Living the Italian Dream Life
an interview with Lisa Chiodo
- 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.
This is our second time living in Italy. We first came to Italy in 2005 and stayed for 2 years renovating an old farmhouse in the mountains of Piemonte [Piedmont]. At the time our children were aged 1 and 3.
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 realized 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. We 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.
- What attracted you to Italy in particular?
Originally I wanted to move to China but my wife Lisa had other ideas. She wanted to move to Italy so that our children could experience their culture first hand. Now our children are bilingual and just last night they said they never wanted to move back to Australia. We love the people, culture, food, and the closeness to other countries for travel. We can literally hike into France from our house.
- What are the challenges with living in Italy and the challenges to finding work opportunities or running a business there?
The big challenge initially is the lack of connection with the people. It takes time for the locals to accept you as a part of the community. Finding new friends takes time, and creating a network of like-minded business people takes even longer.
If there is a hard way of doing something, the Italians will find it. Why change when things have been done a particular way for 100 years? Even though the change would be more efficient and overall a better solution to what we perceive as a problem.
Finding work can be difficult if you intend to compete with the same jobs that the Italians are fighting for. As an outsider it’s a good idea to create your own income, look at the gaps in the market “and there are many” and fill those gaps. Although we are not real-estate agents or lawyers, we have coached people from overseas to negotiate the property market here, as opposed to the way the property market is run in their home country.
When creating different opportunities, it is important to diversify so that, depending on the seasons, you have some way of supporting your family. I organize local tradespeople. I work with locals creating projects which benefit the community (Grow for Life) a community garden concept and volunteer-based Garden Café. Projects need to differ from what is already available.
As a foreigner there are many things that could be improved on or opportunities that can be expanded for you to make a living from what you love. It is a matter of talking to the locals and having a passion. The locals will look for PROOF that you are serious; once they have that proof, they will support you.
The problem is that foreigners come to a new country and don’t get out and enjoy what the community has to offer. Involving yourself in the community is the key to a happy life in Italy.
- What is it like to be an Expat – the good, the bad and the ugly?
The expat experience is different depending on the area you are visiting. We recommend moving to an area and studying the culture of the town. We do this at the local bars ‘not the tourist bar’ and get to know the people. You will know very quickly if they are accepting of foreigners or not.
The good “- if the community is right for you and the people have accepted you into the community then it is an amazing feeling. Being invited to join in community celebrations makes you feel part of it all and in time you become part of the community.
Give back to your community and in time the community will give back to you. Be interested in what people are doing in their lives and in turn you start building relationships. Remember, that’s half the reason you wanted to move in the first place.
- 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?
The biggest mistake that people make is watching too many movies and making a decision to move to another country as if it was a Hollywood story line. The first few years is difficult no matter how much money you have. If you don’t have community, you have nothing. Without your community embracing you, I can safely say that you will last a couple of years and you will want to leave. Study the area and its people, not all areas are the same.
- Now, tell us about your work/ business – what do you do…and what’s your mission?
We have created multiple income streams in order to support ourselves all year round.
- We coach people on how to negotiate the property market here in Italy. It’s totally different than the US or Australia and has its own intricacies.
- We have our loft apartment which we use as accommodation for overseas guests.
- We are in the process of creating an online school for those wanting to create a simple lifestyle here in Italy.
- We are currently in the process of setting up a Community Garden in our village. This will include an organic alternative café. In Italy, most cafes seems to follow the same format. We want to offer a different experience, somewhere people can try things like a Lamington (Australian cake), a place people can relax and try what the world has to offer in an Italian Alpine setting.
- Our choice of a simple lifestyle means that Income is also created by not spending on anything that we can produce in the garden. Bartering with neighbors is a great way of saving cash for other essentials needed during the year. Sharing tools etc. also cuts down on our spending needs. Our mission is to create a simple lifestyle and share that lifestyle with others.
- What personal/professional legacy or impact do you want to leave on the world?
If there is one thing we want to leave on the world, it’s Community.
In today’s world, we are so worried about ourselves that we forget the people around us. Part of the reason we left Australia was that the community system is falling apart. We lived in a house for several years and never knew the neighbors; we don’t have time for each other anymore.
My favorite reply to people when they marvel at our lifestyle is “I used to work 80 hours a week to have a holiday for 3 weeks in a year, in order to afford what I now have every day.”
- 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?
Vision is seeing the gaps in the market and filling those gaps but before you rush in, you need to create relationships and trust. Italians, once they deal with you, are very loyal customers. Treat them well and they will keep coming back for more.
- 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?
The Challenge is fitting into a system outside of what you know. You need to adapt first before you offer new solutions. The main problem is that some foreigners come into a community like a new manager in a store and want to change everything before understanding it. This will fail every time, especially in Italy.
We have no desire to move back to Australia or to give up on our dream and we have been here 4 years now.
- Did you ever fail or make a substantial mistake in business or organization? Any serious challenges? How did you overcome and resolve it?
The only time you fail is when it’s about YOU! If it’s about others and how you can solve their problem, business is easy. Learning to spot the problem is the hard part. Of course, we have failed in business. If you never fail, you never Learn. It’s how fast you pick yourself up that will make or break you.
The biggest downfall is committing to a business idea so fully that you are not prepared to listen to anything else. This was our biggest failure that cost our family lots of money, but I did learn from that mistake and slowly but surely we are creating a life we love
- What action have you taken that’s had most impact on reaching your goal/s?
The best action was listening to our business coach and following her directions. If she hadn’t recommended a particular course of action, we would still be part of the rate race in Australia. We came to understand what truly stopped us personally in life. Once we figured that out, we knew we could achieve anything.
- What’s the best piece of business or personal advice YOU’VE ever received?
I remember it vividly. It was from our business coach: She said, “Your business is not working because you as a couple are not working. Sort out YOUR relationship first and everything will fall into place.” We were sabotaging each other without even seeing it.
We took her advice to enroll in The Landmark Forum which shifted so many issues we didn’t even see. Immediately after this, our business totally changed direction and our relationship grew stronger than ever.
- 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?
For those who truly want a life in Italy, write down all your wants and needs (your NON-negotiable’s) and know clearly what you want right down to the smallest details. Then go find that area. Our Valley and our village is the perfect match for us. We made a mistake the first time we moved to Italy and ended up disappointed and after 2 years we returned to Australia. I’d tell my younger self to follow my dream EARLIER and never give up!
- What does a typical day look like for you?
Working for ourselves means that we are together 90% of the time. We work from home and wake up early, go for a 5 to 6K walk, shower, have breakfast, answer any e-mails, etc., then work together on our current projects.
At the end of the day we spend time in the veggie garden and have time with our children. Depending on the season, we gather mushrooms, berries, and chestnuts and in winter we make our own salami. We really live a simple life here at the foot of the Alps and we love it.
- Stevie Wonder or The Beatles? (this, I personally must know.) 🙂
Lisa Chiodo and her husband Sam created Renovating Italy where they share their life living in a medieval Borgata at the foot of the Alps in Northern Italy. Together with their two teenage children, they are 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 opened their home to guests and now coach others wanting to create their own Dream Life in Italy.
You can also connect with Lisa and Sam at Facebook as they “Dare to Dream” big!