Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Expat Interview: Heather Carlson in Milan

For our fifth expat interview, we talked to Heather Carlson who moved from Idaho to Milan with her family in 2013.

 
Heather says: "We moved to Italy for my husband's job. We had been to Italy several times for vacation and loved it, so when the opportunity came up, we jumped at the chance to live here for a few years. Those years have flown by way too quickly, and we will be moving home later this year. The kids are REALLY excited to move home - but Chris and I would stay here forever if we could. I'm in serious mourning already!"


What do you love most about living in Italy?
Mostly it’s the little details. The church bells outside my window, the little man at the market buying two eggs at a time, the clink of the espresso cups at the bar, a new church on every corner to explore - and the unending amount of gorgeous architecture and art.

And of course, food is at the top of the list. Learning about the food, recreating the food, eating the food. Finding locals who are passionate about the food…

What's living in Milan like? It's such a huge city compared to what we're used to in Cortina!
Milan is a beautiful, fantastic city. I had never been here before our move, and have really become quite smitten with it. I think I could live here for 20 years and still find new things to see and experience. It’s perfectly positioned for exploring Italy and Europe, which is a great perk we have taken advantage of as often as possible.

I feel like I have the best of both worlds because I’m near Milan but not in the center of Milan. We live just outside the city in a little village surrounded by rice fields. I am close enough to pop into the city whenever I want, and I do as often as I can. But then I can return to my quiet little “country life”.


What do you miss the most from the U.S.?
After living here for a few years, not too much. I do miss friends from home, great Mexican food, and the ease of slipping in and out of my local Target or post office. But there are far more things that I love here! Only in the very beginning did things like the thought of unlimited peanut butter and real salsa make me a little misty. Haha! 

What do you think is the hardest part of living in a different country?
I won’t lie, we had some hard moments those first few months. Moving a family of four (all of us with very different expectations and realities) to a new country was a big adventure and challenge. I was so excited to be living in Italy, but completely unprepared for the roller coaster of emotions getting used to “everyday” Italy and not “vacation” Italy.  

Not knowing the language, setting up house and even just getting groceries was a huge ordeal at first. I knew in my head I would need to be flexible with the culture and language and overall day to day challenges, I just didn’t know what the reality of that would be. It’s hard. But so very worth it. 

What Italian habits or mannerisms, if any, have you adopted?
Drinking espresso in the morning, and after meals.  Line drying clothes- something I never did before living here. Buying groceries one day at a time, sometimes one meal at a time when we have company. Storing things in my microwave and oven, due to lack of storage space in my kitchen! Standing very close when in a line (or while driving) so no one will cut in front of me. 


What have you found to be the biggest difference between Italy and the U.S.?
When I look back at my life in the US, I feel like I was very spoiled. Everything is so convenient, so easy. And yet I was exhausted from all the rushing and hurrying that had crept into my life there, despite the conveniences. I could go through my day without many challenges, which some days here sounds fantastic - but I think I will miss the pace at which things are done here. Slower and more meaningful; that’s what I treasure about Italy. (Except the driving, nothing slow or meaningful about that!)

What is your favorite Italian meal?
Wow - it’s impossible to choose!  I have favorites from all the regions of Italy that I have visited so far. One of the things I love so much about Italy is how diverse the cuisine is based on where you are. I adore Umbrian food, anything with truffles, and the simplicity of the soups made of farro and legumes. The Roman dish Cacio e Pepe is a favorite of mine - I had a variation over the holidays in Rome with chicory that I’m still dreaming about! In Milan, I’ve loved trying all the variations of risotto. My favorite is from our local ristorante, Borgo di Vione, made with Bresaola, dried figs and Castelmango cheese.  

How did you learn to speak Italian?
Oh my - well, that's still a work in progress! I took private lessons when we first moved here, and then went at it on my own with apps and lessons online. My Italian has a long way to go. I wish now, in hindsight, that I had kept up with the private lessons…my husband and kids all speak better Italian than I do!

Do you feel totally comfortable living in Italy now or are there some days that can still be overwhelming?
Sometimes the day to day can still be overwhelming, but overall I love it. Milan feels like home now and when I look back, I realize how far we’ve come! I already know how much I am going to miss it. 


Where is your favorite place to travel to in Italy? Or outside of Italy? I can see from your blog that you've done tons of traveling!
It’s been so much fun to travel and explore new places, but no matter where we visit, Italy always feels like home. Rome and Umbria are my favorite places in the world so far. Outside of Italy, I would have to say Istanbul and Rhodes, Greece are at the top of the list.

Favorite thing to do?
Exploring a new town or neighborhood. I love to get the lay of the land, pop into the local church, see where people eat, drink their morning espresso, and buy their groceries. I find it fascinating and love to pretend to be a local wherever I go - even just for a few minutes. I also love trying to recreate meals that I’ve had while traveling, when I am back in my own kitchen.

Thank you so much, Heather! You can read Heather's great blog here and follow her on Instagram and Twitter, both @merryfeast.

And if you missed them, here are our first four expat interviews in Bologna, Venice, Rome and Umbria.