There and Back Again: The transition from Italy back to the USA

The story of an overseas move is fascinating and inspiring. It’s a romantic adventure that everyone wants to hear. The story of the move back, on the other hand, isn’t a bestseller.

Not that the adventure stops, or presents any less of a challenge, but it’s certainly less exotic. However, it contains its own sense of unexpected adventure, so in the timeless tradition of “there and back again,” here’s the beginning of a new story and the answer to a question I didn’t know if I’d ever ask: What is the transition like when moving from Italy back to the USA?

Differences and similarities living in Italy vs. the USA

In the first few months that I moved back from Italy and came to New York City, people asked me what the biggest differences were. I didn’t like to answer them because I still didn’t know; it took me a year to process it all. And anyway, what I wanted to say and what people wanted to hear were not, I sensed, the same thing. No, I did not feel homesick for Italy. No, I didn’t move back because I’d finally “had enough.” No, actually, the transition was not difficult. And while yes, I miss things about Italy, I do not miss living there because I’ve been enjoying every minute of living here.

Little, everyday moments came to mind, so that is how I answered: I kept expecting motociclette to zoom up from behind and inch around the car, left side and right, while we waited at a red light. And for at least a month, I was surprised to overhear strangers speaking English. In Italy, every English word I overheard had my ears perking up like a dog’s when it understands that one phrase, “Wanna go for a walk?” That was me, hearing English. Now, my ears perk up when I hear Italian in the city (which is daily).

Neil Moralee, CC

Secondhand smoke, or the lack thereof, is a huge and gratifying difference. Funny enough, when it’s blown in my face I don’t get angry, but instead nostalgic for Italy.

There are the other differences, everything you might expect — a faster pace, more expensive lifestyle, different work-life balance, no wine at lunch (kidding) (a little) — but the similarities have been the biggest surprise: I walk or take public transportation everywhere and carry my groceries home in bags hanging from my shoulders. My apartment is small compared to the house I grew up in, on par with Italian-sized homes. New Yorkers are direct, like Italians, though in different ways. People pay attention to style, and although style in the two countries is very different, when in doubt: wear black.

Public interactions flipped my expectations on end. The stereotype is that New Yorkers are rude or just too hurried to be polite, but in fact I’ve received more “Excuse me’s” and “Sorry”’s from bumps in the subway than I ever did in Italy. I don’t mean to throw shade; maybe New Yorkers just need to be more polite or we’d all kill each other. But I’ve also found New York drivers to be remarkably good-natured compared to the tiny Fiats pushing for an extra centimeter at the crosswalk. On the other hand, New Yorkers run so many red lights. I never thought I’d say this, but kudos to the autovelox, the digital speed enforcement systems that give out tickets like candy in Italy.

Moving back might not mean culture shock

Living in NYC is a breath of fresh air. I know many would say the exact opposite, that living in Italy or anywhere outside of this non-stop city is a breath of fresh air. It depends on where you are in your life, whether you’re ready to dig your hands in and get electrified, constantly, or sit back and absorb the days slowly.

I do miss parts of Italy. Besides the people I met and friends I made, I miss the beauty, the culture, the food. I’ve never found a city or country as downright stunningly beautiful, from corner to corner, as Italy is. I miss the stillness of its beauty, depth of character, and maturity of culture that comes with it. In juxtaposition is the young, ever-changing, seething vibes of NYC — it’s vital and current and now, which I’d been craving without knowing.

And the food. What can I say about real Italian food that hasn’t been said already? Great Italian food can be found in NYC, but at premium prices, and you’re never 100% sure if where you’re headed for dinner hasn’t been a little bit Americanized. My list of places to eat grows faster than I can tick off spots (much like my reading list, actually), but at the end of an Asian-inspired, week-long food kick, I inevitably crave Italian.

If I had moved to another city, another town, had to drive on a daily basis past strip malls and endless fast food chains; if I hadn’t been thrown into the hurricane that is NYC, then I would have experienced culture shock — I’m sure of this. If I hadn’t had the unwavering support of family and the welcoming parties of friends to greet me when coming back, the transition would not have been smooth at all.

And some of me still resisted, at first, and went a little slow, while other parts of me grabbed too eagerly at all the new, shiny stuff and kept up a non-stop (exciting!) pace that was just not sustainable. But now I’ve sped up where it matters and slowed down where I needed to; I’ve stabilized at a healthy speed, albeit quicker than the rest of the US…but that’s New York.

So to answer the question, What was the transition like?: It was easier than expected and more exciting than I could’ve hope for, but only possible with the support of family and friends; and it took me longer to settle into new rhythms than I thought.

11 thoughts on “There and Back Again: The transition from Italy back to the USA

  1. Your post rings so true and I was able to relate to so many of your images. Your ears perking up like a dog’s when you hear the opposite language gave me a laugh. Real Italian food costing an arm and a leg… I grew up 20 miles from Manhattan and moving away in my early 20s, I was almost conditioned by everyone not from there to view people from NY and NJ as unfriendly, until I find myself back for a visit and I’m reminded just how friendly people there can be. I’m glad you’re enjoying your new city.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Very interesting article–when I return from long stays overseas, I have a mix of feelings. It is great seeing loved ones again and there are certain elements of the US that I love. But I also long for those elements that drew me to live abroad in the first place.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Such a thoughtful response. It’s so easy to stop at “what I wanted to say and what people wanted to hear were not, I sensed, the same thing.” More often than not I give the short version answer “Italy’s great, but culture shock is hard” interested to read more 👍✌️ and good luck on the hunt for good italian food in the states!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sometimes the short answer is the easiest. Then you can write out the long answer on your blog and direct people to your post next time they ask! 😀


  4. Great post! I lived in Italy continuously for 2.5 years in quiet, sleepy Ancona and I loved it. Then I had to return to Miami (my hometown) for 8 months and now I’ve been going back and forth. I’m hoping to settle down come 2019 once I have my new, permanent visa. But the reverse culture shock is so real.
    Every time I land in the states, I have this pang of sadness and nostalgia for Italy until I walk into my nearest Whole Foods and bask in all the choice around me. But it doesn’t last for long. I agree that happiness in a certain place is all about where you are in your life at the moment.
    LOL at your ears perking up overtime you heard English or Italian. Samesies.
    Good luck in NYC.

    Liked by 1 person

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