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Living in Rome

Italy for the Long Term

My husband and I are not trust-fund babies, nor self-made millionaires. But like many Transitions Abroad readers we dreamed of living outside the U. S. After much discussion, research, and planning, we boarded the airplane in Houston, Texas with only two bags each. We arrived in Rome the following day to begin our plan to live abroad, learn the language, and absorb the culture. Our dream was coming true.

John was 43 and I was 38. Too old to throw caution to the wind, too young to retire, we wanted to live somewhere and not feel like tourists in city after city. I wanted to know my neighbors and understand what their lives were like. We both wanted to experience another culture but also prepare for future earnings.

John spent 25 years in television news. He decided to continue his education and study international affairs, a decision that was the catalyst for moving abroad. It would take 21 months for John to graduate. My background is in retail sales and marketing. Learning another language would open new doors for me as well.

When we got serious about our plan, John began researching English-speaking degree-granting universities on the Internet and we started preparing our family and friends. We expected to be told we were crazy but received only enthusiastic responses, even from my financial advisor. John narrowed the field to four schools and began the application paperwork.

We evaluated the cities and our interest in the culture, language, etc. The final candidates were Madrid and Rome. We couldn't make such enormous changes in our lives without visiting at least once, so to put our minds at ease we planned a vacation to both cities for a final winnowing.

One of the universities in Rome filled all the requirements. We were even shown some apartments during our visit. By choosing an apartment that normally houses only one student, we were able to trim costs. We left a housing deposit for the fall semester before we departed.

The details on how to obtain visas in Italy are covered in the information-packed book, Living, Studying, and Working in Italy: Everything You Need to Know to Live La Dolce Vita by Travis Neighbor and Monica Larner. Since I was going to be enrolled in Italian classes, we were both able to apply for student visas, which is one of the least complicated types to obtain. Another document needed was the permesso di soggiorno, or permission to stay. Apply for this document after arriving in Italy. It requires proof of insurance, a passport, a marca da bollo (which is a stamp purchased at the tabacchi shop), three passport-sized photographs, and, if you are a student, proof of insurance and a certificato di frequenza, which is proof of enrollment.

After arriving in Italy, we went to the post office and bought a year's worth of catastrophic insurance for about $75 each. While we were visiting, we checked to make sure our bank ATM cards could access cash. They did, making it unnecessary to open a checking account overseas. We withdraw a set amount of cash once a week that covers all our food and incidentals. Knowing our limit keeps us on budget. We each have mobile phones that are recharged with cards purchased at the tabacchi, so we don't have the hassle of getting a land line. The apartment we lease through the university has water, gas, and electricity included. We did not own a home in Houston (the lease on our apartment was expiring at just the right time), but we did have lots of possessions-many of which we didn't need or really want anymore. We were actually giddy about selling our automobiles and looked forward to public transportation. Most errands in Rome are completed a piede, by foot, and shopping with a 2-wheeled cart is actually fun.

In making a move like this you should learn as much of the language as possible before you depart. Italians are extremely patient when you are trying to learn and will often try to help you. One of our understanding neighbors, Signora Molinari, kept repeating "piano, piano." Slowly it will come.

Shopping at the outdoor mercato the day after September 11, I was asked if I was American. When I responded yes, the vendor lowered his voice and his words affected me like a cross-cultural hug. Though I didn't understand exactly what he was saying, I knew what he meant. I have shopped with Alberto and his lovely wife, Bruna, ever since.

We are sharing just a moment of Rome's 3,000-year history, but it will resonate in us for the rest of our lives.

MARTHA MILLER writes from Trastevere, a Roman neighborhood, across the Tiber River from the historic center of Rome.

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