Meet the Italophile – interview with Giovanna

With new lockdown restrictions, we all need a chance to dream a little bit. The pain of not being able to travel is real! Where would you like to go once it’s safe to travel again?

Personally, I dream about coming back to Naples, exploring the Amalfi coast and visiting Ischia!

Speaking of Ischia, it was really interesting for me to read what Giovanna has to say about this stunning island. Be careful guys, this interview will make you want to go to Ischia as soon as possible!:) I have already started planning my trip!

I am so happy that Giovanna has agreed to share with me her thoughts and points of view on living in Italy! Her story of moving to Italy is truly inspiring!

Signore & Signori, please welcome

When did you come up with the idea of living in Italy?

My parents are from Napoli and we would go to Italy every summer to visit the family. The first time I went to Italy was the summer after I was born and I’d say that probably since then I’ve wanted to live in Italy. I used to beg my parents to move to Italy, try to convince them that it was the best thing to do. My dad would laugh and my mother would tell me I was crazy. Over the years while growing up, the adults would try to explain away this intense longing to live in Italy, by telling me that I just wanted to go back on vacation or that once my cousins got older and had their own lives, they wouldn’t want to play with me anymore and then I would be bored. I tried to believe them for a while, but in the end it wasn’t true. I’m not sure if I can really explain it other than that it feels like home and now that I’ve finally moved here and created a life here, that sense of longing has finally been put to rest.

 Was it difficult for you to move to Italy? What surprised you the most?

A thousand times yes! Even though I say that Italy feels like home to me, that doesn’t mean that it was easy to move here or even when that was possible, start a life here. As an American, there were a lot of immigration hurdles and I did a lot of visa manoeuvres living between London and Rome in order to live, study and work in Europe. Immigration laws were always changing, so I had to always plan for different scenarios. Once I met Davide and we got married, things were easier immigration-wise. We were living in London at the time, but then when Brexit happened, we decided that it was the right time to move back to Italy, and miraculously my job in London offered me the chance to work remotely. We decided to move to Ischia, the island where my mom is from and known for its thermal spas, because Davide could find work as a massage therapist. I could finally fulfil my dream of moving back to Italy where my parents are from.

I think what surprised me the most from all of this, focusing on the immigration side, is that in the UK, I always had the sense that I was being treated with suspicion and reluctance by the immigration agents. Like they didn’t want me there. Whenever I landed in London from somewhere, I was asked lots of questions and there always seemed to be a reluctance of letting me in. Even when me and Davide first went to the registry office at the town hall in London to plan our wedding, they treated us with suspicion as if we were planning a fake wedding. It always made me nervous. When we moved to Italy in 2017, as an immigrant, I had a million chaotic and frustrating bureaucratic tasks on my plate, much more than in the UK, but I was surprised that during the long process, I wasn’t treated like I was unwanted. This was a different experience to when I moved to Rome in 2009 and had to deal with immigration back then. Maybe it was because I was older, spoke better Italian and had a partner to share the experience with, but it felt like no one was ready to kick me out of the country.

How living in Italy has changed you? Have you become more “Italian”?

It’s been a big learning curve, there is so much to take in when you move to a different country and I’ve lived in four so far and each place has changed me in both conscious and unconscious ways. Since moving to Italy, I’ve dealt with some significant life challenges and I’ve noticed that I’ve reacted to these things in a much different way than I would have if I had still been living in the US or UK.  I’ve become much more patient and accepting of how long it takes to get things done here. Scheduled appointments can be pushed back by an hour or two hours at the last minute, someone will have forgotten to tell you to bring an important document with you, or another person will tell you that it’s impossible to do what you’re trying to do. In the past, I would have expended massive amounts of stress and frustration and taken it as a sign that things weren’t meant to be. But now I realize that most of the time, the best thing to do is take a break and go to the bar and have a coffee and talk to someone on the street. Italians have taught me how to find small moments of happiness to get me through the challenges.

While I have more patience, I’ve also learned how to be more assertive. Knock on doors instead of waiting for someone to call you in, stand in the hallways to make sure everyone knows you’re waiting for your appointment instead of sitting on a chair in the waiting room, keep asking people your question until you find someone who can give you an answer, and never take ‘No’ for the first answer. This is something I still struggle with because it does take effort and it can be really exhausting. It’s a careful balance between patience and assertiveness.

What is your secret of speaking Italian so well?

I’m always trying to improve my Italian, the studying never stops. I grew up with the Neapolitan dialect spoken at home, which isn’t exactly Italian, but it gave me a strong foundation for learning it later on. While I understood the dialect, I always answered in English. In Italy, I wanted so bad to talk to my family and friends and I could manage to make myself understood, but there was always that linguistic isolation. The dialect I knew was all by ear, but I didn’t understand the grammar and I hated that I didn’t know how to say that something happened yesterday or that something will happen tomorrow.

My formal study of Italian started with a university course and then I spent a summer at a language school in Florence after I graduated. And from then on, I studied on my own. I had a long-distance Italian boyfriend at one point who didn’t speak English, so that helped with my Italian and I remember through letter writing I finally got the hang of how to use the imperfect subjunctive with the conditional. Se io avessi l’opportunità di vivere in Italia, vorrei vivere a Roma. 

Living in Rome and now in Ischia has improved my Italian a lot and this past year’s resolution was to keep a journal in Italian so I could push myself to write more. I love the Italian language, its history and the way the national language sits alongside the hundreds of dialects spoken here. I love how the diffusion of written and spoken Italian across Italy can be charted as a progression of Italian post-war history with the rise of television and the Internet. It’s so interesting and gives me a lot of motivation to keep studying and to keep improving. There is so much to learn.

What are the top 5 places/things to do in Ischia?

There are so many things to do in Ischia! Of course, the first things people think about are the beaches and hot springs, which are wonderful. But there is also a strong farming and viniculture tradition on the island and there are beautiful hiking trails that take you up into the mountains and through vineyards.

And the history too! I love the museums here. Ischia was once a Greek colony called Pithecusae and you can visit the archeological museum Museo di Pithacusae in Lacco Ameno and see these wonderful Greek and Roman artefacts. In Ischia Ponte, there is the Museo del Mare, which gives you an overview of the fishing and shipping history on the island. And there is the magnificent Castello Aragonese that you can visit and walk around the gorgeous grounds. I recommend eating dinner at the hotel restaurant Il Monastero, it’s so peaceful and tranquil, you’ll never want to leave.

The thermal water parks are incredible and they’re lovely to visit in the cooler months of May and September or on a day when it’s too windy for the beach. It’s hard to choose my favourite, but I think for now it’s Negombo in Lacco Ameno which also gives you access to the beach San Montano, which is one of my favourites on the island.

If you love botanical gardens, you must visit i Giardini La Mortella in Forio, home of the British composer Sir William Walton and Susana Walton, and stay for one of the classical music concerts that the garden hosts every weekend during the summer and fall. You should also visit i Giardini Ravino in Forio, that has an eclectic cactus garden and even a peacock.

I’ve only just scratched the surface of all the things to discover here, I could talk about Ischia for hours.

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