Rachel Goodman is a 26-year-old blogger, start-upper, and general bon vivant living in Treviso, Italy. Born in New York, raised in Michigan, schooled in New York (again) and Bologna, she picked up from her corporate Manhattan gig a couple years ago and never looked back. Having spent a thrilling year in Medellín, Colombia, she unexpectedly wound up back in Italy for a new job and a new love. Embracing her modest but enriching lifestyle, and realizing that a lot of her friends were doing the same, Rachel started her blog, La Nouvelle Bohème, to explore modern bohemian life and how modern bohemians keep pursuing their art, even if struggling and not-famous. Part travel blog, part arts blog, and part eating and drinking blog (hey, she’s in Italy after all), LNB is all about making your own 21st century moveable feast.
What brought you to Italy and why have you stayed?
I’ll be absolutely honest: amore! Yes, I am that girl, and what can I say? I am a hopeless romantic and go-with-my-gut kind of person. Italy and I have had a long and beautiful relationship, and I’ve come back and forth from the U.S. a bunch of times since I was about 16, for just about every motive under the sun (school trip, vacation, lots of studying, work, and so on). I had spent a year studying abroad in Bologna in 2008/09 (be still my yearning, beating heart, how I miss it…college sophomores, check out the BCSP year-long program!) and made some friends, only to get back in touch with one of them years later…things took off and here we are, he’s my guy! He says I am only with him for his mom’s homemade piadine, but I promise it’s only partially true.
What do you do in Italy? If you work, how did you land your the job? If you study, why did you choose to study in Italy?
This is actually an extension of my previous answer: this time around, I am also here to work. For years had toyed with the idea of going back to Bologna to do a Masters. In the end, it just wasn’t going to work out, and Treviso eventually became the new destination for obvious reasons (my boyfriend works here). I knew I wanted to join him in Italy, but I wasn’t going to do so without a “real” job. I had worked in media and entertainment in New York after graduating, but saved up to take a gap year learning Spanish and changing paths in South America. I knew I wanted to redirect and find work in an international space, being the language nerd that I am. That said, after spending a year in Colombia, I was tired of scraping together handfuls of side-hustles to make ends meet. I love freelancing, I love teaching English, but I was ready to go back to a little normality. That, plus I knew I would only compromise so much — at the end of the day, I am still a go-getter American girl with aspirations, and my boyfriend is not blind to the fact that there are more opportunities career-wise in the States. Fortunately, I was looking for work in the tech/start-up sector, and Treviso happens to be a bit of a hub for that industry in Italy. We definitely lucked out to find such a sweet compromise, in that I found a job in Treviso.
And yes, the other piece of the puzzle is that you obviously need some sort of visa in order to stay in Italy for more than three months. It took me three months of searching, calling, and writing before I even got a bite. My boyfriend and friends were able to give me some insight as to where to look, but I think my weird (er, unique) prior experience and unbridled (and shameless) determination helped a lot. In the end, I also just got lucky! I got an offer from a consumer tech company in Treviso, and was thrilled for about a day until I realized we had to figure out how to make that offer legally viable. It was not glamorous, I’ll tell you that much. After 8 months of struggle, bureaucracy, anxiety, and yes, living at home, I finally got here!
How are you able to legally stay in Italy? What documents did you have to apply for?
Honestly, I do not recommend doing what I did, unless you like to suffer. Perhaps at one time, bright-eyed, writerly Americans could swing over to Europe, plop themselves down in a cafe, and decide on a whim to just stay. If those days existed (in my Gertrude Stein-addled mind, they do), they are loooonnnng gone. For anyone not up to speed with Italian news, they have been undergoing a massive influx of refugees for the past few years. It is truly a serious humanitarian crisis, and sadly a practical one for Italy as well. How to manage all of these immigrants? Where to put them? What to do when your own economy is still feeling the 2008 economic downturn? All that to say, the famed “flussi di ingresso” (or immigration quotas) are 100% closed, from the state’s official standpoint. Any “ex-comunitaria” (non EU member) is not allowed in if they knock on the door.
And thus, I went about trying to work the world’s most bureaucratic loophole. Like I said – do not do what I did! Technically, I am here on a study visa that magically allows me to work as an intern. I never would have made it through had my company not been there to help me through the process (yes, I “lawyered up”, and it is not as glamorous as it sounds in the movies). I figured out that applying for a visa is not the same as applying for a permesso di soggiorno: the first one gets you stamped at the border, but it’s the second one that allows you to say. Both of them require insane amounts of paperwork, blood, sweat, and tears, the promise of my firstborn, etc.
Any advice for visiting the “dreaded” Italian consulate or questura?
Not sure what everyone else in your series has had to do, but let me tell you, I am officially best pals with the questura, the comune, the provincia, the poste, and everyone at my local bank. We see each other far too often. I knew it was going to be messy, but I had no idea just how messy. This kind of bureaucracy really doesn’t exist in the U.S.! The bureaucracy is a character in and of itself — people at these separate offices are all serving someone “upstairs” but who? where? why? I don’t think they even know sometimes!
Anyway, everyone says it, but bring. copies. So many copies. Kill like five trees. I am not talking 2 or 3, I am saying make 10 immediately from the start of every single document you have. Passport, I would say make 15 and call it a day. Every time I went to a new appointment, I always thought, “This time I’ve surely made enough plus one extra.” Wrong every time!
Also, getting emotional is totally okay. I kept messing up my declaration of housing and the women at the Comune kept pushing back and telling me I had to redo it. Just imagine: I am face-to-face with a woman who resembles Roz from Monster’s Inc. and she must hate her job because she has to deal with angry people all day. When she told me I had to re-do my application for the third time, I just freaking lost it. These errands take so much time and I was sick of it, so I got huffy and teary and straight up refused to do it again…it totally worked! Customer service in Italy is not like in the U.S., and it’s fine to get real with these people. In the end, Roz was awesome — she cracked a smile and let me go.
How do your friends and family feel about you living in Italy?
I think my friends and family are used to me by now, but of course they thought I was nuts. First, I’ve always been upfront about my first year-long immersion experience in Bologna being really hard and pretty depressing. Some of my friends were like, And you want to go back? I realize now that it is totally natural to go through crippling depression when you live abroad, at least for a little while, so I don’t consider it as having marred my impression of life in Italy at all! Next, my major life choices usually go along the lines of, “Hey guys, I’m quitting my job and moving to Colombia with no plan at all, byyyyee!” or in this case, “Hey guys, I met a guy and I’m in love and I’m moving to Italy, byyyyeee!” (I should add that I’ve done all of this on my own dime, so perhaps they worry about my financial stability as well as my sanity). So yes, I think everyone thinks I am totally insane. That said, they are also thrilled for me because they know that behind my emotionally-driven and free-spirited façade, I am pragmatic and frugal. Now I’m just waiting for people to come visit me already…
Did you experience any culture shock? How did you cope?
Since this ain’t my first rodeo here, I wouldn’t say I felt the “typical” culture shocks. For example, peanut butter — who cares when you have nutella? I don’t wake up and crave bacon and pancakes like I did when I first studied abroad. I’m not a stickler for being on time or making plans weeks in advance, so the Italian lifestyle often works in my favor.
This time, my culture shocks are really specific and occupy the uncharted territory of my new Italian workplace. Example: meetings at my old job in New York were always punctual, highly-organized affairs with a clear and printed agenda, and so on. At my new job, meetings start kind of whenever (like a full 40 minutes after the decided hour), the agenda is definitely not printed out beforehand (it’s more like a list of things everyone has created individually in their own head), everyone talks at once and interrupts each other at will, people answer their cell phones during the meeting, and it all finally ends re: concern for ordering pizza delivery. The first time this happened, I was like, holy shit, where am I? It’s always hard to adjust to a new job, but the mini cultural nuances have certainly heightened the intensity of my transition.
When you go back home, is it difficult to adjust? Why/why not?
I don’t find it too hard to adjust, to be honest, but I definitely had my moments of difficulty and snobbery after studying in Bologna years ago. You get home and you’re like, “Bah! What is this poor excuse for pizza? This is offensive!” and I insisted on making my coffee in a moka pot, so I was the annoying one who wasn’t drinking the same coffee as the rest of the family. God I was insufferable.
Now, I feel more like a chameleon. The lines between here and home have blurred considerably, also thanks to the internet. Keeping in touch, watching American TV shows that my friends are watching, and so on — it’s not so hard anymore. I also feel loved, supported, and comfortable here, as much as I do in the U.S. That definitely makes transitions easier too!
For anyone struggling with a transition, though, the best thing you can do is eat well, drink wine, and try to incorporate daily walks into your life. Wherever you are in the world, you can make homemade ragu and have a passeggiata, and you’ll feel like you are keeping up with the Italian lifestyle!
Did you know Italian before moving to Italy? If not, what are some tips for learning the Italian language?
I did, but every day I feel like I learn 50 new things that I didn’t know the day before. I’ll admit that I am pretty motivated about language-learning: I took Latin in high school and still geek out over Roman ruins, I dabbled in Hungarian in college just to see what it was like (spoiler alert: really, really hard), and my hidden talent is that I can sing along to classic salsa songs like nobody’s business. I started learning Italian in college and ran with it, spending summers in Italy by myself to study on my own and reading Dante “for fun” in my free time. Seriously, who am I?
Okay, so language is definitely my passion and I have always loved adopting my alternate languages’ personae. Sometimes I feel a lot more confident in Spanish or Italian, because I feel like I have the means of saying things that I couldn’t necessarily express in English. Italian is such a flowery, emotional language, and English can feel so utilitarian in comparison.
I have many, many tips for learning language, and I would say check out my guide “How to learn a language of love” on my blog! I recommend lessons with a real teacher first, because everyone needs a strong foundation, no matter what. Then, embrace it and own your new Italian personality — music, movies, radio (Italian radio is awesome by the way, check out Babylon on Radio 2), cooking, comic books, whatever! Be a sponge and absorb as much culture as possible. You have to create a real-life need for the words, and you can do that through your hobbies and passions.
The most important tip, though, is to get over your embarrassment. I mess up all the time and I just don’t care anymore. Everyone has that moment where they accidentally ask for water from the toilet instead of the tap at a restaurant (yup, it happened). It’s a musician’s trick: play through the mistakes, and no one else will hear them (or if they do, they will forget quickly). Literally today I called “wisdom teeth” “teeth of justice”…I mean come on, is that not hilarious? Learn to laugh at yourself, and you won’t feel scared to keep trying and improving.
How have you made friends and met new people in Italy?
I know how hard it is for foreigners to make friends and how isolated you can feel as an outsider. I’d say that my circumstances are kind of particular, in that I already had friends from college who happened to be mutual friends of myself and my boyfriend, so I was lucky to walk into a pretty stable social life when I got here. That said, I have yet to make my own good friends that are mine only, and not my boyfriend’s first. This always works for me, however: follow what you’re interested in and find groups to do that stuff with. Hiking, photography, swimming, whatever…life in Italy is social and there is always some option for meet-ups in your local area. I’ve always found Italians to be extremely welcoming and open; you just have to be brave to reach out to them too! They might forget to text you, but there is no shame in texting someone you met once at aperitivo to hang out again. Be brave, and don’t fall into the safe circle of foreign kids; if you really want to learn the language and assimilate, you have to let inhibition go!
What’s it like to date an Italian guy?
Where do I even begin? It’s pretty much my every dream come true, not least because of the food. Zero shame, I am super, super golosa, which translates as “gluttonous” but holds a far less negative meaning in Italian! I hate to play into stereotypes, but one of the things I love most is that there is no discourse whatsoever over “shameful eating” and weight loss crap that plagues American culture, and which has a particularly negative effect on female body image in the States. My boyfriend does not even know what “diet” means; I think the idea of a juice cleanse would cause him to collapse in horror. He says things like, “If I couldn’t eat pasta anymore, there would be no reason for living.” In Italy, eating is sexy and people legitimately care about what you’ve had for lunch and dinner. It’s healthy and positive, everything comes in moderation but nothing is denied, we share in this joy of eating and drinking together — it’s the best moment of our day!
Of course, there are challenges. Dating in general is hard, and intercultural dating is always difficult, because there are so many subtleties to learn in addition to all the normal ups and downs of sharing your life with another person. My boyfriend and I speak both English and Italian together, although I generally drive our more emotional conversations in English, obviously putting myself at an advantage. Things absolutely get lost in translation and we are constantly navigating misinterpreted meaning. One example being, Italians swear a lot, and this gives their swear words softened impact. Swearing in English, though, generally sounds pretty offensive. I think you get the picture how this could go wrong?
I am also constantly confronting my American-ness in our relationship. I’ve been made fun of for being “sensitive” because I get worked up over things like politics, immigration, feminism, blah blah blah. I recognize that we take these things really seriously in the U.S., but we come from a completely different place on these issues. Why am I taking out these frustrations on someone who comes from a totally different cultural context, and should I be? How can we find our middle ground? It’s not like we have wildly different views, but sometimes I have to step back and ask myself, why do I think the way I do, and am I right or wrong? It’s complicated, but I love the challenge of learning these things together.
Why should someone visit Treviso? What’s it like there?
Okay, first of all, we have a moat. A MOAT, people! I am living out my every Monty Python fantasy…sometimes I am tempted to yell French-accented insults from the medieval walls to unaware passersby (kidding, kind of). Anyway, I’m still learning about Treviso myself! Of all the places in Italy I’ve been, I still feel like I know it the least. My boyfriend is from a small town near Rimini, and Bologna will always have my heart. It seems funny to an American that a region just a few hours away would be so different, but the differences are huge! I’ve warmed up to Veneto, though, particularly thanks to the spritz (invented here!). The proximity to Venice is amazing, particularly for big art events like the Biennale or the “nuit blanche” when the museums stay open late. Treviso itself is very elegant and refined, sometimes a little too “clean” for my more edgy sensibilities, but there is always something cool going on in the area. I love that it is small and manageable, but still lively.
I’d recommend coming to Treviso for a very regular night a la italiana! Getting a glass of prosecco and a panino at my favorite osteria, Nanetti, is the best way to spend a Friday. Plus if you stay over, you can spend the next day exploring the region. The Dolomites are a treasure for hiking, glacial lakes, and fresh mountain air, and a quick trip to Valdobbiadene takes you right into the heart of the prosecco growing region! (You can check out my recs on my blog!) The little mountain towns are a totally different feel from the Tuscan countryside, or the Amalfi coast, or Roman ruins — all places that are extremely touristic and well-known abroad. Come to Treviso for an unexpected impression of Italy! And prosecco, did I mention 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.