The Truth About Being an “Expat”

Why I love Rome and why some days, all I want is to run all the way home.

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Today has just been one of those days.  That’s what I tell myself while I’m crammed into public transport for hours on end fighting against giant bags, bony knees, and nasty groping man hands to try and keep myself and my belongings relatively safe and maybe even just a little bit comfortable.

Some days I feel like living in this city is to be constantly at war, an affair of elbows and glares thrown out when in need.  These are the days when not even the sight of the Coliseum can bring me out of my grumpy funk.  Not that, by the way, I managed to see it today.  No, today the primary attraction of my voyage was Rome’s central station, Termini.  Not exactly the most inspiring site by any means.

The thing is, just this morning, before my public transport-induced rage reached epic proportions, I was thinking about how, for all its frustration, I really love this city.  I came here from a smallish midwest town, thinking that all cities must be this way.  That’s not to say that I’d never been to Chicago, but my time in that city was mostly spent in aquariums, concerts, and museums, not living the daily life of a city dweller.

But just last year I lived in London, a city of a different calibre compared to Rome, one where public transportation is a viable and not so frustrating way to reach work and home every single day.  In London I never felt this rage which Rome inspires, this rage that made me want to hop the next flight home to Portage, Michigan to live my life with the comfort and convenience of my car and 24-hour supermarkets.  That’s because London was comfortable.  The price tag of my year there much less so, but hey, at least I could always find a seat on the bus.

The thing is, I hated London.  The only city I’ve ever loved, in all of its dysfunction, is Rome.  It may sometimes feel like an abusive relationship, this, my somehow masochistic desire to remain in a city which, for all of its history seems to be crumbling around me, where none of my friends can find employment in their chosen fields, and where corruption and nepotism eats out the heart of every public service.  The thing is, my time in London was spent in a zombie state.  It may be a cliché, but it’s also the truth, a life where all is easy is a life where you don’t appreciate the smallest happy occurrences.  But in Rome every time the bus comes within ten minutes of my arrival feels like a victory, a personal one, and damn satisfying.

I’ve titled this post using the word “expat,” one which I don’t particularly identify with, myself.  I don’t really consider myself part of the expat community, but more of an adopted citizen of my chosen home, an honorary Roman, a Roman at heart.  But the thing is, the word expat does really capture the truth of the situation, because living far away from your homeland means facing these daily trials with a sense of loneliness which appears in the strangest moments.  No matter how you grow your personal community, no matter who these people are and where they are from, you’re alone under the pouring rain without an umbrella on your way to work.  Living far away from your home country, culture, family, childhood friends, it can be an immensely lonely experience, but it’s also the most satisfying life that I’ve ever found.

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2 comments

  1. That is s true! I must say, after one week I spent in Rome, I said to myself, I couldn’t live there – it’s so different than small lovely cities in Southern Italy, where I’ve studied. But there is so much to see and do! So, all in all, you are doing great:)

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