by Melinda Gallo

Adventurous and happy

Itís interesting how sometimes when I wake up and hear the quietness of the city, I become more reflective. Today is Festa della Republicca and at this time normally the motorini (scooters) and cars are circulating the streets below. I recently spoke to another woman about being an expat and a few ideas solidified in my mind. I love it when a chance encounter with someone proves to be insightful and meaningful for me.

When I told this woman that I lived in three different countries for almost 16 years, she said that I was adventurous. At first I thought of what adventurous brings to mind, which is a person who is willing to take risks. But upon some reflexion, I realized that itís also someone who is willing to have new experiences, which defines me better.

I feel that being a successful expat requires a few characteristics to live well. Anyone can pack his/her bags and unpack them in another country, but to live a fulfilled and joyful life in another country takes not only courage, but also this willingness to be open to all that is new and possibly different. I believe there are a lot of aspects to oneís personality that must be set aside, like judgment and

Being an expat has allowed me to not only embrace another culture and its people, but also different parts of myself that I didnít know I even possessed. I didnít know that at 22, Iíd be working a full-time job in Paris and living alone in a studio apartment. I look back now and wonder what courage I must have had inside to move to a new city where I knew no one. I certainly felt alone at times, but something inside of me knew that it wouldnít last forever, and it didnít. It took a couple of years, but I did finally create an entire life for myself including friends, hobbies, and a boyfriend.

I wonder sometimes about who I wouldíve become had I not lived in three different cultures, cities, and languages. If I wouldíve stayed in California, would I have had the desire to question my identity or would I have just kept on the path that I saw traced out for me.

To me, being an expat means someone who is committed to living in a place come hell or high water. Living overseas has its difficulties, which are different for each person. I have been stretched much farther than I think I wouldíve been had I never left my own country. Living out of my comfort zone without any family nearby can be challenging.

I have been impelled to open my heart, mind and soul as much as I possibly can. I had to find my own identity by questioning who I truly am without my family and friends from home, looking at the influences on my from my own culture, choosing my words better to say what I truly mean, letting go of my paradigms that I took for granted, and releasing familial conditioning that I just accepted before.

I feel as if I was like Humpty Dumpty and once I fell on the other side of the wall and was in a million pieces, I had to pick and choose which pieces I wanted to keep and which ones I didnít. In letting some of the pieces go, I have acquired new ones. I know that I could never return to being the same person I was when I first moved to Europe 20 years ago. I think that living in France, England and Italy has allowed me to grow, develop new facets of myself, and become a more loving and joyful person.

I learned a lot about myself in each place, but mostly that I have to gain strength, security, and confidence from within. I may have also had some trying times as well that I traversed in my life, but I never stopped learning. I donít believe in mistakes. I do believe that we can glow and learn from every experience. For me, living overseas and especially in Florence, which has been like the icing on the cake, I have been able to find my place in the world. I am happy with where I am. I still have dreams that I want to fulfill, but I donít feel an urgency to get somewhere else to be happy. I am happy now. I live my life with love and joy in my heart and for me that is my great success.

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