01 Feb EXPATS’ LIFE
When I think of expats and family, the first thing that comes to mind is multicultural. Often, as a therapist, I meet couples who are struggling to integrate into the new culture reality they find themselves in. When one partner is Italian and the other foreign, it adds another (sometimes challenging) ingredient to the mix.
Marrying, or being with someone from another culture, is a fascinating challenge. We don’t really choose who we fall in love with and we don’t ponder (luckily!) what challenges might lie ahead. Different cultures can mean different ideas about how to display affection. For instance, emotions can be displayed in certain cultures more than others, even though the felt-intensity is the same. Thinking about Italian gestures, at first impression they might seem excessive, this alone requires a new approach about how to interpret other people’s emotions. Facing this phase of adaptation and familiarizing yourself with the culture can sometimes be a trauma. It needs to be faced with the right attitude and tools that a trauma demands.
Often people come to Italy (and Florence) with the expectation of the “dolce vita”, which of course, is not an easily attainable reality. Stating how one feels and the problems they’re facing is not complaining or whining, but it’s in fact essential. While we may feel it’s ungrateful to complain about living in what can seem to the outside world as an idyllic country, it is often the case that expats feel a sense of isolation and end up sticking with other expats in closed communities. Perhaps we might then feel guilt for experiencing anything less than joy and enthusiasm, which in turn causes us to suffocate our real emotions. It’s difficult to explain to friends and family at home that days aren’t always nice, that it’s not a holiday just because we are here. This in turn might provoke feelings of anxiety, frustration, and loneliness.
In order to cope with these feelings it is important that we permit ourselves the freedom to talk clearly about what is and also what is not going on. Avoidance doesn’t lead to nice places, because in order to cope with something, we need to acknowledge that something exists, without judging it (i.e.: I am ungrateful, inadequate, whining). For instance, we may need to grieve our friendship network at home if we want to properly build a new one here, otherwise we will be stuck with one foot in both camps. If I allow myself to feel upset, without reprimanding myself for it, I can go forward and try to come up with solutions to make the best of my experience abroad.
What I mean to say is: allow yourself to feel what you feel in order to address it the right way.