After virtually following Lisa’s blog for the past year, I have been quite curious to learn more about her moving to Italy story. Myself being American and moving to Italy alone, I have been particularly fascinated by this Australian woman who picked up and moved with her entire family to Italy to renovate houses. Today I am thrilled to present Lisa’s story and tell you more about this wonderful blogger, renovator, and Mom of two!
Lisa Chiodo, is the creator of Renovating Italy where she shares her life living in a medieval Borgata at the foot of the Alps in Northern Italy. Together with her husband and two young children she is creating a simple life living way outside the box.
Featured on House Hunters International the Chiodo family want to inspire others to follow a dream. They will be opening their home to guests in May 2015 and sharing life in the Borgata.
You can follow Lisa and ‘the gang’ on Facebook as they “Dare to Dream” big!
What brought you to Italy and why have you stayed?
This is our second time living in Italy. We first came to Italy in 2005 and stayed for two years renovating an old farmhouse in the mountains of Piemonte [Piedmont]. At the time our children were aged one and three.
After those first few years we decided to move back to Australia, we’d both had enough of the crazy bureaucracy, our daughter was due to start school, and my Mum was unwell it seemed like a good time to head home.
Soon after returning to Australia we realised we should have stayed in Italy. Finally after many setbacks we landed in Milan mid-2013. Every Italian we meet asks us why we moved from Australia to Italy with disbelief, especially after learning we lived a street from the beach in tropical Queensland.
We tell them we love the lifestyle, want to create a simple life for ourselves and our children and escape the rat race but it’s so much more than that. I want our children to experience their heritage, see the world, and have a broader education than the one they were receiving.
We stay because we love it here, the mountains and the community, growing our own food, and living outside the box. This year we are opening our home to guests and inviting them to stay with us in the Borgata.
What do you do for a living in la bella Italia?
We have an unusual story as neither of us has worked traditional jobs for many years. In Australia we bought, renovated and then sold houses. We have moved multiple times with over a dozen renovations in the twenty years since we met.
Since arriving in Italy we haven’t had an income other than the proceeds of our last renovation in Australia. Currently we are creating a place for visitors to stay here with us in the borgata and experience the simple life.
How were you and your family able to legally stay in Italy? What documents did you have to apply for?
We had no problem living in Italy as my husband’s parents are Italian (they came to Australia back in the 50’s). He has both an Italian and Australian passport. I am able to stay in Italy as his wife and have a permesso di soggiorno and our children are automatically considered Italian.
Any advice for visiting the “dreaded” Italian consulate?
I remember visiting the Italian consulate on our first trip to Italy. We were served by a man who after getting our details disappeared out the back of the office and never returned. We were still sitting waiting as the older lady came out to turn off the lights. After hearing what had happened she explained that he had recently arrived from Italy and was keeping Italian time, apparently he’d gone out back to have a cigarette and then knocked off for the day leaving us none the wiser. We just shook our heads and have been doing so ever since, dealing with any kind of Italian official is always an adventure.
What has been the most difficult part about moving here?
For myself personally it’s been not speaking the language. Although I understand much of what is being said I am not fluent and struggle to have a conversation. I find this most frustrating at school meetings and when visiting the doctor as my husband has to come along to translate for me.
The other thing is not being able to drive here. If I were to drive I would have to take the test in Italian and the cost is around 800 euro to gain a licence. I doubt I will ever drive here in Italy and miss the freedom.
Leaving family and friends behind is hard, especially as my Mum is now in her eighties. We talk daily and now she has learned to Skype so the kids get to have a chat with her on the weekend.
Just recently a family member had a major health scare in Australia and ended up in intensive care and that is when it hits the hardest knowing you are so far away and unable to help.
How do your two children feel about living in a foreign country?
Our daughter Carina is twelve and has just started high school, she is now fluent in Italian. I know she has some struggles especially with homework, and it took a while to make new friends here. She missed her old friends in Australia so much; luckily she is able to skype with them on weekends.
After almost two years here she has settled in beautifully, she has far more freedom as we live in a medieval borgata in the mountains with only four other families. Since being here we have been able to travel (we have a campervan) and she loves Paris.
Our son Luca is ten, he is still in primary school here. His Italian is coming along slowly. He has an assistance teacher to help him at school. Luca has high functioning autism which has delayed his reading and social skills. Whilst he can tell you every species of dinosaur, explain the theory of evolution, and remember the entire content of documentaries he is still unable to read, and has only a basic understanding of maths.
The biggest surprise has been how well Luca has adapted to life here in Italy. He was the one I had the most concern for and he has just thrived. The education system here has been wonderful, they don’t seem to place him in any boxes and he is able to hug his teachers, learn in a way that suits him and everyone just loves him.
Did you experience any culture shock? How did you cope?
Oh culture shock, almost daily. Having everything stop for a few hours at lunchtime, friends being so particular about mealtimes, everyone eats at exactly the same time, the disregard for road rules, anything to do with the ‘system’ which is so outdated it’s frustrating to see in operation. A million differences from life in Australia and that’s what makes it so much fun.
I am fairly relaxed and don’t really stress about the multitude of rules and regulations apart from when they have an impact on our children. The only time I have ever showed my frustration is when the school was not allowed to give us a copy of my son’s appraisal from his assistance teacher. We had to go to the school; the teacher read it to us in rapid Italian (many pages) whilst Sam tried to explain to me in English. When I asked for a copy so I could translate it at home I was told that would not be possible. I have copies of every medical and school report for Luca other than these ones since he started in Italy……ridiculous I know……ahhhh that’s Italy.
When you go back home to Australia, is it difficult to adjust? Why/why not?
I had to return to Australia four months after arriving in Italy to sort out some legal paperwork regarding guardianship for my Mother (make sure you take care of these type of things before moving abroad). I didn’t find it difficult to adjust and jumped straight back into driving, met up with friends and felt as if I had never left.
We know that we won’t be going home to Australia unless it’s an emergency as financially it just isn’t possible to go for a visit. I’d love to be able to get home and see my Mum, and I know Sam misses his family as well.
Did you know Italian before moving to Italy? If not, what are some tips for learning the Italian language?
Before coming to Italy I knew very little Italian, we speak English at home and my husband’s family speaks dialect. Now my Italian is still limited, Carina likes to correct me and I am rarely alone so always have someone with me that speaks Italian (which means I don’t often get a chance to practice). Our postman tells me off for not learning and always asks me something in Italian hoping I’ll understand.
How have you made friends and met new people in Italy?
Having children is always an easy way to make friends. Some of the other mothers here speak English and Carina’s best friend’s Mum is fluent so we have become great friends. I met some English-speaking Mums at the local library and also found many friendships through the blog and our Renovating Italy Facebook page.
The very first invite we had when arriving in the valley was from a friend I had made on Facebook. Way back when we knew we wanted to return to Italy I joined an expats group when I was still in Australia hoping to find some parents with children on the spectrum. Those friendships have remained and many more have followed as my blog has grown.
What’s the best part about living in Italy?
The best part about living in Italy would have to be the daily surprises; we never know what will happen next. We now have the Alps at our doorstep and the rest of Europe to explore. I love the history, traditions and way of life that concentrates on actually living rather than just making a living. Showing our children that the world is a big place, hearing them talking in Italian, and seeing my husband enjoying rural life and sharing with his family back in Australia (especially his Dad).
The food of course, here in our valley the air is clear, the homegrown food, and everything tastes incredible. The people are what really make living in Italy such a joy, such characters, so openly passionate about life; I think here in our valley they have found the fountain of youth.
We really are living the Italian dream, just not the usual one of Tuscan villa’s and gelato. We’d love to share it with you.
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.