Moving to a foreign country is a lot like raising children. It's harder than you think it's going to be, and better than you can imagine!
I only had three months to prepare for my initial move to Italy in 2012. I poured over blogs, books and sites that promised to give me tips on quickly assimilating into my new culture. Much like the volumes of information for expectant parents, there is no shortage of writing on the subject.
And, similarly, most of the information made the task sound daunting and downright overwhelming.
So how do you know if you are really ready to make the jump? It's a question I am asked frequently. Here a few of my thoughts on the subject often overlooked in the books and blogs.
Learning the language usually topped the list. Of course it helps to speak the language. Of course you need to learn it. But you will have plenty of opportunity once you have arrived to do so. Trust me, if eating depends on speaking a foreign language, you will learn. The terror of wondering which train stop is yours will also provide good incentive. Learn what you can before you leave, but waiting to become fluent may mean you never go!
Pace yourself. Much like raising children, I found that overload resulted in frustration. If you plan to get your driver's license, pick up a new cell phone and stop off at the market in one afternoon, it will be a disaster. At least in Italy, it's just not going to happen.
Alone time. There's a lot of it. Women, I would advise getting comfortable living on your own before you add a foreign country to the equation. Be sure you have experienced a few holidays and special occasions by yourself before you try them half the world away. Even expat couples talk about the feeling of isolation, especially in the early months.
Inconvenience. There's a lot of that too. Remember, you are no longer in the United States and nothing is going to run just the way it did there.
In Italy, trains often go on strike, there are no clothes dryers and dinner is around 9:00. Think you might change that? Not likely.
The temperature inside Italian homes, stores and churches is about the same as the temperature outside. Translated, this means freezing cold in Winter, and unbearably hot in Summer.
Buses don't arrive on schedule, train doors get stuck, and wifi goes out for a week. It is what it is. That being said, some of the best adventures I have had occurred when a wrench was thrown into the plan, and something better happened instead.
Attitudes. They are cultural. Not thinking in terms of right and wrong is helpful. Customer service in Italy is not with a smile. The norm for interaction with strangers isn't the grinning, have-a-good-day sort that exists in the United States. Not better or worse, just different.
And, as I have mentioned before, forming a line for anything is impossible for Italians.
These are lessons that don't come in a manual. They require on-the-job-training. Whether it's being assertive enough to claim space on the sidewalk, or speaking up when it's your turn at the bakery, Italians expect you to fend for yourself.
I have, however, found that when I ask a question in Italian, or have been in need of any type of assistance, people here are amazingly kind. They, too, have their cultural stereotypes, and Americans are often seen as pushy, loud and demanding.
A sense of humor. This one is mandatory and should be on the Visa checklist. Mostly you will need to be able to laugh at yourself, and not worry about looking foolish.
I have been asked to remove myself from a movie set I wandered into, dismantled a promotion display at the local Hardware store, and made pronunciation errors that would cause a sailor to blush. Suffice it to say, I no longer ask for figs at the market!
Taking yourself too seriously only impedes your progress. There is a lot of trial and error with a new language, new city and new culture. Chalk all experiences up to part of learning. Even if it was a cab driver that gave you the scenic route to the airport, next time, you will know better.
What can you expect in return for packing up possessions into two checked bags and starting a life as an expat? A story that most people wouldn't believe, and will never live.
Daily life is richer in all ways than I had ever dreamed possible. I walk through world famous structures and go visit The David whenever the mood strikes. I watch the sunset over the Arno, and I meet people from all over the world. As for the food and wine, well, there are no words.
I have had to stretch and grow, often out of my comfort zone, to find my way here. The rewards have more than compensated for the discomfort. Just like having children, I have never regretted my decision.
Do you think you might like to do the same? If you see a window of opportunity, I would encourage you to think about giving the expat life a try. Maybe for just a year? As for me, I will stay another year, or two, maybe forever. I have learned to open my heart, trust and take one day at a time. So far, that has served me well.
One of our HuffPost/50 editors dashed down to Lauderdale during a winter weekend and was pleasantly surprised by the oasis of restaurants on Los Olas Boulevard, far from the maddening spring break crowds. According to Fort Lauderdale Food Tours, the city's diversity is a big part of its appeal, offering "dishes that blend Caribbean, Cuban and Mediterranean traditions that spawned our famous Floribbean cuisine." Ingredients that are freshly grown -- and caught -- don't hurt either.
This city hits a lot of retiree sweet spots, notes New Jersey CPA Tom Corley. Affordable housing -- the mean cost of a home is $148,800 according to the National Realtor Association -- and the overall cost of living is 12 percent lower than the rest of the country makes it a retiree haven, according to AreaVibes. That means you can afford the Kobe beef at Sensu, the unusual selection of cheeses at The Ball and Biscuit and the seasoned lamb and zucchini pancakes at the Istanbul Cafe -- all recommended by blogger IndyFoodie. If you'd rather stay in and cook, you can stop by a farmer's market, a growing industry in town, according to The Indianapolis Star food and wine writer, Jolene Ketzenberger. "From 2010 to 2011, Indiana saw a 37 percent increase in the number of farmers' markets, placing it among the top five states in the nation in terms of growth of farmers' markets," she says.
This sweeping Montana town made Topretirement.com's list of best active communities in the state. For the foodie who can afford the higher than average housing prices -- around $272,000 in 2011 -- the wide open pastures are perfect for farm fresh foods found at organic farm Field Day. Get your CSA* shares ready! And carnivores never fear -- Bozeman Online lists more than 200 restaurants, with, not surprisingly, plenty of steak houses. * That's community supported agriculture.
Omaha may be in the heartland, but that doesn't mean its tastes are strictly meat and potatoes. "Omaha has such a rich ethnic history," Taste of Omaha event producer Mike Mancuso told the Omaha World Herald recently. Ethnic restaurants mix their traditional flavors with American presentation, creating a new type of comfort food, Mancuso said. And since the cost of living is 12 percent less than the national average according to AreaVibes, you'll be able to afford seconds.
We've already shown that college towns are great spots for retirees. You can take classes at the University of Wisconsin-Madison's Continuing Studies department and discuss your course work over a tasty "pasture to plate" dish at bistro A Pig In A Fur Coat.
For the retiree who loves blues, arts and lip-smacking barbecue, Kansas City, here you come! The growing city is undergoing a sort of food renaissance with underground supper clubs (Test Kitchen), farm-to-table restaurants (try West Side Local) and saucy barbecue (from Oklahoma Joe's) leading the way. Lower housing values (a whopping $124,400, according to the National Realtors Association) and property taxes makes this city affordable as well, a must for the discerning retiree, says CPA Tom Corley.
Another college town makes our list, and with good reason. "It's basically impossible not to find good food [in Austin], from cheap tacos to high-end sushi," said Carey Polis, the associate food editor of The Huffington Post. "Chef Paul Qui of Uchiko just won the 2012 James Beard award for Best Chef: Southwest." Retirees can appreciate the Texas heat and mild winters -- the highest average temperature in Austin is in August at 85.4 degrees, according to AreaVibes.
East coast living pretty much guarantees great seafood a stone's throw away, and Providence is no exception. Travel + Leisure recommends Chez Pascal or Nick's for "'boat-to-table' seafood that comes direct from local fishermen." Or you can take your groceries finds back home -- the median asking price for a home in Providence is 20.6 percent less than the national average, according to AreaVibes.
"Oregon has become a top state for retirement communities by virtue of its natural beauty, dynamic people and geography," writes Topretirement.com. "Oregon offers better value for your retirement dollar than California." That's great news for foodies who retire to Portland. The town's healthy, green and DIY culture has been soundly mocked in a sketch comedy called "Portlandia," but as Travel + Leisure points out, its "farm-to-table dining, well-crafted microbrews, and 200-odd food trucks," are no laughing matter. The travel magazine recommends Korean-Hawaiian fusion restaurant Namu and the food truck "pods" at Pioneer Courthouse Square.
The pace of life, much like its denizens drawl, is much slower in Savannah. So take time to enjoy the local fare in this Georgia town. A best restaurant regular is the Green Truck Pub, and Chef Bobby Flay of Food Network fame has made stops at 700 Drayton and Muther's Old Timey Bar-B-Que. You can take advantage of the mild climes (an average high of 81.6 degrees, and an average low of 52.1) on your porch -- median home asking prices are 20 percent lower than the national average, according to AreaVibes.
Lovely historic neighborhoods, sweet bed and breakfasts and great food. It's hard not to imagine settling down in Charleston -- especially once you learn the town is part of a food revival rolling through the South. Fodor's recommends two restaurants: McGrady's and Husk. Both are helmed by the same James Beard Award-winning chef Sean Brock. For a fee of just $25, people over 60 can take classes at the College of Charleston, Forbes reports.
We definitely "remember the Alamo," but who can forget this hub of great Tex-Mex food? It made Travel + Leisure's Best Cities For Food, coming in at number 10. "If you want to get off the tourist grid, head to Southtown, south of downtown, to try the gastropub The Monterey or The Friendly Spot, an ice house with tamales, tostadas, and a dizzying long list of microbrews," Travel + Leisure recommends. Add the low home asking price ($118,475 or 38.5 percent lower than the national average, according to AreaVibes), and you can see why San Antonio is truly unforgettable for retiree foodies.
The Mile High City is making a name for itself as a booze town: craft beer enthusiasts can enjoy the gastropub experience at Euclid Hall. Or you can drink at home and amble over to one of the city's many food trucks. You can work off any beer gut by golfing or hitting up some of the nearby skiing towns.
A breadth of farmers markets makes Nashville a hub for locavore eating, a.k.a a foodie's dream. Yelp considers Joe Natural's, which serves organic ingredients from the Schertz Middle Tennessee farm, to be one of the best. Tom Corley, a financial adviser and CPA from New Jersey, says the city is also a retiree's dream thanks to the town's great weather, which doesn't get colder than 41.1 degrees or hotter than 80.9, according to AreaVibes.
Forbes has named SLC as one of the best retirement cities for its climate, but foodies will appreciate the fact that it has also shaken off its chain store and anti-booze leanings, with independent restaurants taking their place. Food & Wine has noticed: Forage's chef tag team Bowman Brown and Viet Pham recently won its Best New Chefs honor. Despite its high crime rate, there's a lot of good tipping the scales in Salt Lake's favor: low cost of living and taxes, average home price of $183,000 and a good economy, Forbes reports.
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