The life of an expat is never easy. Moving to a new country, maybe learning a new language and generally starting a new job are stressful factors for anyone beginning new. There are hardships to being an expat in any country. I’ve been an expat for sixteen years and in four different countries.
First I was an expat in Australia.
Where I spent nine months living the life between the outback and the ocean. Working in small beach-side cafe’s just to make enough money to travel further up the coast or deeper into the red desert. Some jobs lasted a weekend, some three weeks, but never over three months in one place, as my visa wouldn’t allow it.
After Australia came England, the English Channel was now my home.
I spent nine months working in a small five-star bistro on the largest island in the Channel Islands, Jersey.
My apartment was the size of a jail cell, probably smaller, but it worked and it was cheap. I worked full-time in a snobby rich restaurant where Sir’s and Madam’s dined. I made decent money enjoying the gratuity of the élite, not being taxed by the tax man, and traveled around the tiny grey island. But something was pulling me to back to Canada.
I worked as a waitress, bartender and manager at several restaurants throughout my Canadian city. Working as a waitress allowed time for travel and the generous tips helped fund the adventures that awaited. After England I was in Canada for three years until the next expat adventure began.
Islands, islands, islands.
They lure me with their folk tales, secret cultures and stunning beaches. Making and saving the money was easy, it was deciding on where I was going to live next. There was always a next place. A place calling my name asking me to make it my home. Another island paradise.
My third home away from home. My third time at being an expat and it was getting easier. I applied to several restaurants via fax, I heard from one and accepted without hesitation. Working for two years at a large restaurant on the famous Seven Mile Beach, I honed my skills as an international waitress and bartender. Saving money, partying like it was nineteen ninety-nine, meeting hundreds of other expats from all over the world and setting eyes on my future husband for the first time.
Time spent on the beach, in jujitsu class and working seven hour evenings was the life and I enjoyed it to the fullest. I flew to one of Grand Cayman’s sister islands Cayman Brac and drove around this tiny island for two days. Exploring, hiking, being lazy in a hammock and sleeping all day.
It is possible to have your cake and eat it to. Really it is.
In 2007 my future husband called, and in May 2008 I packed up my bags for my fourth expat adventure in Sardinia, Italy.
By now I was a pro, I knew the ins and outs of being an expat, or so I thought.
Unlike the first three countries where I could speak my wild English tongue and use my working skills to make some money, in Sardinia I had no skills.
And maybe I was out of my ball-park.
Finding friends, forget it. It took me over a year to befriend the one and only friend I have today. The Sardinian women want nothing to do with me, I can see it on their worn faces. I wanted to wear a t-shirt that said “Hey, I’m nice, and Canadian, talk to me.”. Instead I cried on the bathroom floor, in my husbands arms, on Skype to friends back in Canada and even in my dreams.
Thankfully life evolves and with it so did I.
I’ve learned the language(s), developed friendships old and young, cooked whole pigs in my oven without eating a bite and gone au natural in a setting where you can only feel with your soul.
I’d never felt to alone in those first few months, so isolated, so scared of the adventure I’d just taken on.
I was an outsider, I didn’t fit in, and the 2000 population knew it. I was gossip and in no way like the rest of the women in this small town. Tall, blonde, athletic and I have big feet, an oddity in this short, small, rugged place.
There are still I few things I don’t adhere to as a wife to a Sardinian. I don’t iron jeans, socks or bed sheets, I re-cycle cans, paper, plastic and glass and I don’t clean the floors everyday or twice a day. I sit in the town square with the men, smoking my one cigarette of the day while their wives pass with shopping bags in hand and faces up-turned. I don’t care because I Am Canadian. I also don’t hail to the almighty hand and word of my Sardinian husband, like most women here.
Being an expat in Sardinia has its ups and downs.
Did I mention that when I flew into this stunning beach oasis that I didn’t speak a lick of Italian. Nope. Nothing. Ok, well I could say “Ciao.” That’s it. Ciao. Lucky me. I buried my nose in Italian Now! Level 1 by Marcel Danesi, listened to Italian Earworms CD’s (learning Italian set to music, awesome for the beginner,) studied the Italian dictionary, watched Italian movies with English subtitles, wrote down pronouns, verbs and memorized sentences that pertained to me.
I took these new-found skills to the supermarket and asked a girl out for coffee. She said no.
After a year of asking she finally said yes. She is my one and only Sardinian girlfriend on this island and she has taught me my plenty things about the Sardinian way of life.
E ora parlo e scrivo in italiano.
And now I speak and write in Italian. This bit of knowledge has been a godsend. Without language I would have nothing here, no job, no friends, no face to face contact, no fun. I had to study, I have to study.
I studied Italian, maybe it was the wrong choice. I should have studied Gallurese.
Within one language in Sardinia there are several others. In my town they don’t speak Italian (well to me they do) they speak Gallurese.
Gallurese is an Italo-Dalmatian romance langauge deriving from Corsica and the Sardo languages. There is nothing romantic about this barbaric tongue and there are no books to study it by.
A little language lesson
(This chart is in no way perfect. I made it in Microsoft Works and was unable to save it as a different file path recognized by WordPress. I printed the file then scanned it as a jpg, cut some pieces out so it would fit nicely into WordPress. I’ve also noticed an error on the above table. I forgot to add a verb to the pronoun, under the verb To See in English – They see. The see was missing, sorry. I try perfection, but it doesn’t agree with me.)
You get the picture right?
Imagine moving to a new country with study books in hand and studying for a langauge that the majority in your little town don’t speak.
My world is not an Italian world. My world is Gallurese. When I go to work all communication is in Gallurese, when friends come to the house Gallurese is spoken.
I now I understand three languages: English, Italian and Gallurese.
However, I only speak two: English and Italian. Gallurese I leave for my husband and friends. They get a kick out of the few words I speak. Some locals have asked me not to speak in dialect (even the odd word) as I am not Sardinian nor from the Gallura and is considered disrespectful. But these people are few and far between and have a foot already slung in the grave.
Being an expat in Sardinia is a wonderful eye-opening experience, I’ve learned how to cook, how to relax and how to enjoy the wonderous beaches this island has.
I wouldn’t change it for the world.
The most difficult part is/was the langauge, there are over two hundred different dialects spoken on this rugged pristine island. If you live in a place long enough and hear the same words spoken enough you will soon learn the dialect from that area. As has happened to me, and I have loved every moment.
Every day is a new day, and every day I learn something new. In the beginning it wasn’t easy, I wanted to fly away from this island to never return. But I’m stronger than that, I’ve evolved. Some say I’m stubborn, it doesn’t matter which of the two I am. The point is: this expat is never going to retire. I’ve persevered and continue on, in this island oasis I now home.
How has being an expat changed your life? Did you have to learn a new language, or two? Was there a study guide on the second hidden language? How did you overcome these obstacles?
I would love to hear about your expat life.