories are waiting just around the corner, plus twenty new reasons why you should eat x and not y…all of which are important to think about and consider, but overall it feels like there is a focus on the wrong part about food.
Did you know Italian before moving to Italy? If not, what are some tips for learning the Italian language?
I studied it for four years at Penn State, and Italian Language was one of my majors. That gave me a good base, but as anyone who studies a language knows, you can never possibly learn it until you live there. And if you’re surrounded by people who speak English, you won’t learn.
I learned more during two weeks with my boyfriend’s family who doesn’t speak a word of English than I did during my entire semester in Florence, when I hung out with other American students the whole time.
So my advice is to study some—a lot or a little, whatever you can manage—since a basic understanding will really help. But then you have to put yourself in a situation where you are forced to listen really well and make yourself understood. And you have to be willing to sound ridiculous and probably pretty stupid…for longer than you wish. This is not to dissuade people from learning Italian, but you’ve got to really want to put yourself out there.
How have you made friends and met new people in Italy?
I meet lots of new people through my job. Not just my great co-workers, of course, but wine tastings, events, and when I get to work on an article, I meet tons of interesting people.
Outside of work, I have several good mutual friends with my boyfriend. I’ve met friends through the expat community—especially if you have any kind of online presence, you’ll find each other quickly. I got to know fun people through a writing group I started up, Blogging Piemonte, which meets sorta regularly. I make it a point about meeting face-to-face, not just exchanging emails.
If you live in a city, there’s no shortage of groups to be found, such as Meet-Ups, which will have natives too (as fun as expat friends are!). And I recently found a hiking and outdoors group that goes into the Alps nearly every weekend, and I can’t wait to get out in the mountains with them more!
What’s the best part about living in Italy?
I enjoy everyday life here. The little things. I like walking everywhere, finding a local shoe cobbler who fixes my shoes for €4, getting the best fruit and veggies at the market, passing by an 11th century church every day that still holds Mass, all the history. I love Turin. I even like going around on trains and the metro. And it feels like everywhere you look, Italy is beautiful.
And of course, the food and wine. I have always been a food lover, and there is no better place than Italy to live for that.
The aim of “Moving to Italy Interviews” is to provide a wide range of perspectives on the Italy immigration process. Each interviewee has a unique “Italy” story to tell. Whether they are to be learned from, or simply enjoyed, it is my hope that this interview blog series provides new and enlightening information for Italy dreamers and enthusiasts alike. Read more Moving to Italy Interviews.