Settling for a stable job right after university may seem like the safest path and logical thing to do. However, this isn’t for everyone, especially Emma.
The British expat currently resides in the city of Turin in Italy, working as an account executive in an advertising agency. In this interview, she shares her experiences on taking the road less traveled and moving abroad.
Hi Emma! Thanks for agreeing to do this interview.
So when did you move to Italy? What influenced or motivated you to make that decision?
I moved to Italy about a week after graduating from university in the UK, so almost 6 years ago now (in 2012). At the time, most of my friends had decided they were going to move to London, and the majority had already found high-flying graduate jobs lined up to go to.
I didn’t really know what I wanted to do with my life (well, except for “not move to London or get a high-flying graduate job”) so I guess I just needed to find a way to buy some time to think about what I wanted my future to look like, and leaving the country seemed like the simplest way!
I don’t think I ever thought about it as “moving abroad” at the time though, more as if I were just going on a kind of “working holiday” without a fixed end date. My blog is actually called The Gap Life Diaries for that exact reason – my move to Italy was like taking a post-university gap year, but without the 12-month time restriction!
Why Turin and not anywhere else?
I studied foreign languages at university (French, Spanish, and Italian) and didn’t want to waste those skills, so that already narrowed my options down to a handful of countries. I chose Italy over France or Spain for the simple reason that I had a better gut feeling about it, and nothing more logical than that.
In terms of the choice of city, that was a bit trickier. I’d spent 6 months working in Genoa as a wedding planner as part of my university studies – as ridiculous as I appreciate that sounds! – and had absolutely fallen in love with the place, but I wanted to start afresh somewhere else this time and be able to discover a new city from scratch.
Why specifically Turin? Who knows! I knew I’d have a better chance of finding a job in one of the northern Italian cities rather than in the south, but didn’t really know much about any of them apart from Genoa. In the end, it was more of a process of elimination than a real “decision” – Milan seemed a bit too chaotic, Bologna a bit too student-y, Venice and Florence far too full of tourists, and Trieste was just a bit hard to get to, so those were all “no”s. Turin wasn’t specifically a “YES” – all I knew about it really was that it was the city of Fiat and Juventus – but it looked nice enough on Google images, nobody else seemed to know about it either (meaning no tourists!) and it seemed fairly easy to get to from the UK, so I just booked a flight and hoped for the best!
What did you do to prepare and save up for this move?
Honestly? Not a whole lot. As you can probably tell by now, not much of this whole moving to Italy process was particularly organised or well thought out!
I spent pretty much the only money in my bank account on a Ryanair flight and the first month’s rent of a room in a crappy, shared apartment, and when I arrived I just started searching for a job so that I’d be able to afford to continue to live there. I ended up getting a waitressing gig fairly early on in order to pay rent while I looked around for something else.
But there wasn’t any particular saving involved, and certainly no other preparation – I just kind of crossed my fingers and told myself that if it all went wrong I could get another cheap Ryanair flight back to the UK and move to London like everybody else.
In retrospect, it wasn’t the most sensible way to emigrate! But I was 22, and I just needed to go – thinking too much about it would’ve ruined the fun for me, and it was relatively low-risk, really.
Were there any challenges that you faced before arriving, and while settling in?
Before arriving, I didn’t really have any challenges at all, beyond having to pack my life into one suitcase, but that’s fairly minor.
While settling down, there were certainly a few more teething problems.
The main problem that expats face in Italy is the amount of paperwork, and specifically the difficulty of getting your hands on the bits that you need. Nothing is ever as simple as it seems, and not much even seems that simple in the first place, actually. Getting my hands on my first paycheck was practically impossible as it involved needing a national insurance card, which you could only get if you were a resident, and the residence application involved proving you have already been paid, which you couldn’t be, because you couldn’t get the insurance card. And a variation of that story is typical every time you need to get any kind of document over here!
Other than that, I’d say the other thing I found most difficult and frustrating was the process of finding a job. In Italy, the university system is totally different from the British one, meaning that Italians study for the specific job they want to do (whereas in the UK, the actual university you attended and the grade you achieved are more important).
Also, in Italian universities, you can also re-take exams a few times if you aren’t satisfied with your result, but re-takes delay your graduation a tiny bit each time. What this means is that the typical person interviewing for their first job in advertising is in their mid-late twenties and has studied marketing and communications. I, on the other hand, had just turned 22 and had a degree in languages, and found myself practically begging people to employ me.
Needless to say, I was laughed out the door the first few times I interviewed for jobs, and that was pretty hard to take!
I did eventually manage to get into advertising, but it took a lot more effort (and a lot more working for free) than it would’ve done elsewhere.
What would you say is the biggest takeaway from your experience? Any tips you would like to share with those who want to move abroad?
Do your homework before moving, but don’t do too much, because maybe you just need to do this, and it doesn’t matter if the plan is a bit flawed.
If I’d have known all the things I do now about the practicalities of living in Italy, and how complicated it can really be (no, seriously, don’t get me started again on the paperwork), I honestly don’t know if I would’ve bothered. But at the same time, I am so happy I didn’t know any of that, because moving here has been the best decision I have ever made, hands down.
Moving abroad is not for everyone, but I do think it’s something everyone should try if the opportunity arises. It’s much better to know it’s not for you than to always wonder what would’ve happened if you’d taken the leap.
Emma Brewer is a British expat working in the advertising industry in Turin, Italy. She also runs a travel blog The Gap Life Diaries, chronicling her adventures to and travel tips for different places (including Greece and Jordan).
You can also find her on Instagram.