I was looking very much forward to the chance of speaking with an expat and the time has finally come.
I am so happy I am able to interview another expat for my “Expats in Italy” series! As some of you may remember, last year I started this blog section about expats in Italy because I was really curious to hear what people coming from other countries had to say about Italy and how living in this country as a foreigner is.
I started the blog section with an interview with Linda Tieu and Caridad Isabel Barragan, two Californian artists living in Tuscany and Umbria, respectively. I loved doing these interviews, but somehow never found the time to look for other expats who might be interested in sharing their experiences with me – by the way, if you are an expat and want to participate, let me know!
Luckily, thanks to Instagram – a lot of lovely things happen there – I met the lovely Kamila Kowalska and asked her if she wanted to be part of this project. She said yes and I am happy she did because her interview is really interesting and she shares some very brilliant things about living in Italy – plus a lot of love for my country which is something that always amazes me.
Kamila is from Poland and has been living in Rome for 15 years now. She loves travelling and discovering the beauty of Italy. She works as a writer of guidebooks, she has written more than 10 guidebooks about Italy, and has a blog about Italy with the loveliest name, Autostrada del Sole – unfortunately for me, it’s in Polish only and I don’t understand a word of the language! However, she also has a beautiful Instagram account, where she shares bits and pieces of her life in Italy.
But it’s definitely time to hear what she has to say about her experience here!
Ciao Kamila! Thanks for taking the time to do this interview! Would you like to introduce yourself and tell us a bit about your life?
Buongiorno! My name is Kamila, I am Polish, but I have been living in Rome for 15 years now. I could say that I came to Italy by chance, but I strongly believe that everything happens for a reason. Therefore, it’s been destiny, I am sure, and I am so grateful for it every day. During all these days, I got to know il Bel Paese very well, but I am sure there’ll be much more to discover, at least for other 100 years – or maybe more.
I love visiting Italy, travelling to different regions, “touching with my hands” the amazing culture, tasting the food. I do it both for passion and for work. I have written more than 10 guidebooks about Italy, among which some are about Rome and the Vatican, Venice, Milan, Tuscany and the whole country. I also have a personal blog about travels in Italy, which is called Autostrada del Sole.
When was your first time in Italy? What was your first impression?
I have been really lucky: my first time in Italy was in August 1999. I came to visit some Italian friends, for a holiday. I was in my first year at University. My guests surprised me with a real treat: we did a tour of Italy!
In two weeks, I visited iconic cities like Venice, Florence, Rome, Naples and then the amazing Amalfi Coast, with some days in Sorrento, Positano and – the icing on the cake – the Isle of Capri. I felt as if I was the main character in the 1990’s movie Stanno Tutti Bene, with Marcello Mastroianni and directed by Giuseppe Tornatore, which is a film I love and I could watch over and over.
How did you manage to move to Italy?
As I said, I came to Italy for the first time for a holiday. But it was enough to fall in love with the country and then try to find every possible way to come back, yet for a longer time. My chance came when I had to prepare my dissertation for the University: the topic I chose was about Italy – so that I was “forced” to spend more time in the country.
To be able to stay in Italy longer, I found a volunteering program which was linked to the topic of my dissertation, so I arrived in Italy with the plan of spending one year here. Actually, I never went back to Poland. I started the post-graduation studies in Rome, found my first job and then my place in the world, called Città Eterna (Eternal City).
Was it difficult to get used to living in Italy? What were the biggest difficulties you encountered?
It was not so easy at the beginning. There are differences in mentality and daily life between Poland and Italy. The main challenge was learning to accept a different, slower pace of life, with a lot of bureaucracy and lesser clear – yet more flexible – rules.
What are the main cultural differences between Poland and Italy? Is there some aspect of Italy you will never get used to?
Poland and Italy are quite similar in terms of culture: a common history, similar traditions and habits, the value given to family and education. Obviously, there are some differences as well, which are basically the ones that identify the Northern countries in comparison to the southern ones. In Italy, there is more openness, lots of emotions, more spontaneity both for individuals and society. In Poland, people are still a bit closed, but with the passing of time the difference is less strict. Is there something of Italy I’ll never get used to? I don’t know. Sometimes I think that living in Rome makes you get used to everything! 🙂
Moving to a new country is difficult. Do you have some tips for people who dream of moving to Italy?
It is definitely important to know Italy as a local. It is worth to come and live here even for a while. Then – just like the Italians do – you’ll see :-). Italy teaches you to look at life with different eyes, to appreciate the little things and it changes all the people who visited it. Who decides to come and live in Italy has to learn to take daily life in Italy as it comes and accept it. You have to learn to get used to the little incidents because the country gives you in return a whole world of treats every day.
You live in Rome, one of the most visited Italian cities. What would you suggest to people visiting Rome for the first time?
My tip is to not just follow the must-see itineraries. Obviously, when you visit cities like Rome, Florence and Venice for the first time, there are places and monuments that must absolutely be seen. Otherwise, it is as if you haven’t even been there. However, it is also worth to just follow one’s intuition, walk down a street you fancy and that caught your attention.
I’d also suggest visiting the place with a local, someone who lives there. I do it for people coming to Rome, friends, acquaintances, or people who contact me on the blog, asking to meet for a coffee, an aperitivo, a walk. For people coming from abroad, it is something that makes you experience the place as if you are visiting it with a friend, who wants to show you the place in a more interesting and peculiar way, different from the classic tourist way.
Can you name three things a tourist must not miss, for a real Italian experience?
Obviously, you can’t miss a real local culinary experience when you visit Italy. The food here is a cult, a ritual, it creates a peculiar atmosphere. It’s an experience that, when enjoyed in the proper way, feeds not just the body but mind, senses and soul as well.
Another must-do is to have coffee at a local bar, just any kind of bar, the first you see during your morning walk, with no other reason to stop there than having a simple coffee and not thinking about anything else for a moment – as if the world stops existing.
Then, the third thing should be meeting the locals: with a buongiorno and a grazie to a stranger, only because you found yourselves in front of each other on a narrow sidewalk. If possible, it is worth trying to speak more, in order to realize that in Italy, when you run out of words, you can communicate with a smile, you can give directions by drawing a map on a piece of paper, you can even explain a difficult concept only using your hands.
Then we come to the language. How did you learn Italian? Was it easy?
Learning Italian was not difficult for me because, when I started studying it, I had already been studying Spanish (which is similar to Italian) for five years. However, at the beginning, I experienced the barriers because I was not able to communicate in the way I wanted due to the obvious little command of the language and a limited vocabulary. Falling in love with Italy and visiting it many times before finally moving in 2002 was really helpful though.
Do you have tips for people learning Italian?
I think that Italy is the perfect place to get rid of the fear of not speaking well, the fear that language learners have when they are beginners and that I also had when I was first starting to learn Italian. As a matter of fact, I have directly experienced that coming to Italy helps to open up and simply speak, no matter your level of knowledge of the language.
Italian is a melodic language, it’s like learning a song: this is why it is better to listen to the Italians speak, which nowadays – in the Internet era – is quite easy. Finally, to motivate yourself, you have to keep in mind that coming to Italy and knowing a little Italian too is like holding a secret key that, little by little, first opens the little doors and then the bigger ones, behind which the endless Italian beauties are hiding.
Thank you so much, Kamila, for your answers and for sharing with us your experience!
Photo credits: Kamila Kowalska – Instagram Autostrada del Sole