Transitory Tales: Building a Family in China

I always dreamt about moving abroad, but knew that not all dreams come true including this one. Even so, I had pictured myself in places like Europe or the U.S., never East. My family is not a well-traveled one and we never stayed away from home for more than one month.

During my first year as a Master student, we had to decide if we wanted to go to Shanghai for a year. After submitting a letter of intent, a curriculum vitae, and a portfolio, an interview was planned. We showed up in a group of six and I was the least ready to leave.

By June, the sun was shining and the warm breeze wouldn’t have supported any serious thinking. I kept thinking that if I were to be selected, I would have decided in September to leave or not. We six, as the only showing up for the seven seats, got the chance to go.

Time passed and my summer was filled with days I thought, “Yes! I want to leave now!”  and days of “absolutely no!” In September I made up my mind. The following February, I departed to Shanghai for a year or so with a luggage that couldn’t exceed 23 kilograms. My life in 23kg — I did not think it would be possible but I made it. We finally departed to Shanghai and none of us were able to speak basic Chinese…indeed our Chinese teacher was a little worried for us.

In Shanghai, we found a flat in People’s Square and passed the year with tons of parties, laughs, discoveries, travels and new friends. We were Sobrio e Elegante family – literally “simple” and “elegant,” a way of defining our China family and lifestyle.

The Sobrio e Elegante family returned to Italy little by little. Some exactly a year later, and others, a little later. Month after month we watched our life of laughs become replaced with tears.

By the summer of 2011, our Sobrio e Elegante family had returned to Italy and had started living separate lives– Italian lives. However, each time we have get-togethers, we always find ourselves saying, “Do you remember when …?” and we laugh at past experiences and inside jokes.

I miss the feeling of being a foreigner, not being able to understand what people say and having to put in effort every time I need to explain what I’m looking for. I miss the feeling that whatever is possible, while once you are back to your hometown it’s more like you get anchored and locked in something that is impossible to change. I miss being surrounded by international friends, who made my same decision: leaving and trying something completely different. I miss feeling strong and happy, aware that I can make it wherever I am.

Italy is my home and I love it. “Three Fs” keep me here: family, friends, food. Once you get back, after a shocking first month, you get used to this life again and leaving again turns to be a dream.

I don’t want to be one of that Italians who keep thinking about their experiences abroad, missing them but is no more able to prepare his luggage. I feel like I have to do it now, because I’m pretty sure that once I’ll be grown more than this I won’t be able to picture my self anyplace than in Italy.

Last picture credits: Maria Lo Bello

7 comments

  1. Jeno says:

    Alessandra, nostalgia ran through my bones while reading your post. I’ve been living outside of the States for so long, I sometimes forget how lucky I am to live in Barcelona. Thank you for the great reminder. Let me know if you’re ever on this side of the Mediterranen.

  2. Jeno says:

    Alessandra, nostalgia ran through my bones while reading your post. I’ve been living outside of the States for so long, I sometimes forget how lucky I am to live in Barcelona. Thank you for the great reminder. Let me know if you’re ever on this side of town.

  3. Alessandra says:

    Actually nostalgia was writing, not me. We all feel so sad being back and kinda stucked in Italy, but it’s hard to leave again. I would love to come to Barcelona!!!

  4. Isabelle says:

    Alessandra, The three “F”s are so special. Thanks for sharing your story between Shanghai and Italy!

    “I miss the feeling of being a foreigner, not being able to understand what people say and having to put in effort every time I need to explain what I’m looking for. I miss the feeling that whatever is possible, while once you are back to your hometown it’s more like you get anchored and locked in something that is impossible to change. I miss being surrounded by international friends, who made my same decision: leaving and trying something completely different. I miss feeling strong and happy, aware that I can make it wherever I am.” <- Can't agree more.

Leave a Reply