My Expat Lives | Celebrating 4 Years in Sardinia, Italy

My Expat Lives | 4 Years in Sardinia, Italy

On May 6th 2008, I left my home and native land for Sardinia, Italy.

How is it possible that four years have passed? I can’t believe it! I made the long trip back to Canada several times in the last few years. The time never enough, and some of my family have come to visit us in Sardinia and again, the time was never enough, but the memories will stay forever.

This will be one of my longer posts, so grab a glass of wine, some popcorn or a jar of Nutella. Just get comfortable.

Find out the ups and downs of expat life in Sardinia, Italy.

Here’s what I’ve learned in Sardinia, Italy

  1. Two new languages. I speak Italian – Io parlo l’italiano. I also write in Italian – Anche scrivo l’italiano. My Italian grammar sucks – La mia grammatica l’italiano non e buona. But I try – Ma provoThe dialect in this area is Gallurese and I’m able to follow along in most conversations. It’s a very barbaric dialect and I only know a few words and phrases, which I save for a select few. Everyone speaks dialect here. The only time I hear Italian is when someone speaks directly to me and the few hours of Italian TV in the evening. Arg.
  2. Everything happens tomorrow. Even tomorrow things will happen tomorrow. 
  3. How to cook. I never cooked before Sardinia. The things I ate where prepared for me by my Mom, or pre-packaged in a box or bag. I made toast, fried eggs, and ate plain white pasta, yuck! That all changed when I hopped the pond to Sardinia, Italy. I slowly, over time learned the secrets to Italian cooking. I can show one for you here, now … it’s … patience.
  4. That life is meant to be lived. How you want and where you want. Just do it.
  5. Sardinia is the most fantastic place I have set foot in. Come see for yourself.

Other expat lives

From an early age I made the choice to lead a life of travel and adventure. I gave up the “cool things” that my friends were doing/buying, just so I could save up for a month-long stint in Brazil, Cuba or Greece.

I have been fortunate enough to have lived the expat life in the following countries:

1 year in Australia

1 year in England

2 years in Cayman Islands

4 years in Sardinia, Italy

I worked full-time as a waitress, working nights and days, picking up extra shifts, longer shifts, a double shift just so I could sample Italian gelato or sky dive at sunset in Australia or hike mountain ranges British Columbia.

With a lot of hard-work, living the dream is possible, but there are challenges.

When I wasn’t planning these month-long vacations, I was throwing the dart and chasing a dream, a dream to see, and live throughout our beautiful world.

There is always a next: the next town, city, beer, airport or acquaintance. While living one expat life, I was silently building and planning the next.

My third expat adventure came about one wine filled evening with friends.

“Just throw the dart.”

Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands.

I researched this island and found it was an expat haven! Expats from all over the world had flocked to this stunning stretch of coast for years. Tax free, white sand beaches, a fantastic night life and lots of good work made Grand Cayman the ideal choice for me. It was here in Cayman that my future changed while I was busy partying in the present.

It was in Cayman where I met my fourth and longest expat adventure to date: Sardinia.

He was tall, mysteriously dark and utterly handsome.  But with all those good looks came challenges.

I spent my first four years as an expat living in other English-speaking countries. The cultures were rather the same, the language was the same, mind a few slang words, and finding friends was easy, very easy.

Australia, England and Cayman Islands were all easy to adapt to in terms of fitting in as an expat.

Italy opened my eyes to the challenges other expats may face when moving to a foreign country. I have been privy to many of these obstacles and some I still face. Each day is a learning experience albeit in language, culture or traditions. Sometimes I wonder if I will ever really fit in, but these thoughts are few and far between when I look out my living room window to the amazing sea-view.

Here is a list of some challenges I have faced and fought while living the dream in Italy.

  •  Living the Dream. When I hear this from people back home I silently cringe. We can live the dream in any city, town or country in the world. It’s up to you, to find your dream and start living it. It was my choice to move to Italy and start a new life: my dream, my goals, and my destination. I worry about bills, health, and making ends meet just like everyone else.
  • Language Barriers. Learning a new language while living in the host country can be a kick to your self-esteem. When I arrived in Italy I didn’t speak a lick of Italian. My self-esteem plummeted and I felt somewhat stupid. Stupid in the sense of not being able to take part in an ongoing conversation, not being able to follow said conversation and soon delving into my own English thoughts that related nothing to said conversation. I knew I had to change, and change fast or Italy would swallow me up forever. After four years in Italy I am still learning the language(s). I can hold conversations and follow along in others. It’s a daily struggle, an up-hill battle that only I can combat.
  • Finding Friends. We all need a little friendship. In the three English-speaking countries that I lived in, finding and making friends was easy. I spoke the language. I understand the subtle body language and tones of voice. I knew what people were feeling just by the tone of their voice, it was English after all, my mother tongue. Here in small town Sardinia things are completely different. It’s a small town, smaller than I have ever lived in. Population 2000. Everyone knows everyone and they all stay safely close within their tight circle of friends and family. Wary of outsiders and their intentions but once these hurdles are fought, you will find a faithful friend forever.
  • Cost of Living. Everything in Italy is expensive. Gas is €1.90  a litre, my favourite yogurt is €2.89, fresh string beans €7.00 a kilo, two pizzas from the local pizzeria cost €15-20, six imported bananas cost €2.02, for doctors’ visits I have paid over €800 in the last four years! Here a hundred, there a hundred! The list could really go on; from our outrageous electricity bills to a water bill that never arrives, life in Italy is an upside down mixing pot of confusion.
  • The Unknown. I think one of the biggest problems Italy faces is the constant changing of laws, rules and prices. How can the price of a postcard stamp change so drastically? One day .80c the next €1.60, just ask my sister! There are so many unknowns in Italy that one wonders if the powers that be really understand what’s going on. For the locals it’s constant confusion by their governments. For the expat you hear, “You’re in Italy, get used to it!” I’m pretty much used to the unknown now, but I will continue to question why.

Happy 4th Year in Sardinia Anniversary to me!

Here’s to many more stories, tales and friendships!

How and where do you live your expat life? How have you overcome the challenges of living in a country so different from your own?

69 thoughts on “My Expat Lives | Celebrating 4 Years in Sardinia, Italy

  1. Hi Jennifer! I’m Mieke from Belgium and I want also build my dream and move to Sardinia! 🙂 So nice to read that you just did it and you are still overthere!
    I have been 2 weeks in Sardinia to see the south and west. Now I’m planning a trip to see the north and east upto Cagliari. I want to start my business overthere. Maybe we can keep contact? Nice to meet you!! Best regards Mieke

  2. 😀 6 years after all these posts, Jennifer, you still there, anyone? I live in a small town in Sicily, totally relate to all your posts.
    I stumbled across these posts because I’m trying to find out about primary schools in Sardinia for some lovely parents of one of my students. They have friends moving to Cagliari, they’re hoping to find an International school with IB. I understand that there aren’t any IB schools, but do you know of any alternatives? Thank you for any info. you can pass on!

    • Hello, my apologies for my late reply. I’ve just started work for the season and this is the first time I’ve turned on my computer. Yes, I am still living in Sardinia, Italy. I don’t know what an IB school is however, I have heard that there are a few English schools at Cagliari, I live in the north part of the island and am only aware of those schools in this area. I’m sorry I cannot be of more help. Thanks for stopping by and dropping me a comment. Wishing you a super summer.

      • Hi Jennifer! Im a fellow Jennifer, thinking about long term Sardinia, and would love any names of IB (International Baccalaureate) or English-speaking schools in the North. Having a hard time finding what I’m looking for on the internet. And only if this is easy information for you to toss out to me! Thank you! And great respect to you for living the life/lives of your choosing!

  3. Hello Jennifer,
    Just stumbled into your post while researching moving to Sardinia and here you are living there. Thank you for sharing how it has been for you being in this amazing place. Living on an island cost more for sure and the uncertainty of what is to come and what is can bring more added stress also.
    I am in Berlin Germany – It has become an expensive place to be and the artists, creative people are moving out of the city because they cannot afford to live here now.. That is a pity. I am leaving because the feeling here is becoming anti foreigners, and there is a feeling of gloom and despair that is coming up the surface that I do not like. Learning the language has not been easy after being here 2 years on and off and I empathize with the hard steep learning curve one has to undergo in order to get a semblance of fitting into a new culture with a different energetic vibration and language and the list goes on and on.
    As I am reading comments and packing – yes I am moving out of Berlin and will spend some time in France and then come to Sardinia to get a feel for the place early Spring – I am wondering if I will be able to cope with another move another learning curve ie language, settling in making connections ect.. but I am a nomad and have been traveling for so many years and living in different countries/continents that I don t see myself settling down permanently unless..
    I am looking for sun, ocean, woods, Nature and SUN! I am looking for my small piece of paradise to settle in and need the Sun! I am lucky as I do not need to go through immigration which is really a plus but relocating is a process and takes a lot of energy.

    Will keep checking on your writings and looking forward to it.

  4. Pingback: The Raw Reality of Expat Life in Small Town Sardinia | My Sardinian Life

  5. Hello Jennifer, I am just reading your blog… only one year late…
    Are you still in Sardinia? I also married a Sard, have been here for 3 years now and agree with you on almost everything. I now know that if it wasn’t for the huge Love I have for my Husband I would of left the island after a month!
    I used to feel so bad because I thought I was the only one “not fitting in” and not being able to make friends. You made me smile, I don’t feel so alone now… ha!
    I was wondering if you knew, or if you are in contact with other “foreigners” I would like to meet some and maybe, why not, celebrate Birthdays, Thanksgiving or Baby Showers together… I am tired of cooking and having all of my husband’s relatives looking at me in a weird way “Crostata di Zucca???” and not eating anything because something has raisins, cinnamon or cranberrys.
    Thank you for sharing!

    • Hi there,

      Yes, I am currently in Sardinia, just got back 10 days ago! I assume you are in Cagliari, I’m in the Gallura. It was very difficult at first, but after 6 years things which were once ‘weird’ have become the norm. I prefer this style of life. Thanks so much for your comment. I don’t associate with other expats from Sardinia, in real life … but have several contacts via email and some groups on Facebook. Where are you from originally? Hope you stop by again. 🙂

      • We live in Decimo and work in Cagliari, so if you are ever in the area, let me know, it might be nice to grab a quick cup of coffee downtown. It’s comforting to know it can only get “better”… Thank you!

      • What do you do for work? It does get better and one day you’ll find yourself just like the rest … a local. Thanks for the invite, I’ll let you know if we ever make it down there. Have a super weekend and enjoy the sun.

    • Hey, stumbled across this blog and your comment which I can totally relate. I’m from England but have lived in other countries before moving to Sardinia with my hubby 18 months ago. If you fancy grabbing a drink one day, hit me up. I live in Quartu but can easily get to Cagliari 🙂 Cheers, Ange

      • Hello, thanks for reaching out. How do you like the island so far? I live near Tempio Pausania, in the north, and I don’t get down south very often. If you ever find yourself up in the north, drop me a line. All the best.

  6. Congratulation Jennifer with Italian language. Your articles and pictures to me so amazing.Thank you so much for sharing.Happy Holiday!

  7. Congrats on your first 4 years on the island. We just celebrated our first year!

    Couldn’t help but chuckle when I read this post, as I found your site by searching for info on when the damn water bill is supposed to arrive.. It has been 12 months, and we can’t seem get them to send a bill.

    Hope you enjoy year 5!

  8. Pingback: The Raw Reality of Expat Life in Small Town Sardinia | My Sardinian Life | La Mia Vita Sarda

  9. Love this! I can relate to you so much. A year in the Cayman islands opened my eyes up to the world and gave me very itchy feet…I’m looking at a possible job in Sardinia now but am terrified of feeling cut off and isolated because I would be going it alone and without any language skills to help me integrate. I want to be brave but….am scared I’ll fail miserably!

    • Ciao Holly,

      Looks like we have a lot in common. Sardinia is not an easy place to go it alone, especially if you don’t speak the language. What do you do for work? And where is your possible job? Maybe I can help.

      • I’ve applied to work at the Chatterbox English School in Cagliari. I am a trained teacher. Came back to the UK for a year but can’t wait to get away again. Application in so i’ll wait and see what happens next – maybe it’s not meant to be anyway!

      • I think you would be fine in Cagliari, it’s one of the largest towns/cities on the island. I’ve been told there are plenty of ppl who speak English there. I really can’t imagine you would have any problems. I live way up in the north in a very small town on top of a mountain and went through some pretty rough times, but I had my husband with me and lots of skype chats to friends and family back home.

        I have my fingers crossed for you, good luck!!

        Have you started to study Italian yet? You will need it in the shops.

      • If I get the position I will certainly get stuck into the Italian language.
        Besides the language barriers, what are your favourite and least favourite things about living in Sardinia? And why after all you travels do you think you have stayed longest here? Intrgued!

      • The postal system drives me bananas! I’ve stayed for 4 years because I married a Sard! 🙂

        I love the beaches, the food, the people….local dialect drives me nuts sometimes, it’s been a really wonderful experience.

  10. Pingback: My Expat Job Struggles | Sardinia, Italy « My Sardinian Life | La Mia Vita Sarda

  11. Great post! I moved to France a year ago and it have experienced many of the same challenges as you. It’s a great experience and I am thinking about moving to another new country soon 🙂 It’s great that living in Sardinia has taught you so much!

      • I faced the challenge of being out of my comfort zone, of being in the unknown. I faced the challenge of speaking another language and not being able to communicate as freely as I could before. I faced the challenge of not being able to create the life that I imagined or expected. And many more… 🙂 As for my next move, I haven’t decided yet!

      • Thank you for your great comment. I agree that it is a challenge. I’m not able to freely communicate in Italian like I can in English. It’s ok when Im in a one on one situation, but that all changes when in a group. I don’t have the confidence to speak naturally in Italian in large groups … at this moment. I need to study more, and have been a few hours a day. Things are progressing. 🙂

      • Fantastic! And the best way to learn a language is to be in the country – so I’m sure you’re progressing much better than you think 😉 Italian is a beautiful language – I think it becomes easier to speak it once we add a bit of Italian attitude to our personality!

      • It’s more difficult living in a town where everyone speaks dialect. There are no study books for Gallurese or I would study that language to. Yesterday I went into town shopping and I had a conversation in dialect with one of the locals, he speaking in dialect and me in Italian!

  12. It’s great to hear someone tell the truth about life in Italy. I’m an expat in Abruzzo, and ‘The Dream’ can be anything but at times. What makes things a lot easier is knowing that others go through the same fears about the unknown, the rules, the language, and the costs. But despite the fears, most of the time it’s a wonderful place to live, and you’ve done amazingly well in four years. Complimenti!

    • Sometimes honestly too fast! When I was young it seemed the holidays took forever to arrive, now they fly by. My Mom says it’s cause I’m getting older! 😉

  13. Loved reading all about your adventure. I remember the frustration and low self esteem i felt when I lived in Holland for three years. While many there could speak some (and often good) English conversing with older folk was a no go. And just as you said you missed the little things. Jokes that didn’t make sense when translated…body language signals. Finally after going to the local supermarket one day and coming home with sliced bread when I wanted unsliced I cried for hours then got myself proper lessons. When i went back to Australia to live people actually thought I was Dutch because i placed emphasis on syllables the way the Dutch did…

  14. I read this post two days, just because I had no time enough. And I really enjoyed it (said from a person that has always lived in one and the same city)! Happy forth anniversary in Sardinia and thank for sharing your life with us!

  15. Wonderful post Jennifer! I would love to live your dream someday…Sardinia sounds like a good place to start 🙂

  16. I’m far from there yet but hoping to live the expat life. From what I’ve discovered I think you’ve nailed down a lot of the challenges faced with living in another country – language, friends, healthcare and the way things are done. Happy anniversary! Keep following your dreams!

  17. Great post… who knew there was such a big expat life out there? I certainly didn’t until a few years ago.
    It has been almost 2 years for us here in China… where the letters, tones and sounds don’t even make sense – as different as you can get! Wait it isn’t even letters, but characters. Some things are in pinyin (our familiar alaphabet), but the letter sounds are not the same.It could be so hard and overwhelming if you let it. Luckily whenever we needed help someone or somehow we were understood… an “angel” would appear if by magic and translate. We kept an open mind and I think that really helped.
    After 2 years I still only know basics or “taxi language”… but I work at an international school where I teach in English and surrounded by it all day. After 2 years I understand a few things and recognize words that are spoken, but not always meaning. I think that is progress!
    I think it made things easier not to come alone… my husband has been my connection to home and we’re in it together. I’ve travelled alone before, but this was different and I am so glad he was here and we could encourage each other and share in the wonderful experieince with me.

  18. Congratulations dear Jennifer… I wish you all the best in your life… Your Sardinia calling me too 🙂 but through your photographs and words… I have a dream for this… Thank you, have a nice week and day, with my love, nia

  19. Congrats on your fourth year in this beautiful Sardinia! You have brought out your expat life very beautifully! It is not very easy to live a life of our dreams. Many of us are not even dragging ourselves to dream our life! We force ourselves to be contented with the one that we are leading presently but our hearts are longing to be free.To dream is one thing and living that dream ( like you!) is a feat!

  20. Four years in Sardinia, congratulations! And learning Italian is so worth it. It’s a beautiful language and Italy is a fantastic country to explore and get to know.

    It’s true, of course, that expat life is much easier in a country where you speak the language; it’s a whole different story when you don’t. I’ve done both. As a “serial” expat I’ve lived in countries knowing I’d be there for a number of years, but not forever, which makes is difficult to really learn a language. Learning Arabic and Armenian, for instance, are massive undertakings because even the alphabet is different and you feel like a 5-year-old trying to write letters. I never got beyond being able to manage in the shops in the most rudimentary level. Fortunately, I’ve always been able to make friends with English-speaking locals and other expats.

    I lived in Ghana, West Africa, twice for a total of 8 years, and although the culture is so very different, the official language is English (they’ve got dozens of tribal languages) and it made all the difference in my expat experience because – for instance – I could joke with the plumber, the cash register girl in the supermarket, the women in the market. It changes everything when you can communicate.

    Now I live in Moldova and the language is Romanian and it’s a struggle even though it is a Latin language.

    Keep on with your Italian! You already know it opens doors when you can communicate.

    PS: I’m Dutch but I forget sometimes that English is not my first language 😉 so I know I am capable of learning another one . . .

  21. Italy is a bag of contradictions. Some things are much less expensive than in Australia, such as food, and others much more expensive, like fuel, electicity etc. The service here is either wonderful or absolutely dreadful. Navigating you way through life can be very challenging in a new country, but I wouldn’t have missed the experience for anything.

  22. What a great article, Jennifer. I’m sure your family miss you a lot. You have done so much and have seen so much, good for you. You really have and still are living your dream. You have taken on the culture and the cooking in stride and have learned and enjoyed. Happy 4th year. You and your hubby should celebrate.

  23. Wonderful post Jennifer! I agree that it is totally up to us to make our own adventures in life. Everyone has worries, concerns etc but it is how you approach life and deal with it every day that sets the example. I love that you followed your dreams! Like you, I always loved to travel and have done it my entire life. Friends just kind of shake their heads at me but thankfully I have an amazing husband who understands me like no other! Congrats on 4 years and keep your blog alive and well! I would love to hear more about Brazil and your other travels! I’ve only lived in France yet two times. I hope to spend time in my retirement with my husband living in a new place for a couple of month each year. Have to see how the money goes though right! 🙂 Keep dreaming!

    • Thank you Nicole. So you want to be a retired expat living out your dreams in our wonderful beautiful world! If we don’t follow our dreams … who will? 🙂

      • You’ve got it! I love living here but travel is something that I’ll always do and spending time abroad volunteering, learning a new language, meeting new friends, is a long held dream! It will be awhile since the kids are still young….but someday! 🙂

  24. Loved this post, you are living such an incredible adventure, definitely not a dream 😉 I love how you have embraced the culture and opened your mind to wonderful and new possibilities. I enjoy reading your posts and love getting lost in Sardinia through your eyes Happy 4 years 🙂

  25. Auguri Jennifer! I’ve just celebrated my first year in Sardinia and I’m learning so much from your experience here. I’m still straggling with my Italian and Sardo Nuorese in my case 😉 I’ve become more patient and less stressed than back in my office days in Ireland, my first expat country. I’m not sure if this is because of the sun and people, changing life style or some southern and Mediterranean spirits in my Polish soul but I feel more like home here. I guess living a dream is when you actually live it instead of just dreaming!

    • Your last comment sums everything up to perfection: Living a dream is when you actually live it instead of just dreaming it. I think you were made for Sardinia, your latest photos are beautiful! You look so at peace and happy here! You’re doing great!

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