ArtTrav – Inspiring the Love of Art and Travel
an interview with Alexandra Korey
Alexandra Korey, a Canadian native living in Italy for almost 20 years, has some advice for you: “Be patient. Be resilient. It’ll be worth it in the end.” She knows of what she speaks, having begun her life in Italy as a student, then building a successful blog and business, and now enjoying the amazing art and quality of life that Italy is known for. Her site, ArtTrav.com, is about art, travel, and life in Italy and Europe.
Alexandra focuses on learning about art and culture through experiencing places, while enjoying everything a city or area has to offer, including food, luxury, wellness, and landscape. Learn how her patience and resilience – and some unexpected turns in the road – were all worth it in the end.
- What inspired you to leave your home country to live and work in another country? Tell us a little about your journey and your story.
A lot of people you meet in Italy can sum up their story as “I studied and stayed.” Study abroad is probably the greatest producer of (especially) female expats to Florence, and that’s essentially my story. Wish I could say it was something more exotic!
- What attracted you to Italy in particular?
I chose Italy because I was studying Italian Renaissance art history, and Florence is basically the ideal place for this. I came for a summer undergraduate program before committing to a 1-year masters in art history through an American university in Florence. Afterwards, it was hard to leave. I did leave temporarily in order to get a PhD in the same subject back in the States, but towards the end of that first year (1999) I met my to-be husband, and so moved here to complete my dissertation research and writing, and eventually to marry Tommaso.
While my initial attraction to Italy was the history, we chose to live in Italy for various reasons. I really like the slower pace of life (which in truth is as fast or slow as you choose to make it – I manage to stress myself out wherever I am). I love that it’s easy to get out of Florence, with a number of roads taking you to interesting places even 20 minutes away. I love the farm-to-table food that is such common practice here. Although my husband and I could have looked for work in the States after I got my degree, we decided to live here, closer to his family. My parents are in Toronto (Canada), so had we moved somewhere in the States, it still would not have been “home”.
- What are the challenges with living in Italy and the challenges to finding work opportunities or running a business there?
Getting a job or starting your own business in Italy takes a lot of flexibility, and it doesn’t always turn out as you think. I was headed for an academic career but changed directions and now work in digital communications.
Assuming one has a work permit (that’s the first big challenge to working here), English-speaking expats are well-placed for certain jobs (not all teaching English and doing translations!), though in most fields it’s necessary to be fluent in written and spoken Italian as well. Salary in Italy is much, much lower than in the USA (think about 4x less than your expected gross salary for a similar position) but the cost of living is pretty low. If you’re lucky enough to get a permanent contract, that comes with a ton of holiday days, so you can go enjoy all those beautiful small towns just a short drive away!
- What is it like to be an Expat – the good, the bad and the ugly?
I haven’t lived any part of my adult life anywhere else, so it’s hard to compare what Expat life is like in Italy versus, say, living as a Canadian in the States for work. Living in Italy certainly has its negative points, but I’m sure that one encounters bureaucratic inefficiency, potholes, crooked politicians, and crappy public transportation elsewhere, too. Being an expat here means learning to patiently deal with all these things. For me, there are plenty of positive aspects that make up for this – the excellent public healthcare system being just one of these.
- In your opinion, what’s the biggest mistake you think people make when they set off on their dream to live and work in Italy?
One big mistake is to think you can just come here and get a job – especially if you don’t have a permit of stay for work purposes, or even for study! Another might be thinking that you can get work in line with your training. It’s all a big give and take, in my opinion – one makes sacrifices to live where one thinks that the quality of life is good.
- Now, tell us about your work/ business – what do you do…and what’s your mission?
I mentioned above that I trained as a professor of art history. While I was in graduate school, back in 2004, I started a website about things to see in Rome and Florence. I called it “ArtTrav” – a combination of art and travel. This developed into a blog over the years, taking up more of my time and impacting the activities I did in my spare time.
After a short professorial stint post-PhD, I was recruited for the Region of Tuscany’s social media team thanks to the blog and the way I was promoting it on the then-nascent Facebook and Twitter. After that contract ended, I moved over to a small communications agency called Flod (www.flod.it), where I head up digital projects including social media and crowdfunding consultancy. The Florentine (www.theflorentine.net), the city’s English-language news magazine, is under the same ownership so I’m also involved in strategic and content aspects of this renowned monthly.
I still write my blog (www.arttrav.com) regularly and frequently take part in press trips which are a great way to see more places and have more to write about – although I write about whatever activities I like at the moment. So the blog has a general travel focus; my background in art history never leaves me. I’m always seeking out the more obscure, historic, or unusual things to see and write about. I also commit to doing exhibition reviews for the major shows in Florence. My stated mission for the blog is “to make art accessible”.
- What personal/professional legacy or impact do you want to leave on the world?
Gosh, that’s a big question! I don’t know really where I’m going in life or in work, but I can tell you that right now, in terms of what I do with ArtTrav, I’m happy if just one reader sees art in a different, more enlightening way after reading my articles.
- How long did it take you to reach important milestones in your business?
And, what has really helped you move the needle in making your vision a reality?
My career progress has been very organic so far. Being a small agency, the four owners and I flexibly respond to market needs and develop those areas we think are relevant. My interest and experiments in crowdfunding, for example, turned us into one of the few consultants offering crowdfunding services in Italy, especially in the field of the arts, where we’ve been very successful in getting money for our clients. It sounds like a platitude but sometimes it’s important to take a leap of faith, and it helps when you’ve got people around you who will support that initiative. Working as a tight team, our small company has done some really big things. They’re not personal career milestones but achievements we can be proud of as a team.
- Tell us about the start-up scares: Was there a moment where you ever seriously contemplated giving up or moving back to your home country?
- Did you ever fail or make a substantial mistake in business or organization? Any serious challenges? How did you overcome and resolve it?
Yes, I’ve failed personally in my job on occasion, and we’ve also had hard times as a company. Italy has been in a recession for as long as I have been living here, and that’s almost 20 years. There have been times when business hasn’t been very good but we decided to stick with it, made a few sacrifices and adjustments, and were rewarded in the end.
- What action have you taken that’s had most impact on reaching your goal/s?
Never sitting still. I did a lot of learning in school, so a few years went by when I felt like I never wanted to crack open another non-fiction book. But learning isn’t all about books. My goals lately have been related to improving my overall health and learning new skills I enjoy. For example, after years of coasting on natural talent for photography, I’ve decided to buy some proper equipment, software, and tutorial videos to improve those skills. I’ve followed an old passion for tennis, taking weekly lessons, and enjoying tennis holidays with my husband. These “hobbies” provide a healthy counterpart to my work day and make me more creative in the office – hence, helping me reach goals there too.
- What’s the best piece of business or personal advice YOU’VE ever received?
Be patient. Be resilient. It’ll be worth it in the end.
- What’s the #1 piece of advice you would give someone who wanted to build a life in Italy for themselves? What would you tell your younger/earlier self about following your dreams?
Turn your passion into a career, even if it takes time and sacrifices along the way.
- What does a typical day look like for you?
I wake up at 7 and write an e-mail to my mom, check on my blog and personal socials over breakfast, and head to work from about 9am to 7pm. When possible, I convince my husband to give me a ride on the Vespa so as to avoid the horrible public transportation.
As the bells toll 1pm, we all start making noises about lunch – got yours? Who’s going to the bar to pick up a salad? Etc. – and we all sit around the table and talk about anything not to do with work. This is the best part of a work day in a small office where we are all great friends! Although most days are spent writing long- or short-form for clients, a few days a month we’re out shooting photos and videos on site around Tuscany, and those creative moments are some of my favourite parts of the job.
- Stevie Wonder or The Beatles? (this, I personally must know.) 🙂
Beatles. Before I went to elementary school I didn’t know there was any music except the Beatles and Mozart. I still know all the words to all the Beatles songs.
Alexandra Korey is a Canadian who has been living in Italy for almost two decades. She loves Renaissance art history, Margaret Atwood books, tennis, snowboarding, Instagram, good tea and fresh mozzarella – not necessarily all at once. You can find out more about ArtTrav and Alexandra at ArtTrav.com, find her on Instagram and Twitter, and visit Alexandra’s Amazon author profile.