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!


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