TIMELINE OF AN EXPAT – (PART 2)

The New Routine and the Big Drama

I think the first day of school should be celebrated worldwide as a recognition that kids need to have a life outside their house. For us, September 2nd 2013, was a new beginning. After a summer full of changes, wild schedules, and jetlag we all desperately needed stability and structured activities.

DAY 45 TO DAY 200

…THE NEW ROUTINE

  • The School & The Network

The first day of school, we all became aware that all of us, and not only the kids, were learners. We all had to learn the etiquette, what was normal and what was odd in American social interactions. We became great observers. When I asked my son what he was doing in school when he could not understand a word, he said: “I was watching what the others were doing, and did the same.” In a way, I was doing the same with the other moms. At the beginning, I just joined groups, the Home and School Association and a spiritual group, and spied their interactions, the proxemics, the way they dressed, and their habits. Then, I started to invite some of the people to go out for a coffee or to meet with the kids. Finally, I found some families who were more welcoming than others. In a few months I had created a new network around us.

Ready for the first day of school
The first day of school. A new routine
  • New Traditions

The first American tradition that we adopted was Halloween. We had seen it in so many movies, and also in Italy it is starting to take over. But here, oh man, people are crazy! It was so much fun to do our first “trick or treats” in the neighborhood, and the pumpkin carving. We found out later that Halloween is also a way to meet and chat with the people that live in your street and which whom you barely have an interaction for the rest of the year.

Halloween in Philly
In front of our house, with our carved pumpkins, for our first Halloween

One month after, we celebrated Thanksgiving. We were invited by a Jewish family, celebrating coincidentally the Hanukkah the same day. So, our first Thankshanukka, was a super rich (Kosher) lunch (dinner for them, as it started after 2 pm!) which reminded me of our big Italian family gatherings around the table. The turkey with its graving, mashed potatoes (with marshmallows!) and the filling are now a familiar experience for us.

Thankshanukkah with our Jewish friends
Thankshanukkah at our friends’ house.
  • The First Family Reunion

We spent the Christmas holidays in Italy. After 5 months in Philly, we just thought it was a good time to see our people again. We landed in Milan at 10 am after a 12 hour-overnight flight. The same day, at 5 pm, we went to the Baptism of our little cousin (born in the Halloween night). Since then, we had a tour-the-force of meetings, dinners, cafes, cocktails, and visits. The 7 days we spent there, were so stressful, so jetlagged and confused that we just wanted to leave the soonest. Managing to meet all the people that you would like to see, is a mission impossible. But honestly, visiting family and friends can be very exhausting.

DAY 201 TO 350

…THE DARKEST TIMES

  • The PA Driver’s License…Feeling 18 Again!

January was an interesting month. In order to buy a car, you need a State driver’s license. So, after 18 years of driving in Italy, the State of Pennsylvania required me to study and take the driving test. I thought it was a joke, but as ridiculous as it sounds, I had to go back to the manual, take the computer-based test, renting a car with my Italian driver’s license, do and pass the driving test. The moment they told me I had passed it, yes, I felt like I was 18 again!

  • The Drama

On Craigslist we found our second hand 2005 car. Having a car made our life so much easier that I thought we had left all the big problems behind. Though, they were yet to come. 2014 will be remembered as one of the worst winters in the history of Pennsylvania, with a snow storm the every other day. Snow storm means days off from school. Which means we were entrapped at home and could not have any interaction for days. But the weather was not the major problem.

My older son had the so called “adjustment disorder” and of all of us, he had the hardest time. Since the beginning of school, he had been bullied by a group of class mates. He was an easy pick: No friends, and he could not speak the language. A long story short, he became depressed and started to suffer from anxiety. His sufferance made us seriously taking into consideration to move back. We felt as if we could not help him in any way as our advocacy with the teacher did not bring anywhere. This is how he described those early times:

 “When I first started school in America, many kids did not want to talk to me (I think it was because I could only speak Italian). Anyway, even if they tried to talk to me I would have not understood them, but sometimes, after I learned English I remembered what they said and the words were not nice. In a way it was better if I could not have ever learned English. I learned more English by watching cartoons and movies than spending time with friends.

SOME KIDS DID NOT TREAT ME VERY WELL. It was like being fully ignored. However, in Italy, I have many friends but I am still the same person. I do not like being ignored and I am sure nobody does! Still my Italian accent is very strong and when I came here, kids made fun of it. But some people in America think it is cool (not that many though).”

On top of that, we had a number of family issues, including that call at 4 am that nobody wants to receive, informing us that grandpa was seriously ill in the hospital. We took the first flight to Italy, could spend two more days with him before he went to coma and left us on March 4th. Five days later, we were landing again in Philly, with many things to be fixed.

  • Italian, Our Secret Language

During one of those endless days segregated at home, I heard for the first time my sons interacting in English. Since they did not have many (any) friends, they spent most of their time watching tv or videos on YouTube. That’s how they learned the language of games. They built up vocabulary and skills so that the integration process with their peers started to be easier. Minecraft became their learning virtual classroom. And Italian started to be used only at home and sometimes, not even there. It became our coded language, and a secret we, as a family, shared.

…TO BE CONTINUED

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