Guest host Katy Sewall from the Bittersweet Life podcast talks to her co-host Tiffany Parks in Rome about her decision to move abroad.
Katy Sewall: Hello! I’m Katy Sewall. I’m a radio producer and former expat living in Seattle, and this episode’s guest host of the Expat Focus podcast. And today, I’m talking to Tiffany Parks, my co-host on our show, The Bittersweet Life podcast. It’s a show aimed at expats and former expats. And Tiffany is a current expat living in Rome, Italy. Hi, Tiffany!
Tiffany Parks: Hi Katy!
Katy: How’s Rome today?
Tiffany: It’s hot.
Tiffany: It’s hot and it is blustery and humid. But it’s Rome, so can’t really complain.
Katy: I was kind of interested to talk to you about your origin story – you were also from Seattle, just like me, and unlike me, when you moved to Rome, you moved there and stayed. When I moved to Rome, I moved there just for a year, and then I came back to Seattle. So how did you decide that you were going to let go of the rope, so to speak, in Seattle, and move overseas and stay there.
Tiffany: Well, I didn’t know exactly how long I would stay – [laughs] in fact, I still don’t know. But I wasn’t 100% positive that I was going to stay. But I will tell you that that was the plan. I didn’t come thinking, “Okay, I’ll try it out for three months,” or “I’ll try it out for six months.” It was an indefinite time period. How did I decide to do it? You know, it’s a million different things that went into it, a million different experiences and desires that I have had my whole life. But I will say that probably the defining aspect of it for me was that I was at a position in my life in which I had nothing holding me back. I was living in a city in which I didn’t have any family members who lived there, I had very few friends living there, because they’d all moved away after university, I was out of school, I didn’t have an important career, and I was not in a relationship. So I had nothing – I didn’t even have a pet. [laughs] So I didn’t have any ties. I didn’t have a rope to drop, kind of.
Katy: Did you ever feel like you didn’t create those ties because you had this in the back of the mind? Or did it just happen to be that all of those ties fell away and you saw a chance to jump?
Tiffany: Yes and no. I never, until after I moved to Rome, I never had an important career in the States. I think I graduated from grad school maybe two years before I left, and in that time I hadn’t created for myself any kind of career. I was sort of temping. I had studied classical music, so I didn’t really have any kind of steady job. And so that I had never “created” for myself, as you say. Not that I wouldn’t have – I don’t think that I did that on purpose because I wanted to be an expat. But yes, everything else had recently fallen away. I had recently gotten out of a long-term relationship that had ended for completely different reasons. I guess I will say the pet – yes, the pet is one of the things that I made a conscious decision not to have, because I knew that it would tie me down. So that’s only one thing I guess.
Katy: [chuckles] What was the reaction of your friends? Do you remember? I mean, you moved to Rome ten or twelve years ago now, but do you remember what the reaction of your friends was when you decided to leave?
Tiffany: I kind of remember your reaction.
Katy: What was my reaction?
Tiffany: I think that you were confused, a little bit like, “Are you really going and never coming back?” kind of thing. Or like I said, I didn’t say I was never coming back, but the idea was that I was going for an indefinite amount of time. I do remember one random person that I ran into, wasn’t even a friend. It was about six months before I moved to Rome, and I hadn’t 100% decided I was moving there yet. In fact, I was trying to decide whether I should move to New York or move to Rome. Because it seems like everyone was moving to New York. I mean, you’re in the performing arts, that’s kind of the place to go – especially because I was living in Boston, I wasn’t that far away. And I was talking to this random person, and I said, “You know, I’m trying to decide whether I should move to New York or move to Rome.” And he said, “Oh, move to Rome. You don’t seem like the New York type. You seem like the Rome type.” Weirdly enough, that was like kind of the extra straw, if that makes sense… [laughs]
Katy: The push you needed.
Tiffany: The kind of extra push. I mean, I didn’t even know this person, I don’t remember who it was who said this.
Katy: Going back to what my reaction was, do you think that that reaction was – I don’t know – a reflection of my own fear, a fear that you didn’t have, that disbelief that that could be done?
Tiffany: I think you’d be more equipped to answer that than I would.
Katy: Well, from your perspective.
Tiffany: From my perspective – I don’t think I thought about it at the time. I mean, I was probably so absorbed in what was about to happen in my life, I didn’t stop to analyze what other people’s reactions were to it. But now, thinking about it, and twelve years down the line, and strangely, knowing you even better now than I did then, mostly because of the work that we’ve done together for the past few years…
Katy: Yeah, because we’ve hosted over a hundred episodes of a podcast about the expat life. [laughs]
Katy: Did that help you get to know me a little better?
Tiffany: But yeah, I definitely think that that could’ve been your reluctance to have done the same thing – which, then, ironically enough, you eventually did the same thing.
Tiffany: Under completely different circumstances, but nevertheless, you did move to Rome – which, I mean, what are the odds?
Katy: Yeah. One of the interesting things too that I’ve learned just from regularly doing a show where expats are the listeners – as I’m sure anybody listening to the Expat Focus has discovered – is that one of the main questions is “How do you make it happen?” We get so many emails from people who are saying, “I had this dream that in six years I’m going to move to Italy if I can figure out how to make it happen.” And I think that we have this big question of how in the world do you make it happen? How do you move and make it last?
Tiffany: It’s not easy.
Katy: Yeah. So tell us about that.
Tiffany: [sighs] Well, first of all, I do think that it has to do with your own personality. I mean, I remember when I was trying to decide where to go to college, and all of my schoolmates, one of their top priorities was it has to be close to home. “I don’t want to go too far from my family.” One of my top priorities was: I want it to be as far away as possible.
Tiffany: And the thing is I love my family. I get along great with my family. And I miss them desperately now. But I wanted to go far away. I had that wanderlust. And I think you either have that or you don’t have it. And I think if you have it it’s very difficult to ignore – you just want to roam. So I think having that already just makes it easier, because you kind of have this sense that there’s a big world out there and there’s no reason to stay where you come from.
So that, right off the bat, but on the practical side, there are people who are planners and who like to have every single thing set. And you can see this when people even take a trip – people who have to have the hotel booked and the car booked, and know where they’re going to go and eat, and everything like that. And then there are people who just fly by the seat of their pants and just say, “Okay, I’m going to fly to Vienna, and we’ll just see what happens.” So those are two different types of people.
And there can be expats – one expat who is one way and the other expat is the other way. So there are some people who are going to plan, and who are going to say, “Okay, I’m going to move there when I can retire,” move there legally, and this and that. And then there are people who are like, “I’m just going to go. I’m just going to buy a plane ticket, and go and see what happens. And I have to say that that’s what I did. [laughs] And I had no idea what I was going to do. I did have certification to teach yoga. So that was in my back pocket. Teaching English was always a possibility, as something I could do for work as well.
But I didn’t have any connections over here. I had some extended family members, or I should say relatives. But I didn’t have like a best friend or a boyfriend or anything like that, where I could really have someone to help me out and guide me through the process. So I just kind of did it by the seat of my pants. And I was young enough that I wasn’t giving up a whole life in the States. And I think that’s a really big part of deciding to become an expat. If you don’t do it, like I did, when I was young and had literally nothing to lose, you do have to weigh the consequences, and you do have to say, “Well, look, I have this really amazing job right now, and I have benefits, and I have this and that. Is it really worth it for me to go over there when I don’t even know if it’s going to work out?”
And I hate to say that, especially on an expat podcast, because that’s not what people want to hear, and that’s not how I thought, and it’s still not how I think, because I still think about moving to a new country now. And I have a really good job now, that I love, and so I would have to consider that.
I guess it comes down to do you have that wanderlust, do you have that desire to live in a new place? How important is that to you? Do you want to get to the end of your life and say, “I always wanted to live in Paris,” or “I always wanted to live in Australia and I never did it”? If that’s something that you’re going to regret for the rest of your life, maybe it is worth it to leave that job. People can only decide that for themselves.
Katy: Yeah. And I would say that for me, it’s always been the opposite – like I got pushed into the expat experience. My husband got an opportunity to study, I was reluctant to go, and it still was the best thing I ever did. It’s so hard to know if those risks are worth it until you take it – which is why it’s so hard. It’s like, yeah, be cautious! Because I’m the opposite of you, I’m like, “Be cautious! [laughs] It’s okay to be cautious!”
Tiffany: Yeah. I knew a woman, she was quite a bit older than us, she was I think in her late 50s, early 60s. She had travelled many times to Italy, fell madly in love with Italy, dreamed about moving there, dreamed about moving there. She was divorced, her children were grown. She said, “Okay, I’m going to move to Rome now.” And she came, and she didn’t have a good experience. She just felt like she was overwhelmed with the bureaucratic process, she felt taken advantage of in many situations, and she just wasn’t happy. And she left. I hate to say it – it doesn’t always work out.
Katy: So that’s another thing – you can always take it back. But that said, it is a difficult decision to make. Would you say you’re glad you made it though.
Tiffany: Oh, my gosh! Absolutely. I mean, 100%. I wouldn’t have my husband, I wouldn’t have my son, I wouldn’t have the rich experience that I have had. I don’t think I would be where I am today, I think my life would have taken a completely different turn, and I’m very happy with the way that it has gone. Even though nothing’s perfect, but I’m literally a person that I wouldn’t be if it hadn’t been for the experience of living here. So absolutely, 100%. And I would never, ever tell someone “You shouldn’t move abroad because it’s too hard.” It is hard. It is hard, but it’s almost always worth it.
Katy: That’s Tiffany Parks. She’s my co-host on The Bittersweet Life podcast. I’m Katy Sewall. Thank you so much for listening to the Expat Focus podcast. It’s been an honor to be a guest host. Find out more about Expat Focus by visiting expatfocus.com.