Self-described world nomad Tina Ferrari: tango dance instructor, DJ, English-Italian translator, citizen of the world. She has created for herself a lifestyle that suits her peripatetic soul just right — living in Italy, as well as other countries, and covering just as many miles as her popularized racecar last name, though she actually bears no relation Enzo Ferrari. Except, perhaps, a desire to be on the road. And the fruition of all these great things took only one bold decision: to just go… and then in the end, feeling at home in the world and with herself.
By Tina Ferrari
All my life I wanted to be one of those people who lived abroad. When my father and I watched movies filmed elsewhere in the world, he would get out the globe and we would find the city or country where the film was set. I guess you could say I got an early start in understanding that the world is small enough to navigate. As I grew up, the occasional friend would return from a year in France or Italy, and I would be so envious. I finally decided to stop being envious, create an opportunity for myself, and just go. Now, I’ve lived in Switzerland working as an au pair, Italy twice, as well as Argentina.
I can imagine people will wonder what kind of life I live. I’ve had people say interesting things to me on the subject, particularly, “Oh, must be nice! Do you come from money?” And it couldn’t be farther from the truth. For most people, at least those I know, being an expat involves stressing out about money approximately 90% of the time. We are compelled to live elsewhere for so many reasons that have nothing to do with money. Me, I’m just a natural nomad, and I would be so sad if I couldn’t allow myself to do this. But am I rich? No way, at least not economically.
I’m a 33 year-old citizen of the world currently living in Italy in the beautiful region of Puglia, Italy where I split my time between cities Lecce and Bari. If you look at the boot-shaped map of Italy, I’m in the heel. I’m a tango dancer, teacher, DJ, and a freelance translator.
I left Seattle “for good” in 2006 to study in Perugia, Italy. Eventually, I became an Italian citizen due to a direct bloodline (my great-grandfather came to the States, never renounced his citizenship, and it was thus passed down to my grandfather and my father, and then to me.) At this time, I was still waiting for my Italian citizenship to go through, so initially I went on a study visa. I had visited Italy so many times before, including a short stint when I studied in Siena, and I knew I just had to live there. I already spoke Italian after having been exposed to it through my family and studying it extensively, but I wanted to improve, and I dreamed of becoming a translator. So, I enrolled in a program at the University for Foreigners of Perugia that involved linguistics and translation. I wound up staying there only six months because I felt a sudden, profound longing to be in Buenos Aires, Argentina. I went for a month or so with a boyfriend before heading back to Seattle, where I stayed for eight months and finally took the leap into the world of full-time freelance translation, so I could maintain my nomadic life without quitting jobs all the time.
After an initial visit to Argentina, I ended up going back to live there for about a year and a half. Buenos Aires is one of those cities that just takes hold of you and doesn’t let go. It’s hard to put into words what my experience in Buenos Aires entailed, though you can imagine there was a lot of tango! I had already been dancing tango since 2003. But while living in Buenos Aires, I took lessons here and there, danced a couple of times a week, and in the afternoon helped out a milonguero named Pedro Sanchez with his students. I did more than just dance tango of course, but it played an important role in my experience. I loved it so much that I felt at home. I remember sitting at my computer one day and looking out the window at the sunny sky and saying, “this is my home. I’m here now. I’m immigrating. This is it. This is really it.” Famous last words?
Unfortunately, with the global economic crisis, my translation work slowed down to a very sad halt. Not to mention the apartment I was sharing with others began to fall apart: my bedroom door fell off, there wasn’t gas in the apartment for 21 days, our faucet ran even when off, and the apartment manager didn’t have the funds to fix anything. In addition to some other personal matters I won’t mention, life suddenly turned not-so-pretty in every way. Except for one thing: while all of this was going on, my Italian citizenship came through! As much as the decision killed me, I had to leave Argentina to tie up loose ends in America and finally move to Italy. At this juncture, it made sense to be in Italy and reestablish my career as a translator as all my clients were there. While I would have preferred to stay in Argentina, I had to think about my survival.
Those transitional six months I passed in Seattle were horrible. I felt so sad – like a failure. Here I was, the fabulous nomad who was supposed to be conquering the world and had nothing to show for it. I wound up broken hearted and without a penny in my pocket. People around me at least had homes, jobs, spouses. Me, I had nothing. Just a newly obtained Italian passport and hope that I could turn things around. It was a bad time. Not having any money is not a nice feeling – and I’m saying that I couldn’t even afford a cup of coffee. I know there are probably a lot of people who have felt similar in recent years; it’s not an easy time for the world.
Since I had been teaching tango with Pedro in Buenos Aires, I decided that I would continue teaching tango in Seattle and Italy, and get more into DJing at milongas, or tango dance salons. I loved it so much, and I must say it really did save me while my translation business healed. Tango in itself is therapeutic because it is based on a loving embrace. The income it brought me, while not a lot, enabled me to eat and live.
I continued giving tango dance lessons after I moved to Italy and tried to resuscitate my translation business. I wound up living in Lecce and teaching with a partner, who has since left. I’m now traveling quite a bit to DJ at milongas around Italy, and now my translation work is coming in almost too quickly, one after the other. I’m a very, very busy girl with little free time!
Sometimes I have to remember to stop for a few minutes and look back at all that has happened. I’m thankful that things have turned out for the better, and thankful that I can go back to Buenos Aires when I want. My quality of life in Italy is high, and I’m healthy. I have finally accomplished my dream of living internationally and doing work that I love. And, I can save up.
Looking back, I must confess that I sometimes miss that transition period in Seattle. It was hard and depressing, but the growth I went through was incredible. I struggled every day, looking forward with the simple goal of being happy. I learned a lot during that time and deepened some very important friendships.
The lesson I have learned from all of this: there is no straightforward path to your dreams. And that’s not a bad thing. We get so impatient sometimes and forget to consider the journey; I know I have in the past. But just when you think it’s all going wrong, just when you think it’s hopeless and you feel like giving up, that’s precisely the moment in which you should take a deep breath, and just relax and wait. Either the situation will take a turn for the better or you’ll suddenly have the idea of the century on what to do next! And that is a beautiful moment.
Think you might be eligible for Italian citizenship? Tina recommends www.expatsinitaly.com as a helpful resource to learn more.