A White Christmas   // gina

Last Christmas we were in Pucon, Chile, having just flown back from warm sunny Thailand. Christmas was a little “atypical” for us let’s say. Fun and adventure filled, but not really Christmas as we know it.

Since then another whole year has flown by, but to be honest with so much change this past year it seems like a lifetime ago that we were jet-setting around the world, hanging out in Asia and South America.

This winter we find ourselves in the snow-covered Italian Alps. Our Christmas tree is up, the room filled with that heart-warming smell of pine, and the glow of fairy lights. The streets of our new home town, Chiavenna, are lit with Christmas lights and there seems to be a Christmas fair every few days somewhere in the valley, giving plenty of opportunities for drinking mulled wine and listening to Christmas carols, while browsing the stalls of Christmas crafts that you’ve no intention of buying.

I knew before we made this move to Italy that it was going to be tough at times. A new country with it’s own language and culture. It’s own complicated history, traditions and beliefs. Starting from scratch anywhere is hard, but with a new language it can be plain old terrifying at times. Finding a home, a car, a job, making friends, opening a bank account, learning the language…the list goes on and on. Some days you wake up and it’s all a wonderful adventure: you and your dearest in the midst of all the chaos. Trying to live life for all it’s worth. Other days you wake up and you simply don’t have the energy. It all just seems too difficult. You want to run home, where things are familiar and people understand you. Where you can never be mistaken for stupid just because the right word escapes you. It can be hard to just be yourself through a foreign language. To just relax and have conversation flow, even when you’re tired after a long days work. To crack a joke, on a whim, without having to think it through beforehand. To be sarcastic, without being rude. I have discovered that feeling misunderstood by those around can be pretty exhausting.

It would be an understatement to say I have learnt a few things about myself over the past year. For one, I have discovered how important my job is to me. That it has, for better or worse, become tied to my self-identity in such a way that without it I tend to feel a bit useless. I realise that it has become a part of who I am and how I express myself as a person. A way of contributing to the world around me. I have always been the girl who works hard but then leaves the hospital and makes the most of every moment of free time. Travelling, climbing, hiking, biking, hanging out with friends. There has never been enough time in my week to do everything or see everybody. And yet earlier this summer when I had only a few hours of work a week, I found I only really enjoyed my free time if I felt I deserved it. Free time only feels like free time when there’s work/school to compare it to. Even when you live in the Alps.
Though not actually unemployed I came to understand on a more personal level the negative psychological impact of unemployment. Pretty topical right now unfortunately. People are all different obviously, but for me the need to feel like I’m doing something worthwhile and of benefit to others became clear this summer. A purpose, when in the midst of all this change the concept of life can get a bit blurry at times.

Gradually we are settling in here, and it is becoming home for us, with a cosy home, jobs, good friends and a back garden filled with the Italian Alps. In my usual impatience with myself, I hadn’t anticipated it taking quite so long to settle in. Jeff, my American with no Italian family and less of the Italian language, seems to have coped better than me. I put this down to the fact that:

(a) I am more sensitive than him (much to my disgust).
(b) I work in a female-dominated environment, which often ends in tears +/- chaos, and finally,
(c) I worry too much about most things, mainly things that don’t, or at least shouldn’t, matter.

All in all this has been a wonderful experience so far. We have been very fortunate. Mostly to have each other with which to share this whole experience, with its ups and downs. To chat excitedly about the new friends we have made, or the novelty of spending the day skiing 20 mins from home. To vent the frustration of being misunderstood, or of dealing with the UNBELIEVABLE mountain of bureaucracy that smothers Italy. To prepare Thanksgiving dinner together for friends in our home. To curse the internet company that keeps screwing us, and the Postal system that keeps screwing our mail. To marvel over the beauty of the mountains that surround us, and laugh at the little birds that play in the snow outside our window. Most things, good or bad, seem better when shared with someone you love.

Thank you bean 🙂

And Merry Christmas to you all !

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