It’s time to chat with a new expat and I am super happy about that!
Today I have the pleasure of chatting with Sonia Piacente, who very kindly shares with us her experience of moving to Italy and growing a family here and also tells us a bit about life in Turin as an expat.
As it frequently happens, I have met Sonia on Instagram. I don’t remember exactly how I discovered her profile but I remember finding it super interesting. She shares daily bits of her life in Italy and I really like it because it is a cool way for me to see life in my country through the eyes of someone who comes from somewhere else.
Sonia comes from the United States, precisely from Texas, and has moved to Italy to marry her Italian love. She is now living in Turin, has three lovely daughters and blogs about her life on her blog A Texan Mom in Torino.
Sonia’s blog is really interesting because it is full of useful resources for traveling in Italy and visiting Turin, in particular. I especially found those resources about Turin really interesting because they help you discover many off-the-beaten-track locations in the city.
But Sonia blogs about her daily life as well and this is a great opportunity to read about the differences between the USA and Italy, with a particular focus on school and kids’ life. I think it would be a very interesting read if you are thinking of moving to Italy with your kids and family.
But now it’s definitely time I let Sonia tells us about her experience in Italy!
Sonia and her lovely family
Hello Sonia! Thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions. First of all, would you like to introduce yourself and tell us a bit about your life and work?
Ciao Cinzia! Thank you so much for inviting me to share my story on your blog. My name is Sonia and I’m a born and raised Texan. I’ve also lived in Utah for a few years while studying to become a Medical Assistant. I’ve worked in Family Practice, in the ER of one of Dallas’ top hospitals and as a Surgical Coordinator for a few of the States’ most respected Colorectal Surgeons.
In September of 2006, I got an out of the blue message from a guy I had never met. I looked at his profile picture and was not at all attracted to him but saw that he was from Italy so I figured we could be friends and he could teach me a few phrases.
Trying to be friendly, I agreed to a date and a month later, we got engaged. We were married in May of 2007 and in 2009 we moved to his hometown of Turin. In 2010 we became parents to Valentina. In 2012 Elisabetta joined our family and Carlotta in 2013.
When did you visit Italy for the first time? What was your first impression about the country and has that first impression changed after living here for a while?
In April of 2004, I came to Italy with 2 of my girlfriends from church. We had been on a tour of Europe and it started in Rome. I had been watching a lot of Rick Steves which was a guilty pleasure of mine and I remember thinking how crazy it was that I was actually in Italy. It began to rain and instead of finding an umbrella, I chose to embrace it.
Standing in front of the Pantheon in the rain made me feel as if I was in a movie. That feeling is what stayed with me and made me want to live in Italy. Of course, that was all just wishful thinking. I never actually thought it would happen.
Interestingly enough, I still feel the same way when I walk down the streets of Turin. Maybe it’s the city and lack of massive tourism, maybe it’s the view of the Alps that I wake up to every morning, but I still feel like I’m in a movie.
a view of beautiful Torino
When we look at a country from far away, we tend to have a stereotyped view. What is the one thing about Italy you thought was completely different?
When I was younger, we had a foreign exchange student live with us for the summer. She taught us a lot about Italy so I think between her and my love for Rick Steves, I had an idea of what Italy was like. However, after reading memoirs and watching movies like ‘Under the Tuscan Sun’, the idea of Italian men being romantic and touchy-feely is kinda true.. at least for me.
Leaving everything behind and moving to another country is an adventure! How was the move? Was it easy? What were the biggest challenges you had to face?
The move was actually the easiest part! Maybe it was the anticipation of a dream becoming a reality but I was really excited. I, of course, cried at the airport when I said good-bye to my parents but Carlo did everything he could to make me feel safe and comfortable.
Unlike a lot of expats, I actually had a second support system when I got here. I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, aka LDS, aka. Mormon. We have meetinghouses all over the world so to have another group of people who share my beliefs and values and understand my situation really helped.
Besides the language barrier, the biggest challenges so far have been experiencing important milestones without my family present.
the famous (and super yummy) Bicerin
I bet that moving to Italy from the States has caused you quite a few cultural shocks. Is there something about Italy and its culture that you are sure you will never get used to?
Hmm.. I don’t know. The Italian culture is quite similar to the Mexican culture that I grew up in. I am very close to my family and have a huge extended family. Holidays are filled with lots of people with lots of food!
The only thing I can think of is the laundry situation. I thought it was so quaint having to line dry laundry and I normally don’t think about it, except during the winter when it takes longer for everything to dry. I don’t know if I’ll get used to that.
You have three lovely girls, born and raised in Italy. How is it to be a foreign parent in Italy? Is education here different from the US? What are the positive and negative sides of Italian education, if compared to the American one?
I feel like I won the lottery when it comes to my life here. I have heard and read so many stories of parents whose kids refuse to speak their native language, teachers who feel superior to the student who is a native English speaker or just being told to “speak Italian” because we’re in Italy.
Everyone from teachers, other parents, neighbors, and even strangers on the street tell me how important it is for kids to speak English. They’re impressed that my girls were bilingual by the time they started Scuola Materna. During the first week of school, I learned that my 1st grader was translating for her Nigerian classmate! I am grateful that her teachers realized her ability and encouraged her.
As for the education, I am pleased with our experience so far. Yes, they have a lot to study and I am not looking forward to spending 300 euros for books once they get into Scuola Media, but I do believe that they are getting a better education here. The methods in which they learn may not be the best (they have to memorize a lot) but I do like that they have homework during summer vacation to continue learning. At least they’re not bored!
I believe that living far away from your home country must be hard. What do you miss the most about the States (apart from friends and family, of course)? And what do you miss about Italy when you are away?
The food.. oh the food that I wish I had access to! There isn’t a Tex-Mex restaurant here that can fill the void of Cheese Enchiladas and Brisket tacos. I also really miss the convenience of life there. I miss having air conditioning in the summertime, the variety of fast-food restaurants (when we do eat out) and giant craft stores where I can buy cake supplies and paper products all at once!
When I’m in the States, I have such a hard time finding pizza that my girls will actually eat! I tried to make pesto and risotto for my family, not only was it difficult to find quality ingredients but also very expensive. I also miss having a daily farmers market and being able to walk everywhere.
You have been living in Italy for a while now. Do you think that Italy has changed you? If so, in what ways?
Italy has most definitely changed me. I am by nature, an introvert. I’d rather be at home alone watching a movie. Moving to Italy forced me to get out, talk to people and make friends. A few months ago, a friend mentioned how outgoing I was, I had to tell her that was the Italian version of me!
I didn’t have a choice. If I wanted to make my life work, I needed to get out of my comfort zone. I no longer mind eating alone, going into town alone… I even spent the day at a Spa… ALONE! The old me would have never done that.
inside Palazzo Carignano, Torino
Let’s speak of tourism now. You live in one of my favorite Italian towns: Turin. What are the most beautiful places there? Is there a special place you’d recommend to someone visiting the area?
People are often surprised at what a great city Turin is. I feel like everywhere you turn, there is a beautiful corner or building to see. It has something for everyone. The Royal residences are gorgeous and quite impressive so that is top on my must-see list.
For nature enthusiasts, I recommend visiting Parco Valentino or even hiking up to the Basilica di Superga to get a view of the valley. Museums… oh, there are so many to choose from. The Automobile museum, Egyptian museum, Cinema museum… there is something for everyone!
Speaking of Italy in general, what are the three things people visiting the country should do to experience Italy at is best?
Visit the landmarks at night. Sometimes, those “pinch me” moments are even more magical at night. If you’re visiting small towns or lesser-known cities like Turin, you’ll be strolling the piazza with the locals and probably make friends with a few of them.
Visit at different times of the year. Most people come in the summertime due to school schedules but I can guarantee you, if you can visit during the fall or winter months, you will see a different side of Italy.
Seek out unique experiences to get the most out of your trip to Italy. Take a cooking class and learn to make a classic regional meal or maybe take a walking tour with a photography group.
I love Turin and Piedmont in general also because the food there is awesome. What do you think of Italian food? Do you have a favorite?
I love the food. When I came in 2004, it was a real eye-opener when it came to the food. In the States, we associate cream sauces, lots of garlic, and loads of parmesan cheese with Italian cuisine. So I was surprised to see how simple the dishes really are and how you can taste all of the flavors.
I don’t know if I can choose a favorite. My mother-in-law is from Naples and one of the first things she taught me how to make was pizza and spaghetti “sciue sciue” which is quick tomato sauce. So naturally, those are very special to me.
A few years ago, I began getting together with a friend to cook and recipe test together. Through this, I have learned a lot of regional recipes and I think I can say for sure that Piemontese cuisine is still my favorite and if I had to choose a dish, then agnolotti del Plin al sugo d’arrosto is my favorite.
What about your Italian? How did you study it? Can you tell us more about your experience with learning Italian?
My Italian will always be an uphill battle. When I met Carlo, I only knew a few words and phrases. Nothing that would really help me. I remember he started with teaching me how to conjugate the word ‘essere‘. Once we realized that we’d be moving sooner rather than later, I went to my favorite book store and bought an Italian dictionary, workbook, and easy reader. I also found a great podcast that I credit the most with preparing me.
Once I arrived, I still couldn’t communicate properly but I could understand a bit. I would sit with my dictionary and watch YouTube video trying to figure out what they were saying. I would prepare my notes the night before so I could be ready for my trips to the market the next morning. My baker used to teach me the different types of bread and how to order them. My tabaccaio would teach me a new verb.
I continued that way until my first daughter was born. Then once she was a bit older, I would watch Rai Yoyo. That was the most useful way to learn for me. I recommend this to everyone who is trying to learn any language. Start with the basics and easy forms of communication. Now with my girls in school, I get to learn with them!
Thank you so much, Sonia, for sharing your experience with us!
If you are interested in more thoughts about Italy, I have a whole section of interviews with expats. I have chatted with a Canadian living in Bergamo, a Polish girl in love with Rome, an American artist who lives in Umbria, another American who moved to beautiful Tuscany, a Mancunian who now resides in Molise, a Scottish lady who is now happily living in Veneto, a British couple who lives and work in Garfagnana, Tuscany, a US lady who runs a hostel in Rome, an American lady who now lives a in beautiful Tuscan villa, a lovely couple who lives in Tuscany part-time, a writer from Seattle who has been living in Rome for 15 years now, a couple who has just gotten Italian citizenship, a lovely Texan who moved to a tiny little Italian village, a super energetic travel expert from the US now living in Rome and two young YouTubers who live in Prato, Tuscany.