Living in Florence
an interview with Melinda Gallo
Melinda Gallo is an American expat, writer, and blogger living in Florence. She has two blogs: Living in Florence in which she writes about her life in Florence and Me, My Heart, and I in which she writes about being an expat writer and anything else that inspires her. She is currently working on a couple of non-fiction books as well as a novel.
In her spare time, she enjoys taking pictures of the beauty around her and shares it on Instagram and whenever I’m in Italy, Melinda introduces me to the best places to grab an aperitivo in the city. She’s living the life! Read how….
- 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.
After studying my junior year of college abroad in Lyon, France, I decided I wanted to become an expat. I found it so exhilarating to live in a foreign country where I was continually challenged and stretched. I looked for a job in France upon graduating university and was fortunate to find one in Paris a month later.
I moved to Paris where I lived for 5 years and then moved to England for a couple of years. A month before my 30th birthday, I decided I wanted to challenge myself even more by going to a country where I didn’t know the language. I decided to go to Florence for a few months so I could not only learn Italian, but also find my inspiration to write. I had no idea that after only 3 days, I would choose to live permanently in Florence.
- What attracted you to Italy in particular?
I had always been attracted to Italy because of the language. I studied French in high school and college only because it was as close as I could get to Italian. Over the years, however, I think that maybe the real reason I am attracted to Italy is because my paternal grandparents were born in Italy. Since I grew up with my mother’s family, whose origins were Chinese, I had always wondered if my being Italian could be the reason for many of our differences.
By living in Italy, I had hoped that I could find out more about the Italians and their culture as well as discover more about myself. I didn’t initially plan on living in Florence but now I can’t imagine not living here.
- What is it like to be an Expat – the good, the bad and the ugly?
After living overseas for many years, I feel that being an expat is a lifestyle. It’s a way of life for me. Being an expat defines how I interact with the world around me no matter where I am and also how I seek to stay as open as possible to learn about and understand around me. Expats don’t just live overseas; they create new lives for themselves in each place they call home.
You’re not an expat just because you unpack your bags and move into a new house; you’re an expat because you have to recreate your entire life in this new location and become a different version of who you are. When you speak another language, interact with new people, and adjust to the habits and customs of your new home, you are changed.
- 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?
Many people assume that if they love a place they visit, they’ll love it even more when they live there. However, visiting a location and living in it are very different. When you’re a tourist, you can live on the surface and not invest much of yourself in the location. However, when you are an expat, you must dive into this location’s language, culture, and customs. You must create your own connection to the location and allow the location and its people to have an effect on you.
Another misconception is that many people believe that living in a place they love will make them happy. It’s easy to assume that if you love a place when you visit it that you’ll love it even more if you live there. Even though it can certainly be the case for some, it doesn’t necessarily happen for everyone.
Many people forget that when they were visiting the location, they were open to it and accepted it. However, some people who move overseas arrive with a list of expectations that can’t be satisfied by the location. And therefore, some expats become unhappy.
- What is the expat life really like?
When you become an expat, you don’t transplant your previous life to a new location. You create a brand new life for yourself where you adapt to the local customs, create new daily habits, and integrate with the locals. It’s important to not consider the new location as a temporary place of residence, but rather as your home.
- How important is it to speak the local language for an expat?
I believe that speaking the local language fluently is vital to how successful of an expat you can be. The main reason for learning the local language is so that you can dive deeper into the local culture and understand the locals better. If you only learn enough of the local language to get by, you are only skimming the surface of your life overseas.
- What has the expat life taught you?
The expat life has taught me that the best way to live in this world is by diving into it and experiencing it fully. I enjoy taking the time to understand a place, its culture, its language, and its people. No matter where I have lived, I created a new life for myself.
- How do you define a successful expat life?
There is no finish line that I’m going to cross to signal your success living overseas. A successful expat life is one in which you continue to open yourself up and learn more. Not just about culture and language but also about yourself.
- Final words about being an expat?
Being an expat is the most challenging, exciting, and enriching way to live your life. I could not imagine who I would be had I not lived in France, England, and Italy. I have experienced most of my life in different languages and cultures and with people who were different from me. Living overseas has allowed me to discover other aspects of myself and to open up my heart and mind more than ever before.
Life overseas might not be what you expected, but it’s almost always what you need to grow and evolve in your life.
- How can you be happy living in your dream location?
The first thing you have to remember is that no place can make you happy. You have to make yourself happy in your new home. I have found that the easiest way to do so is by opening up your heart and mind to your new home, accepting it fully, and appreciating what you love about it.
- What personal/professional legacy or impact do you want to leave on the world?
I would love to remind people that life is an adventure. Every experience you have should not be judged by its success or failure but by how it has enriched your life.
- 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?
Drop all expectations of how you want your life to be overseas and let your life blossom the way it will.
I would tell my younger self to be patient, to hold a strong vision of your dream, and to remember that everything always works out beautifully.
- Stevie Wonder or The Beatles? (this, I personally must know.) 🙂