Thursday, December 19, 2013

Expat Interview #2: Claudia, Fashion & Design Buyer, Berlin

Here we go with another expat interview! I am so excited about this project and very happy that we are having a second interview in such a short time-frame, because there are so many interesting stories to tell, so many smart and brave expats out there, that I can't wait to meet and introduce to you.

Today I have the pleasure to interview Claudia, an Italian senior buyer who has been working in the fashion market for years, and is now into design in one of the coolest capitals of the world, the eclectic Berlin. We will be discussing the decline of fashion and street style. Don't miss this interview, she's a force of nature!

Hi Claudia, thanks for having this interview! Would you mind telling me a little bit about yourself?
My name is Claudia Caldara, I am 33, I come from Puglia, the deep South of Italy.I have a degree in Fashion Marketing and I have earned a Master in Marketing for Fashion Buying and Merchandising at the Ent-Art Polimoda Fashion School of Florence. I have always been fascinated by the fashion market and I believe fashion, art and food are all part of our Italian DNA.

You have been an expat in Berlin for almost 2 years, and you seem very happy about this choice! What do you love about this city?
The first time I visited Berlin I was on a short trip. It was the end of March, it was freezing compared to Italy, but I immediately fell in love with this city. Living here happened by chance, as almost all good things in your life. The impact with Berlin was strong, emotional, full of vitality. What got me so attached to the city is the incredible creative energy you can feel just by walking down its roads, talking to the many young people who came here from all over the world. Here I have friends of all different nationalities: French, Korean, Americans. Berlin is a young and cosmopolitan city.

There’s recently been a big wave of expats among young Italian professionals. How do you feel about that and what do you think draws so many people abroad?
The much debated crisis in Italy is a generational crisis. People my age and even a bit older - young adults - have inherited a system built by their parents and grandparents which have lately lost all its credibility. We migrate in search for a better life, a better future than that lying ahead in our home country.

Being a senior buyer both in the fashion and design field, of course you are a seasoned trend expert! Tell us a little about what’s trendy in Berlin.
Berlin holds a lucky spot, 'cause most of the new fashion and design trends come from Northern Europe, especially Scandinavia, and they all flow into the city, that welcomes them, cultivates them, and spreads them.
The fashion mood here is dominantly street-wear. Nike for example launches special make-up editions exclusively for the German market, which is a sign of the importance of this trend. Leader design websites such as or have their headquarters in Berlin. This all shows how fundamental it is to be in Berlin if you wish to make a statement in the fashion or design world.

Claudia and her previous team at Zalando, in Berlin

Do you think Italy is still a reference for style, like it used to be? What do you think are our strong and weak points? And which country is the current trend-setter?
Italy in the collective imagination is still viewed as the land of high quality. But it has two main problems. The first one is that we are not hatching any new creative talents. There was a dramatic halt where we stopped creating, daring, letting our creativity free, and this was our strong point in the fashion market, together with the unmatched quality of the products. And this brings us to the second problem: Italian products are manufactured in China, Portugal, Turkey, Romania. Nothing is left of the "Made in Italy".

I know you recently started working for an e-Commerce website selling Design items. Design is currently a big hit…do you think it is going to replace fashion?
I firmly believe design is the future. It is a consequence of the cultural revolution that is happening lately: you think less of external appearance - clothes, shoes, accessories - and more of making your home or workplace a unique, special, refined place. People look after products that are colorful, efficient and high-quality. Ikea is not satisfying people's needs anymore.

Do you think that your Italian origins have an influence over your buying choices and career? I mean, Italy is regarded as the Style Mecca and we are more likely to be fashion-aware than other countries are… Is this a valuable asset for you, or is it just a cliché?
Being Italian is what allowed me to get where I am. In Italy the education is excellent, and we have fashion (and food, and art) in our cultural DNA. It is part of our economical and cultural identity.

Tell me about your professional plans for the future: what are your goals and how do you wish to achieve them?
I actually prefer not to have specific goals anymore, especially in this period of my life. I prefer to enjoy the positive feeling and the vitality that come from the huge love I feel for my job. There is honestly nothing else I'd rather be doing.

Tell us about your roots. How do you feel about Italy and being Italian? What do you think of the current situation in the Bel Paese? And how do you think me, or you, or any other expat can help? I mean…some believe you have to stay if you want to help our country get better.
I feel deeply sad about the current situation in Italy, and like me all the other Italians abroad I spoke with. We've got the feeling that this is never going to change, as Italy is like a terminally ill. I can't help my country, I would not know how to help it, I can only bring with me the positive values that are part of being Italian. To make it worse, leaving Italy was not a choice for me, but a necessity in order to be able to live a normal life.

Do you think you will ever go back to Italy?
I don't know.

I have one last question for you… if you could turn back time, is there anything you would do differently?
Yes, I would leave earlier.

Thank you so much for your time Claudia, and for the outspokenness and transparency with which you discussed your thoughts on fashion, design, and Italy. Best of luck for everything, I hope we'll be able to do something together again in the future!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Expat Blog Awards 2013

Hi guys,

I enrolled the Expat Blog Awards 2013 of the Expats Blog website!

I had to write a blog post with a "top 10" list related to my expat life or the country I live in.

My post title is 10 Dutch Words You Seriously Need to Know For Living in the Netherlands.

Would you like to help me win?!

  1. Go to my contest entry (link here and from the logo below)
  2. Leave a comment (at least 10 words!)
  3. You will be required to confirm your email address, so please check your inbox after posting your comment
Please support my contest entry! I may win...well actually just fame, but also some Amazon vouchers!

Thank you and if you have any questions please write it in the comments :)


Expat Blog Awards 2013 Contest Entry

Monday, December 16, 2013

Expat Interview #1: Margherita, Psychologist, the Netherlands

Hi everybody, hope you had a lovely weekend!

Today we start with what I hope will become a regular appointment of the blog...expat interviews. For sure it is not an original idea, but I thought I would like to use this space to share real life stories and experiences of those who left. Whether you plan to leave, to stay, have left or returned already, I believe it is interesting and inspiring to have some insight about the reasons that prompted these people to live abroad and hear what they found - both at personal and professional level. And apart from being expats, I think life is always interesting, and I love to read about everybody's personal I hope you'll love it as well.

The questions I ask are not just focused on "the expat thing", but will deal with the professional background of the interviewee, since most of the expats I know have really cool jobs and it is just so mind-blowing to learn a little about so many different things.

The honour of the first interview goes to Margherita, a young and talented Italian psychologist living in Utrecht, the Netherlands. Not only will she tell us about her journey from Verona, to NY, to the country of windmills - she will also share some of her professional knowledge in a very touchy field, as she owns a specialization in forensic and child psychology.

If you are or was an expat, and you wish to be interviewed, please contact me through my personal website

Q. Hello Margherita! Would you mind telling me a little bit about yourself?
A. Hi Linda! I was born in Verona, Italy, and I lived there most of my life. I love going back there, walking on Ponte Pietra, seeing my family, my friends and breathe my memories around the city. I try to do that as much as I can! 
I love to travel, a lot, to see how people are different depending on the territory they live in, among other things. I enjoy cooking for friends and, and I love to listen to people, to their stories and their experiences. Maybe this is one of the reasons why I studied psychology, I am so curious about mankind!
This desire of exploring brought me to US in 2007. In New York I met Marco and there we got married in a very private and funny ceremony at City Hall. About one year ago we moved back to Europe and now we are here, happy expats in the Netherlands!

Q. I know you are a very experienced expat: first New York, now the Netherlands. Let’s start from the beginning…can you tell me why you decided to go to the States and what did you do there?
A. I think I had always known that at some point I would have left Italy to experience another culture and these thoughts became real in 2007. One of my oldest friend called telling me that her cousin in NY was looking for a girl to take care their two 3 years old twins. It was a really nice experience, I had to stay with the children few hours in the afternoon, and then I had all the time for myself. The first month I was pretty much by myself and so I explored the city, walking everywhere. It was freezing and beautiful, I still can totally feel those first steps in the city…amazing! I then started an English course, where I finally met some friends and I started to look around for a master…then I met Marco and everything came naturally. I stayed there for almost 6 years!

Q. Why did you choose not to go back to Italy after your first expat experience in NY was over? And why did you decide to come to the Netherlands?
A. Well, I think that once you are out of your own country you start seeing things that you kind of knew before, but that also become clearer. I would like to pursue an academic career, among other things, and I honestly didn’t want to see myself struggling for nothing, knowing how meritocracy is a concept that right now is totally missing in Italy. We decided to come to the Netherlands because we wanted to be fairly close to Italy, we didn’t want to learn a new language right away, and here everyone speaks English. We are really happy of our choice! 
It is really sad, especially because I feel that I really would love to go back at some point. For the past 7 years I have been saying, that we would go back sometime in the future. But the more time passes, the more I am not sure about that. 

Q. I imagine there is a huge difference between being an expat in a big city like New York and a relatively small city like Utrecht. How are you dealing with that? What do you enjoy most of the Netherlands, and what do you dislike?
A. New York is really amazing. It is a vortex, it puts you in a unique dimension, if I think I had the chance to live it for 6 years, I feel really privileged. And it gave me a lot. But I don’t think I could have ever lived there for my entire life. 
With Marco, we agreed that we needed something less stressful and quieter. Well, I love Utrecht! It is a small town (like my Verona), but there is also a good vibe, it is full of student and very lively. I love NY, it’s my second home, and it will always be like that. But I have done everything I had to do there, and I think my time was over. I miss a bit my places, my streets and atmosphere, but I do not miss my life there. The only thing I can say I miss is the chance to do a compulsive, satisfying and healthy shopping session, from time to time. The stores here are not as gratifying as they were in Italy or NY.   

Q. You are a developmental-clinical psychologist with a specialization in forensic. How important was the influence of being an expat for your career? Do you think not being in Italy has helped your professional development, and how?
A. I graduated in Italy with the 5 years old system, and I have to say, I would NOT change it for anything else. During the master in US my preparation was deeper and broader than my colleagues’ one. Abroad there is a very high consideration for Italian students and researchers. Several times I was told that we are seen as hard workers provided with fine intellects. What I gained during my studies in US (I took a master in Forensic Psychology) was a more practical competence, the chance of applying what I studied to real situations, real cases. In this I think they are ahead.

Q. Tell me about your professional plans for the future: what are your goals and how do you wish to achieve them?
A. I actually have several goals that I am trying to pursue. Beside my private psychology practice I am working on a PhD proposal on children’s testimony in court. I have been studying this topic for the past years, in Italy first, then in US as well and now I am trying to see how the situation in Europe is. This is really my topic, I am passionate about it and I think there is a deep need of communication between mental health and legal professionals (which is actually already happening but not as much as I think it should).
Even if it is going to take time to have the chance to do get into a program, I feel it is something that I will do, no matter how long it is going to take. I am pretty stubborn and determined in this, so I hope at some point I will get a position!
 Beside this I am working with two colleagues to a project. I don’t want to say too much because we are still in the planning phase, but I can say that it will be focusing on services for immigrant women and mothers. 
Let’s see how it will go!

Q. If you ever go back to Italy, how do you think this will affect your career? Do you feel you will have to make some adjustments to your goals?
A. I really hope things will change in the next few years, but I know that if I had to move now, I would definitely have to adjust my goals. And actually this is the main reason why I am here and not there. I am not saying that here everything is easy or doable, but there is the feeling (and it is what actually happens) that if you work hard, you can make it, whatever you want to do (more and less !!!).  

Q. From your professional point of view, how do expat parents’ kids experience their stay abroad? I wonder if this is going to be an advantage for them, since they are exposed to various cultures and languages since an early age. But could this be confusing them or making them feel insecure?
A. I think I wouldn’t say that living abroad is always an advantage but it could be considered a positive experience. Generally speaking, these children can have the chance to experience two, if not three, different cultures and this surely improves their adaptation skills. However, parents are required to be even more present to their kids than non-expat families. Challenges can be overcome together, but it is important that a parent realizes that children cannot be left alone in facing these challenges. A 5 years old child that changes routine, language, friends, but also climate, type of food he was used to eat, smells, really needs to be accompanied in this path. They can feel disoriented and become more anxious or moody. They don’t tell you what is wrong, and that is why expat parents need to pay more attention to small things and their kids’ feelings and behavior. 

Q. I’d like to ask you about your roots. How do you feel about Italy and being Italian? What do you think of the current situation in the Bel Paese? And how do you think me, or you, or any other expat can help? I mean…some believe you have to stay if you want to help our country get better.
A. This is something that I ask myself almost every day: “shouldn’t I be there, instead of being here and being sad about my poor country and complaining? 
I don’t know. The people I know, the articles I read, the voices that get to my attention are all for a global, deep change. But I have been seeing this for the past 15 years. Every election, every time there was a chance to do something, I saw it vanishing.  And I am not 20, I travelled and moved twice and every time it is like starting again. I don’t feel I want to start in a country where my rights (of working, being a mother, being a woman) are not protected at all.  A country where the gender gap is still an unacceptable reality, where women have been considered, for a long time, with different standards than men, where my gay friends are not respected.
I am not saying that this is all there is in Italy. I actually hope and think that something is finally changing, but, egoistically speaking, I do not have time to wait that maybe things in 4 years are going to be better. When I left I didn’t think I was going to stay abroad. But then I didn’t find any good reason to go back. 

Q. I have one last question for you… if you could turn back time, is there anything you would do differently?
A. I tend not to have regret, I think every choice I made was the best one possible at the time I made it, considering who I was at that time and where I was in my life. And so, no, I wouldn’t have done anything differently!

Thank you very much for your time and insightful answers Margherita. You introduced me to some important topics that would need to be better investigated...but I am glad that we could raise some awareness today. I wish you best of luck with your projects and hope to interview you again when they have launched!

Thursday, December 12, 2013

A new house under the Christmas tree...

Hey Folks! I am very happy today 'cause Christmas is approaching :)

Less than two weeks to family gatherings, presents, traditional Italian food, cats and snuggles with my boyfriend. Yay! I can't wait.

I am leaving from Amsterdam on the 20th and will be off for 2 full weeks. How nice is that!

Also, some changes will be waiting for me when I am back: I will leave my current room and move into a nice apartment in the very city-centre of Utrecht! I am very excited about that, although of course I am not looking forward moving again, especially after less than 3 month since the last time I did. But I really haven't brought much stuff to the Netherlands, it all fits into one single it should be pretty nice and fast.

I have already packed everything that I am not bringing with me to Italy, and this Sunday we are going to bring it into the new house, where it will sit waiting for me until January.
My housemate J. is going with me, so she can also see the house. I feel pretty sad about not sharing the house with her anymore...but I know we'll still be friends and that is such a nice feeling :)

As for the new house, I got quite a nice deal since the girl who's renting it is leaving for some volunteer work in the middle east, and she was looking for a sub-renter to keep her house until her return. She pays a low rent since the apartment is part of a social housing building. Social Housing in the Netherlands (sociale huurwoningen) is very common. Basically, private housing associations manage low-rent apartments with the aim of providing affordable housing. In the past such buildings were owned by the government and only managed by non-profit organizations - after 1995, the law changed and these organizations became financially independent, started owning the houses directly, and began focusing on their role as social entrepreneurs. There is a minimum availability of social housings in every city of the Netherlands: this is often very high, bordering 50% of the city buildings (!) in cities such  AmsterdamThe HagueRotterdam and Utrecht. (source: Wikipedia "Public Housing")

Access to these apartments is of course restricted to citizens with low income, students, or people with other special conditions. The waiting list is pretty long and it can be years before you are assigned one of these apartments.

Me, I was lucky enough to get to sub-rent one of them (it is all legal, a sort of "house-sitting" contract where I only get to live in the house while the renter is away, called huisbewaarderschap). I am not paying such a low rent as the girl's one, but my fee includes all expenses and furniture...and it's still good compared to rental pricing in Utrecht.

I am a little scared by this new, umpteenth change, but I am sure everything will turn out fine. Stay tuned for more updates!

A holly jolly festive count-down!


a sneak peek into my new house ;)

Monday, December 9, 2013

A Dutch love story with fried snacks

Dutch people absolutely looove fried snacks. Fried snacks are everywhere.

The canteen at my company smells like fried food 365 days a year. Which is also the frequency with which they use the deep frier.

In Italy fried food is popular as well, but it's mostly about "healthy" ingredients - vegetables, meat or fish. And it's generally a Sunday treat or a little snack for the happy hour. In the Netherlands, fried food is a daily appointment and the ingredients are definitely not a healthy choice. The list of fried snacks is endless, although most of them look and taste very similarThey can be paired with beer, enjoyed on their own as a snack, or stuffed inside some bread for a quick meal.

I must confess I am not a big fan of fried food. So I am always amazed at the quantity of fried things my Dutch colleagues put in their plates. Below is a whole gallery of snapshots I took with my phone at lunchtime. It has become a sort of tradition that my colleagues also enjoy :)

Patat Speciaal (french fries with mayo, curry sauce and raw onion)
In the back is a frikandel (a sort of fried sausage made with meat sub-products).

Of all these fried food, I recommend that you try bitterballen: a typical pub snack, they are a mix of béchamel and mushrooms that is then deep-fried and served boiling hot with a side of thick mustard. Delicious and 100% Dutch!

Bitterballen spotted on the right side of the pic!

A sign of the Dutch love for fried food is the diffusion of shops called "Febo". It's like a huge vending machine for fried foods, where you don't need to order at the counter, but you just insert some change, open a little flap, and take your hot snack. You can spot a Febo by the knot of people standing and eating fried food in front of it. It's a typical Dutch experience that you cannot miss!

Fonte foto: web

Speaking about food, I take the chance to post some pics of other dishes we are being served at the canteen. They make an excellent job at illustrating what I meant when I said that Dutch people don't really care about food, since eating is regarded as a necessity and not a pleasure. Of course there are also some very nice, hearty and delicious Dutch dishes that I recommend that you try:  maatjesharing (brine raw herrings), rookworst (smocked wurstel), stamppot (mashed potatoes with vegetables), gehaktballen (meatballs the size of a tennis ball) and the amazing traditional appeltaart with cinnamon...

Tomato soup and a sandwich
Sandwich with omelette, ham and ketchup

Rookworst and mustard bun
Something sweet...

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Cultivating art in the Netherlands

This Saturday I was in Amsterdam with Mr. and Mrs. M to visit the Rijksakademie. No, not the Rijksmuseum (I was also confused at first). The Rijksakademie van beeldende kunsten (National Academy of Fine Arts) is all but a museum, since it is dedicated to the development of artistic talent, not its conservation.

I was amazed and admired by this approach the Netherlands have to art. They are not just content with hanging old paintings on the wall, they also wish to promote new art. It is a much more modern, farsighted and constructive attitude than the Italian one, where modern art is often perceived as extravagant or difficult, and frowned upon by the vast public. The government is also reluctant to spend money on modern art, and so it becomes a prerogative of the élite of experts and intellectuals. In the Netherlands art is supported by the government: the Rijksakademie is in fact financed by the Ministry of Education, Culture and Sciences, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the Amsterdam City Council.

To better explain how it works, here is an introduction I found on the Rijksakademie website

The Rijksakademie van beeldende kunsten in Amsterdam (founded by decree in 1870) selects exceptionally talented artists and offers them high quality artistic, technical and theoretical facilities, thus creating an environment in which approximately fifty talented artists from all over the world can, under optimum circumstances for a maximum of two years, work on deepening, broadening and accelerating their profession – individually and socially.

The resident artist can dispose over a world-wide network of contacts maintained by the Rijksakademie.  Amsterdam functions as a hub for the Dutch and international art field that continues to gain artistic, social and economic significance through existing connections and the fusing of new partnerships. 

Artists often experience a huge creative development during their residency at the Rijksakademie. As a result, it is common to find their works in important collections around the world and at international showcases like the Venice Biennale and Documenta in Kassel

The name Rijksakademie (1870) refers to the classical Akademia, a place where philosophers, academics and artists meet to test and exchange ideas and knowledge.  

The Rijksakademie don't just offer a place to work and other facilities, they also pay the artist a yearly wage of 12000 € and they offer low-priced apartments for rent.

This should be of inspiration to the Italian government, resting on the laurels of our glorious artistic past, not even willing to invest in the conservation of our heritage.