Moving to Italy with Heather Carlson

Heather Carlson is a Milan based blogger, traveler, perpetual list maker, and lover of finding delicious meals + adventures in Italy. She loves to share her travel and foodie finds on her blog, A Merry Feast. When she’s not writing or traveling, she’s making a mess in the kitchen, cooking for her husband and teenagers. You can see what she’s up to at or on Instagram and Twitter.

So what brought the Carlson family to Italy? How did you make this decision?

The short answer: My husband’s job.

The long answer: Chris and I had vacationed in Italy multiple times and like so many others, had become very smitten with all things Italian. We dreamed of Italy constantly, read and collected books about the food, culture and history of Italy. I made regional Italian food at home- learning everything I could online or from the cooking classes I had taken when visiting Italy. We wanted to bring our kids to Italy for vacation and actually had a “gelato fund” jar at the house, saving up for a trip to bring them. When the job came up, my husband knew what my answer would be and waited until he knew for sure before he sprung the news- so I wouldn’t be devastated if it fell through. We jumped at the chance, and all 4 of us were on board immediately!

How did the kids react when you proposed the idea of moving to Italy? How have they adjusted to living in a foreign country? (school, language, making friends)?

We had been in the middle of planning a vacation in Italy for the summer of 2013. When we decided to move we said to them one night over dinner- “so we can’t go on our Italian vacation…” dramatic pause… “we are moving there instead!” They jumped off their chairs and did a little dance around the kitchen they were so excited. I am not even kidding.

Since that moment, we have definitely had some rocky times. Year 1 was really a struggle for my son. The school year was very tough. The culture shock hard and he did not deal with all the changes well. This year he has really enjoyed his friends and school much more, which has led to his enjoyment of the whole expat experience. My daughter has loved all of it from the beginning and was thrilled when school started after that long lonely summer in Milan- because she could make new friends. She is also our resident Italian speaker, she’s done very well with the language.

Heather Carlson: Sunset Duomo

What do your children love the most about living here? Is there anything that they complain about?

They love the new friends, the fabulous food, and they have a love hate relationship with all the traveling we’ve done. They crave home, friends that have known them since they were babies, and are so over traveling every chance we get. I’m hoping someday they will look back and be glad we drug them all around Europe! I think the experience will have an effect on how they view the world as they get older and it has definitely has opened their eyes to the benefits and adventure of travel.

How were you and your family able to legally stay in Italy? What documents did you have to apply for?

Thank goodness for the company and their legal team. They walked us through every step, the most difficult being the gathering of documents from all over America (we’ve lived in 8 states between the 2 of us) and waiting to hear about our visas (which arrived 48 hours before we were to move to Italy- way too close for my comfort) Once in Milan, the company continued to help us and literally held our hands through the meetings with immigration and getting our permesso di soggiornos. Because my husband has a contract with his company to work in Italy, we were able to come too, as his family on his work visa.

Any advice for visiting the “dreaded” Italian questura?

We were so lucky to just follow our lovely Italian friend from Chris’s work around. She arranged everything. My advice – take your patience, a book, a snack, some water, and a bottle of Lysol and TOILET PAPER. You’ll be there awhile… (Definitely one of the grodiest bathrooms I have encountered in Italy.)

Cafe Carlson

You’re always posting the most amazing photos – photos of food, Milan, travel adventures, the kids – even photos of your beautifully decorated home! It seems like you are doing everything all the time! So naturally, I’m really curious to know more about the average day of Heather Carlson.

I feel guilty even saying this out loud, but I am spoiled rotten.

It has been a dream to quit my job and move to Italy and get to be “mom” full time. My days go quickly- filled with boring things like laundry and groceries and other errands all of which are so much more difficult and time consuming than I was used to in the US. But I love the luxury of having time to have lunch with friends, explore Milan and nearby areas, and plan all of our travels. On a good day I can do all of those things and still have time to write and cook, both of which I love.

I’ve noticed as well that you travel A LOT! How do you choose the places you are going to travel to next? What’s your favorite place you have been to so far in Italy?

Travel has been a huge part of our expat experience. We knew going into this that we’d only be here for 2-3 years, and we wanted to take full advantage of being so close to everything in Europe. It has been an adventure for sure deciding where to go and researching out all the details. I love doing that and always have, but this has risen to a whole new level of crazy trip planning! We laugh about it a lot and know how lucky we are. I can’t imagine what life will be like once we move home and have to sit still for a whole month.

Heather's Italian kitchen

That first summer here, we all made a list of the places we’d like to visit in Italy and Europe and then we made a master plan that has been changed and rearranged many times!

It’s been fun seeing so many different sides of Italy. I’ve loved them all, and of course have so much of the country that I haven’t seen yet. However, Umbria has a special place in my heart, and my whole family feels the same. I also cannot get enough of Rome- I return as often as I can.

I have seen from stalking following you on Facebook and Instagram that you always have friends and family visiting! I imagine you are quite the Italy tour guide by now. What are the things you always make sure you do with your guests?

It has been so fun to share Milan and other parts of Italy with our friends and family! We love taking them into the city to see our favorite spots. I also love to share some of the Lake region with them, and some of the nearby small towns. There are so many incredible places within 1 hour in every direction of Milan. A few favorites are Varenna, Bergamo and Castell’Arquato.

Navigli Graffiti in Milan

What aspect of Italian life did you experience culture shock with the most?

I experienced culture shock with so many things at the beginning! My realization that “vacation Italy” and “everyday Italy” were completely different was hard. Driving was very scary at first. Everything took so long, from grocery shopping to doing laundry- it was a huge learning curve. The first year I did a lot of crying, whining (to my husband) and cursing! The second year I am more laid back about everything and embrace the differences. I do more laughing now than anything. I still miss my air conditioned house though!

Have you been back to America since you have moved to Italy? If so, what was difficult to re-adjust to? What do you think will be the most difficult thing to get used to when you move back home (for you and the family)?

We’ve been back once, after being away for a year. It was a great trip full of friends and favorite foods and all the familiar things of home. I hugged my washer and dryer when I walked into my house- I had forgotten how huge they are! We couldn’t get over the sheer number of choices at the grocery store, or the size of things. Shopping at Costco was an overwhelming, over stimulating experience! Once you get used to buying your eggs 4 at a time or your milk by the liter, shopping in huge quantities feels really strange and ridiculous. I have no idea what moving home will be like. In some ways it will be familiar and comfortable, but I know we have changed more than we realize and I think reverse culture shock will definitely be an issue.

Centrale Station in Milan

How well did you know Italian before moving to Italy? What have you done to learn the language better?

I knew a little Italian before we moved from those “vacation Italy” days. I took private lessons for the first year, and since then I have done online lessons and apps like Duolingo but not consistently. When the days got hard with my kids last year, my desire to learn Italian went out the window. We were in survival mode for a while there and it just wasn’t a priority. My best Italian is my food Italian, a useful tool to have! I can ask for things when I’m at a store, and order food at a restaurant like a pro. I can carry on a very short conversation, but it’s hard to go deeper. My pharmacist and I have fun practicing our language skills on each other. He’s learning English and I’m learning Italian- and he inspires me to keep studying…

How have you made friends and met new people in Italy?

I’ve met some wonderful expat women through the International School my kids attend. It is a strange (in a good way) and wonderful community to be part of. People are coming and going all the time, and you still have to really carve out time to develop relationships just like you do back home. I’m friendly with my Italian neighbors but their English is as good as my Italian so we don’t get very far. Smiling and attempting to communicate sure goes a long way though- whether you are living here or visiting.

What’s the best part about living in Italy? If you had to sum up your experience in one hashtag, what would it be?

The best part of living in Italy for me are the small details. The art around every corner, how every town has a story and every valley has its own cuisine. I love the clink of the espresso cups at the bar, listening to two older men talk about the best way to make minestrone, hearing the church bells outside my window every 30 minutes.

In many ways it feels like I’ve come home. I love learning about the people, the culture, the history and of course, the food. I love that I miss Italy when we are gone and that it feels like home when we come back. #italianatheart

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.

2 comments on “Moving to Italy with Heather Carlson

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