Well, it’s been a while, but as a famous Italian plumber once said, “Imma back!”
A lot has happened since my first post: Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years, trips to various cities…and I promise, I’ll write about all of that soon! But first, I think I should explain where exactly I have been living for the past few months. Anyone who follows me on social media has, by now, probably figured out that I am in Italy. However, there’s obviously more to a place than its name and its coordinates on a map. It’s made up of the people who live there, the various sights and sounds, and even the feeling you get as you walk down the street. These are the things that make a place special. And for me, these are the things that make “Small Town, Italy” feel like home.
I don’t think I ended up in Angiari by chance. Before you roll your eyes, this post isn’t going to be one of those “God has a plan for all of us” speeches. I’m just saying… I don’t think I ended up here by chance.
When I decided to become an au pair, I received over 200 offers from families all over the world. For a month I looked over the various applications, what the families were offering, where they lived, how many kids they had, etc. It was a little overwhelming and, eventually, all the families started to blend together. However, for whatever reason, the first offer I received stood out to me the most.
We live near Verona, between Milan and Venice, in the North of Italy.
I have a small family; we are 3, me, my husband and my little girl Francesca (7 years old). We’d like to know if you would like to come with us for a period (6-12 months or more).
And what about you?
There’s nothing necessarily “special” about this message. Sure, I was excited because it was my first offer, but it was also more than that. A lot of families immediately jumped into the logistics of their offer: how much they would pay me, where I would live, how many kids I would look after, other jobs I’d be expected to do… However, the more I talked to Elisabetta, the more I realized that she wasn’t trying to hire me as an “employee,” she was inviting me to be a part of her family.
I had the unique opportunity of meeting Elisabetta, her husband Roberto, and her daughter Francesca a few weeks later, while my family was on vacation in Italy. After having dinner together, I knew this was the family I was going to choose, and sure enough, two months later, I was flying back to Venice to meet them once again!
It wasn’t until I was flying over the Atlantic Ocean that I realized I didn’t actually know where Elisabetta and her family lived. All I knew was that they lived “near Verona, between Milan and Venice.” So… I started to panic a little. How could I have been so stupid as to not ask them where they lived? Or maybe they told me and I just forgot? Wouldn’t be the first time… Either way, my mind was racing. Between that and the guy sitting next to me on the plane who talked for eight straight hours and kept referring to me as his “wife,” I was too paranoid to sleep.
By the time I arrived in Venice, I had been awake for 24 hours, I smelled bad, and I was cranky. While I was still excited to meet my host family, I was dreading the idea of trying to act like a functioning human being. As we drove away from the airport and closer to what would be my new home, the same questions continued to scroll through my head like a news ticker:
Where are we going? What if I don’t like it there? What if they don’t like me?
As we drove, Roberto and Elisabetta calmed my unspoken nerves by telling me about Verona and other cities as we passed by them. Francesca didn’t say much, but I could tell she was excited for me to be there, which made me feel better as well. That is, until 30 minutes later, when, on top of my anxiety and lack of sleep, I started to feel car sick. I was about to ask Roberto to pull over when Elisabetta pointed out her window and said, “We are arriving in the big city of Angiari!” I remember laughing along with Roberto and Francesca, but it wasn’t until we turned into town that I actually understood her joke. Angiari was in fact not a “big city” but rather a small village. And just like that, all of my anxiety and crankiness and nausea disappeared. I looked out the window as we drove through the main part of town and something in the back of my mind told me, “This is it. This is home.”
It wasn’t until later that day, after a much needed nap and some lunch, that I realized why exactly Angiari felt like home as quickly as it did. As Elisabetta, Francesca, and I walked down the cobblestone sidewalks, I felt like I was walking in my own small town, back in Wisconsin. Okay, so maybe the buildings of Spring Valley aren’t as colorful as those in Angiari and maybe there’s no cobblestone sidewalks or large tower standing near the church. However, the feeling I got as I walked down the street was exactly the same.
As we walked, Francesca would tell me the names of the dogs that belonged to each house. When we walked past the small elementary school, she pointed out which classroom she would be in that school year. At the park, Elisabetta introduced me to a few of the mothers of Francesca’s classmates. I listened as they spoke in Italian to one another, and even though I understood almost none of what they were saying, I could tell they were gossiping. For some reason that made me smile. Typical small town. During the walk home, I could sense the community around me, like one big family. It all seemed familiar and safe.
That will always be my first impression of Small Town, Italy.
With a population of only about 2,200 people, I know that Angiari might not be perfect for every au pair. There’s no train that runs through town, taking you to bigger cities. There’s no shopping center, movie theatre, museum, or gym. In fact, when I returned to the States after my first month in Italy, my family and friends all asked “So, what do you do in your spare time? Don’t you get bored? Aren’t you lonely?”
They’re all good questions. I often wonder if I made the right decision in coming here. After all, I love cities just as much as I love small towns (before deciding to be an au pair, my plan was to move to Minneapolis or Chicago). And It’s not that I don’t get lonely or bored. Meeting people my age has definitely been one of the biggest challenges for me. I’m a social person, I like to meet new people and make friends. I read blogs about au pairs becoming good friends with other au pairs that live in their city, but in Small Town, Italy, it’s not so easy. There aren’t a lot of 20-somethings hanging around, especially during the school year. However, the friends that I have made in Angiari are amazing people who always make me feel welcome, from simple get-togethers to celebrating Christmas Eve and New Years Eve. There’s no denying that, at times, it can be difficult and, well, awkward. I don’t speak enough Italian and only a few of them speak English, but they try to translate as much as they can and I try to learn more and more every time we hangout.
As far as boredom goes, it is very rare. My host family is great about making sure I experience as much of Italy and Europe as I can. We often go to the nearby town of Legnago for coffee and tea or to see movies at the cinema or to go to AquaGym at the pool (my personal favorite, we go twice a week!). We also take a lot of day trips to various cities, some that I never would have thought to go to. Roberto often tells me about the history of the cities and Elisabetta always makes sure there’s time for shopping. Francesca and I take a lot of photos together and for the first time in my life, I have a little sister. I don’t think every au pair is lucky enough to work for a family that cares so much. I’m so thankful for all of our adventures. I will write about some of our trips in upcoming posts, but here are a few highlights:
All of these cities have been great, but the best feeling in the world is returning home to small Angiari after a long day. Living in Florence or Milan is, of course, very appealing, but I know deep down that they wouldn’t be a good fit for me. There would be too many distractions, too many noises, too many people… and while I love to visit, I know they aren’t places that I would thrive in. At least, not yet.
In Angiari, I am able to concentrate on being a good au pair for Francesca, to teach her as much as I can, while I can. In my spare time, I go for walks by the river, study Buddhist psychology, play piano and sing, read (for fun, what?!), practice Italian, and think about what I’m going to do when my time in Italy is finished. I’m happy in Angiari because I’m comfortable here; I do things I would normally do at home. I don’t feel like a tourist trying to fit in, but rather a part of the community.
I don’t think I ended up here by chance. It’s almost too perfect of a fit. Between the friendly people, my caring host family, and the romantic scenery that Italy is known for, I really couldn’t ask for more. I don’t know where I’ll be years from now, but I know that I will always love my home in Small Town, Italy.