How to live in Italy without speaking Italian

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How to live in Italy without speaking Italian
Jay Desind has lived in Italy for three years. Photo: Jay Desind

Jay Desind, a writer from the US, talks to The Local about moving to Padua and living life without speaking Italian.


So what brought you to Italy?

Four years ago I bought a one way ticket to Singapore. At home in the US I had just recently suffered loss and in an effort to clear my head I decided to put myself into unfamiliar territory.

My plan was to travel a couple months in Asia and pursue my photography. The trip turned into an odyssey and a chance meeting in Budapest with an Italian - who has become one of my good friends - led me to Italy. I have now been here three years and continue to travel.

What have you been doing during your time in Italy?

I am a writer and photographer. During my time in Italy I have completed two books, written poetry, and worked on my photography. I have now just seen the publication of Lost in Language; this book is about my travels and I use the framework of taking an Italian language class in Padua to tell my story.

What were the challenges you faced while trying to learn Italian?

I have to say I am a failure so far learning the language. In fact the tag line of my book is, "How one man failed language class in Italy but found his voice".

Since I work at my craft every day in English, I think retaining another language is even harder for me. Not to mention I have the attention span of a child, so sitting in a classroom is a challenge all in itself.

I have to say, I love the Italian language. Living here has ‘greased’ the wheels of my craft, and Italian words find their way into my stories.

What advice would you give to other immigrants studying the language?

The most important thing is commitment. If you truly want and need to learn the language, any language, you have to put in the time.

I have a unique position because I don’t depend on the language here in Italy to support myself.

How did you go about settling yourself up in Italy?

I think Italy chose me! I had no intention of staying here; for some reason being surrounded by the history of art and language gave me a place to settle and find my own unique way of expressing myself.

What are the benefits and pitfalls of being self-employed in Italy?

My business is conducted from the US and I do not have any accounts in Italy, so I do not have to deal with any of the administrative step associated with setting up a business in Italy.

Since I work from my home I don’t have to worry so much about a language difference. And since some of my work is centered around photography, I have found the camera to be its own type of communication device.

What would you say to foreigners who are thinking about moving to Italy?

Know and respect that you are in a different country. Coming from the US it is quite a shock, because life here is more sedate and there are fewer choices.

But I have learned to accept these things as a lifestyle choice that has actually made me feel more complete and more settled in my own skin.

One day I may attempt to learn Italian again, but right now I am allowing it to be the musical background of my own creations!

Interview by Anna Pujol Mazzini


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