I was 14 years old when my life changed forever. It was nothing bad! Actually it was really bloody good.
I was born in Chorley in Lancashire and my lovely parents were one hundred percent British. We lived in Leyland which was a homely town where everyone knew everyone and you felt very safe, if a little bored. Especially at the age of 14! I felt VERY bored! That pubescent feeling that life is waiting to happen was reflected in the heavy grey skies and cold weather but then it all changed. A brave deputy head teacher who was an Italophile, took a group of us from a Catholic school, to Italy.
The details of that trip are another story but suffice to say I fell in love with Italy and on my return vowed that I would learn Italian and live in Italy. It wasn’t easy. “Why do you want to learn bloody Italian?”, was said a great deal but I was adamant! My dream was bolstered by an Aunty who had lived in Italy and spoke conversational Italian. A trip back to Italy had been organised so I had the possibility to learn leading me to the end game! I began with a crappy phrase book and my aunty taught me my first words in Italian, which were obviously swear words as I was 15 years old! I learned phrase book Italian and went back to Lido di Jedolo where I had the holiday of a life time and on my return my determination to learn Italian was stronger. There were many more holidays to Lido di Jesolo and my Italian improved. But none of this was enough. I wanted to live there. I wanted to BE Italian!
My friends and I on holiday in Lido di Jesolo
While I was at university I made a friend who had done something called TEFL (Teaching English As a Foreign Language) and had lived in Madrid for a year. She made it sound easy but my formal English wasn’t strong as I had (unrecognised) dyslexia and although I loved creative writing my ‘creative spelling’ held me back. I finished Uni in Art and Design but in 1993 and with a recession there were no jobs. I took a job at the KFC in Preston to start saving for my TEFL course. I decided to study in Lisbon, Portugal as I knew if I went straight to Italy I probably wouldn’t travel further afield. Italy called to me the entire time so when a job was offered on finishing the course I headed straight to the country I loved.
This was the second life changing moment. The job was in Southern Italy in a place called the MOLISE! The Molise? Nobody I knew had ever heard of it! But off I went to teach at a summer camp in the mountains between Rome and Naples -ish. My pigeon Italian got me half way but I was at that terrible stage where I could engage in conversations but not really go to any depth. I loved my time there and made great friends who I still keep in touch with but at that time I thought my heart was in the north of Italy in Venice. I got a job and found a room in a shared flat. I had done it! I was living my dream!
Looking skinny but unhappy in Venice
Twenty Four is quite young to achieve your life’s goal and although I had a fantastic job and was living my dream it didn’t feel quite right. I was lonely and sad and had lost up to 3 stone in weight. I power dressed and even wore pearls and scarves but not in a rock way – in a Stepford wives way! I even stopped drinking pints! At the time I didn’t realise how unhappy I was until I returned to the Molise, back to southern Italy and realised just what I was missing! The south of Italy is like the North of England, poor, agricultural but happy. It felt like home. I quit my high paid job and followed my heart to a place called Campobasso.
Enduring the cold but beautiful winters in Campobasso
Campobasso is the Head town of the Molise region. It is a big town but really like a small village and I absolutely loved it there. I found myself again and am glad to say that the pint drinking, jean wearing party girl returned and the scarf and (fake) pearls were thrown in a bin! As a language learner and a language teacher my biggest advice for how to learn a language is to move to a place where NO ONE speaks your first language! This really worked for me apart from the fact that people in Campobasso spoke a strange Italian dialect! So that is what I learned! An example of the dialect would be … I don’t know in Italian is ‘non lo so’. In the local dialect its ‘Che ne saccio’!
I spent two of the best years of my life in Campobasso, I met some other American, Canadian, English and Welsh women and we became close friends. I didn’t make a lot of money but I was very happy. Two years went by and I knew everybody and every cat and dog! It was clear that if I didn’t move I would live there forever. Loving it as much as I did I was only 28 and I needed a change and more of a career opportunity. A friend and I decided to move to a city in the north east of Italy called Bologna. We chose Bologna because we heard it was a cool, arty, leftie city and we weren’t disappointed! I landed an amazing job teaching at the British Council, made special friends and had a great quality of life but once again fate intervened, and my life changed again.
Never knowing without a Prosecco in Bologna!
It was there that I met my husband who was on holiday visiting his sister. Although he was born in Catania, Sicily he moved to the UK when he was 4 and immediately dropped his Italian. We fell in love and because he was training in English law, we decided to would move back to the UK and live in his Camden apartment. It turned out he lived down the road from my sister! I had never lived in the south of England. So in 2002 I moved back to England and my life here began.
We regularly go back to Italy and weirdly my Italian goes from strength to strength, I think because I don’t care about being accurate any more I have become more fluent!
My husband’s Italian is not as good as mine and this often confuses people.
We are now slowly teaching the children to speak Italian and they are very much in touch with their Italian heritage’ Not just from my husband’s Sicilian side but also from my adopted Italian side.
I hope one day they will follow in our footsteps and live there. But as THEY are our children they will probably follow their own path!
My husband Massimo and I the first year we met.