Living the Dream in Italy
By Wendy Gray
Lise Angus is doing what many of us have fantasised about – living in Italy, learning the language and immersing herself in la dolce vita. Based in Bologna, the seventh largest city in Italy and capital of the Northern Emilia-Romagna region, Lise’s day starts with breakfast (sourced from the local market) in her charming two-bedroom rented apartment, right in the centre of the city. Then off to “La Scuola”, the Academya Lingue, for four hours of language lessons - with a compulsory visit to the local café for pausa- short blacks and conversazione. After lunch in a local ristorante there’s time to sightsee or chill, before heading out for aperitivo (with all those great free snacks) and then to the Opera in the main square, or other cultural or social activities arranged by the school.
A University City, Bologna has been called la dotta "the learned one"; la grassa "the fat one" in reference to its cuisine (it’s the home of Bolognese) and la rossa "the red one", originally referring to the colour of the roofs and later connected to the city’s communist connections. For four months this year Lise is calling it casa mia.
So how did Lise make her long-held dream happen? All three of her adult children were living in the Northern Hemisphere and she was missing them terribly. She’d had to rush to Dubai to be with her daughter for a medical emergency and this underlined her feeling of separation. It was time to move on from her job at social marketplace scale-up Benojo and she was feeling a bit 'stuck'. “I said in 'jest' one day, ‘well maybe I’ll just rent my house out and go and live in Italy for six months” and out of the blue, I was approached by a Norwegian family about a long term rental on my home in Fairlight.” This was enough to finance some adventure. “So, I resigned and four weeks later I was on the plane again to Dubai - left my dog with my mum and the tenants looked after the cat! “After a crazy four weeks of visa-procurement and frantic prep she was Northern Hemisphere-bound to first visit her three adult children in Dubai, England and Amsterdam, before settling into Bologna.
After a long career in business development and marketing roles in the travel and hospitality industries, while single parenting her three children, this trip is a well deserved tick off the bucket-list. The best things about it? “There’s a wonderful sense of freedom...the ability to be ‘me’, not someone’s wife, or mother, or whatever job role I was in”. It’s also about meeting new people. Students at the Academya Lingue range from 18 to 70 and come from all over the world. “I met three fabulous New Yorker ladies in their 70’s who do this every year – a different school somewhere in Italy. Settling in for a few months also means you can relax and not feel compelled to ‘do everything’ straight away”.
While in Italy, Lise has also packed in some side trips: Cinque Terre, Tuscany, Roma and Sperlonga (a beautiful beach south of Rome) have been highlights. And the joys of the Italian train system make internal travel easy.
Lise has lot of useful tips for anyone thinking about following her path:
1) Carefully research which college you are going to choose– there are many, all over Italy. Lise chose Academya Lingue as its communication was excellent, and really made the process of applying for a visa so much easier.
2) At Academya Lingue you could choose any length of study from one week to six months. There’s no official semesters or start dates, so you can study for a few weeks, take a break and come back for more when it suits.
3) Really think about your lifestyle preferences. When Lise arrived in Bologna she hadn’t given much thought to the fact that she’s 100% coastal and landlocked Bologna in June was suffocatingly hot without a beach in sight!
4) On the topic of visas – the length of student visa you can apply for is tied to the length of study you do - you’ll need to be enrolled with a school to apply. And leave yourself enough time. “It took three trips to the Italian consulate and then finally over a weekend after endless emails to the Director of Academya Lingue (and killing a tree with all the information required) I presented at the Consulate with the necessary docs and just had to wait until the visa was issued.”
5) Getting long term accommodation can be tricky - especially if you are there in high season or during special events. Lise had to move house three times in her first month in Bologna, before settling into her current apartment.
6) Initially Lise stayed with a local family (organised by the college) which was 60 euro a night. One week in her two-bedroom apartment is around 300 Euros, with the benefit of her own kitchen. Lise says it feels like home now, and there’s room for friends to stay.
7) The Australian online banking system can be very difficult when overseas, depending on who you bank with, as it may send you a one-off code delivered to the phone number registered with your bank account. You may not be using that phone number and it can be difficult to change. Lises’ fallback was her PayPal account which she could use anywhere.
8) Medical issues can be difficult - it is bureaucratic and can be very frustrating.
9) It hasn’t all been rosy - “there were many times I felt very alone” - Lise admits. To combat this, Lise’s tactic was to plan catch-ups with friends in Europe. Knowing she had some adventures planned with friends meant she was able to enjoy the time alone “doing my own thing.”
One of the recurrent tropes of any “Escape to Italy” book is romance with a local. So, has there been any? Lise confirmed that an Italian fling has indeed been had (and yes, he was much younger, and yes - it was fun). But the biggest question of all – how is her Italian? “Not as good as I’d like – I speak Japanese, so I thought this would be easier”. Fortunately, Lise now has the flexibility, and the smarts, to come back soon. She’s heading back to Australia at the end of the year – to work for a while, but now with added confidence and a lot more knowledge, plans are already underway for her next Italian sojourn.