Living overseas is not a movie but I have no regrets about making the life changing decision to leave everything I knew (family, friends, language, job) and move to this crazy city.
I receive many emails from Americans who want to move aboard, specifically to Italy. They have traveled on vacation or did a study aboard program here and thought; “this is the place for me.” I get it.
The first time I visited Rome, it completely surprised me. When I was in junior high school and high school I wanted to live in Paris or London. Rome wasn’t on my radar. However, the minute I stepped foot on Italian soil, I felt I was home. Which wasn’t logical as I am not Italian.
The majority of my friends in Los Angeles were skeptical. They said it wasn’t about Rome/Italy but the timing. Any place would’ve had the same impact. Prior to that first trip, the production company I worked for shut down unexpectedly (none of us received a severance), my parents sold the house we grew up in and moved back to the Caribbean for retirement, my brother and his wife had their first child and my sister (who is ten years younger than me) got married. One of my aunts reminded me at the wedding that my mom had said she wasn’t going to move back until all her children were done with university and married. My aunt turned me and said, “Oh well. I guess she got tired of waiting.” All of this happened within the span of a few months. I forgot to mention I had a big birthday coming up in the land where women over thirty were old as hell. I had no man/husband, children, didn’t own a home, no job, nada. That was my situation when I arrived in Rome.
Cut to a year later. I had a job I loved. I returned to Rome wondering if my friends were right. They weren’t. The pull was even stronger. One of my colleagues from Los Angeles was in Rome already and we met up on my first day. I told her I was going to move to Rome once I retired.
My dad is the one who asked me why I was putting my life on hold. He said I wasn’t living in Los Angeles, just existing. This shook me to my core, as Caribbean people, especially from that generation, are intense. They are not ones to be all, “follow your bliss.” No, it’s more like my mom asking me well into my late twenties when I was going to go to law school or get a Masters.
My job and the people I worked with were incredible but I had no life. None. I knew I had to make a drastic change before I became someone I no longer recognized.
It’s not easy to move overseas by yourself unless you have a trust fund/a very hefty savings account but it can be done. I’ve met fellow Americans from various backgrounds who have relocated to Italy.
Remember the backlash against “Eat, Pray, Love”? I’m not speaking about the quality of the writing or the story. So many people were outraged that the woman had the nerve to just pick up and travel for a year.
What they forget is that Ms. Gilbert is a writer. She can write from any place in the world. She didn’t have a 401k, steady paychecks, or any of the benefits of working in a corporate job.
I think about how before her trip, she was running out of money and no idea what her life would look like once she returned to America.
I bring her up because sometimes we focus on only the successes of creative people and forget the hard work it took to get there.
I don’t have a trust fund and I don’t have a steady job. I’m a foreigner in a place where many relationships go back generations. I’ve switched careers. There are days when I don’t know how I’m going to pay my rent the following month. Yet, I’ve never been more fulfilled or optimistic. I recently realized I operated a lot from fear. Instead of looking at the future as an opportunity, I was afraid. Any setback would send me spiraling, dwelling on my mistakes in the past, and obsessing about the future. My newly found sense of peace, with the help of a business/personal coach, was strongly put to the test earlier this year.
One of my biggest clients, a diplomat, was leaving Rome. We knew it could be a possibility after the 2016 election. Suddenly, I had a monster-sized hole in my finances. Instead of doing what I usually do, freak out and remind myself of every single negative trait I have and how I will always be broke, I sat down and thought about the best way to find more work. I made lists, calls, and sliced my monthly budget to the bone.
It’s human nature to worry about things that are out of our control. What we can control is how we deal with the setbacks, fears, and disappointments. Many of us know people who have no financial or health problems yet they’re miserable. I’m not talking about having a bad day, week, or month. Everyone has those moments, but about the people who are never satisfied, never positive, and move through this world with a tight armor of negativity fastened to their bodies. These same folks wonder why nothing ever works out for them. It’s a vicious cycle.
Moving to a new city or country could be the best decision you make in your life. However, whatever personal issues you had in your home country will follow you unless you deal with them. A new place can give you a different perspective or it will just magnify your issues.
Moving to Rome took me completely out of my comfort zone and made me confront things I had buried, by working all the time, for years. Back in Los Angeles I was so busy. Very busy.
I was starting to fall into the same patterns here. I told myself, it’s different from Los Angeles. I have my own company now. I have to work all the time. That was a lie. It’s possible to work hard and smart. I was starting to once again confuse quantity with quality.
I still have my moments of being ridiculously impatient but living in Rome forced me to slow down and take stock of my life. I’m no longer sleep walking through my days. I try to remember these good things whenever Poste Italiane loses my mail, the 910 bus doesn’t show up, or there’s another random transit strike the day before a long holiday weekend.
Arlene Gibbs is a decorator, event designer, writer, and recovering Hollywood film executive. Born in New York City to parents from the French/Dutch Caribbean island of St. Martin, Arlene (and her French passport) has found her home in Italy.
Arlene co-wrote the hit Hollywood film JUMPING THE BROOM (aka Amore e Altri Guai in Italian) and was VP of production and development for several high profile actors/directors. She has written travel articles about Italy and the Caribbean for various publications.
Arlene is writing and currently working on interior design projects in Rome, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Anguilla, British West Indies.