I am pleased to add this interview to my Taking the Plunge series
Here is April M. Lee who took a massive “plunge” buying her villa in Italy, and with her relocation to Italy:
Where do you come from and when did you first have a connection with Italy in your life?
I am from a small mining town in northern Idaho, USA. I am half-Italian and my Italian grandparents lived next door to me while I was growing up, so I’ve been connected to Italy my entire life. My grandma moved from Italy to the United States in 1929, when she was just 20 years old. My great-grandparents (my grandpa’s mother and father) also immigrated to the US and homesteaded on what was then the outskirts of my hometown. I spent my childhood there, in the section so populated by Italians that it was referred to as “Little Italy.”
When did you move to Italy, what motivated you to make the move, and what location in Italy did you choose and why?
I moved with my husband to Italy full-time one year ago, on October 28, 2016. We had purchased Villa Magnolia, a 1920s liberty-style villa, which serves as both our primary residence and also a retreat destination for my clients. (I am a holistic life & wellness coach.)
We’d been loosely planning a move to Europe since 2012, and the dream finally became a reality. It was actually a combination of several different wishes coming together – living in the EU, renovating an older home, and having a place to host my retreat, “THE ARRIVAL.”
When I was a young girl, my mom and I liked to drive by stately houses that had been abandoned or neglected, wherever we could find them. We’d gaze at the crumbling facades and imagine what took place inside. I would often proclaim that when I grew up, I was going to “buy a big old house and fix it up.” I dreamed about lovingly restoring one to its former grandeur.
The idea never completely left me. My husband even labeled several of our boxes “big house” the last time we stored our belongings. (And after 10 years, several items and pieces of furniture are now displayed in our Italian home.)
I understand you bought your house in Italy online, sight-unseen. Can you share why you chose that approach? I know the house also needed a lot of renovation. Now that you’ve gone through that process, is it one you’d recommend?
Our European house hunting expedition began in earnest at the beginning of 2015. After looking at hundreds of options (in several different countries, online and in person), we put an offer on a house in Portugal. But after four long extremely frustrating months, the deal fell through. There we were, still in the states and back at square one.
Then in August 2015, the night before our wedding anniversary, my husband found a house in Italy online – in our price range and in the architectural style we both love. It was Villa Magnolia.
Italy had always been our first choice, especially since it is the country of my roots. But we hadn’t been able to find anything suitable up until that point. We contacted the realtor immediately, and after a flurried exchange of emails (which contained additional photos and videos of the house), we put an offer on it sight unseen. We had already fallen in love with the villa and didn’t want to lose it before we could fly to Italy.
The house had been empty for five years, neglected even longer. We chose to renovate it ourselves, primarily to save money and to do it on our own timetable (which only allowed seven months before my first planned retreat). We also chose to do it this way because we wanted to feel truly invested in creating our home, a home that would be exactly what we’d envisioned.
Would I recommend doing it this way? Yes, IF you have someone as talented and committed as my husband available! In all seriousness, it was HARD, very hard, especially on the tight deadline we set for ourselves. We lived in a state of inhospitable chaos and dusty disorder for months, asking ourselves over and over “what have we done?” Of course, now that the interior living space is finished, we are over-the-moon pleased and satisfied with our efforts. There are still a lot of spaces that need attention and will keep us quite busy for a long time—the cantina, the exterior, and the secret garden (a completely-overgrown-but-once-magnificent garden that is beginning to reveal its treasures).
What was your biggest fear in making the move, and looking back was it a valid fear?
Wow. There were (and are) so many fears attached to this monumental move. Leaving family and close friends. Worrying about our cats making the long journey. Wondering if our shipment would be damaged or lost. Renovating the house. Fulfilling the immigration requirements. Not knowing the language. Depending on a vision to sustain us. We were (and still are) facing so many unknowns.
What hit me the most when I arrived though – and what I hadn’t mentally prepared for – was the tremendous impact of EVERY SINGLE THING CHANGING ALL AT ONCE. The language, the culture, the far-away location, the food, the currency, the measurement system. Even how to write the date, state the time, and convert to Celsius and kilometers. EVERYTHING. Taken one at a time, perhaps doable. Thrown at me in one big ball, it felt utterly and totally overwhelming.
Valid fears? Yes, I think so. It makes sense to be as aware as you can possibly be before making such a huge decision. And though some of these fears have dissipated (like the cats and the shipment all arriving safely), other concerns still linger. But I don’t think I feel as afraid as I did before actually making the move. It helps to be here, to continuously be filling in some of the missing puzzle pieces.
What’s been the most challenging aspect of living in Italy?
- Heating the villa without going bankrupt.
- Stores closed in the middle of the afternoon.
- The confusing and difficult immigration process.
- Not being able to purchase household/personal goods that I recognized. (This bothered me more than I thought it would! I guess it was because these familiar items seemed especially comforting in the midst of such a tremendous upheaval.)
- The fact that I cannot speak Italian yet. The language barrier obviously creates many problems when trying to get things done. I really love engaging with people as well, but without the spoken word, my options for new friendships are extremely limited. Everyone here has been so welcoming and encouraging though, and I already know many people. My goal is to converse with them on a more meaningful basis very soon.
- The geographical distance between me and my sons. Our older son was already on his own, pursuing a life in Los Angeles, when we moved to Italy. Our younger son had just turned 18. He chose to remain in the US and we became empty-nesters for the first time (along with all of our other transitions). It does help that they are both doing well, living fulfilling lives of their own. But I wish I was able to see them more often.
What is something you have in Italy that you did not have in your home country?
I think, if you try to live a full life, it is possible to find the emotional components that are most meaningful to you no matter where you live geographically. My life in the US was emotionally rich as well, with many of the same qualities I find here. Italy is just a different setting/backdrop in which to place those characteristics I’ve deemed important.
It’s difficult to sum up in one short paragraph the emotional appeal of living in Italy. The vibrancy, the warmth, the ever-present beauty . . . it all takes my breath away every day. Although this may sound strange (since I don’t speak the language yet), this is my heritage and I feel as if I belong. I intuitively understand the open friendly nature of the Italians, though I was born an ocean away.
What were the main things you were hoping the move to Italy would give you, and did those things come to fruition?
The perfect retreat destination for my clients. Yes.
My long-awaited big house. Yes.
Growth and freedom, and avoiding a life of stagnation. Yes.
What’s your favorite quote about life, as related to your move to Italy?
My favorite quote of all time is this one by Anais Nin: “Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.”
I know, from countless personal experiences, that this is absolutely true:
Without courage, my world rapidly begins to contract. When I’m not my bravest self, I shrink inside. I feel small and helpless, and opportunity disappears. But when I tackle what makes me anxious, and I do something that expands my life, I feel immense—as if my life has more meaning.
So I’ve learned that the only way to accomplish what I want in this life is to keep challenging myself, to keep venturing out, to keep risking, to keep bravely writing my own unique story. Moving to Italy has allowed me to do all of that.
To see more stories by others who have taken the plunge go here.