I don’t like talking much about my life abroad and what I do here in Amsterdam with people back home in Italy. Not because I think it’s not interesting or they wouldn’t care, but simply because it’s hard to change people’s beliefs. Many times, when I am back in Italy, people ask me about my life in the Netherlands, always starting the conversation with a “So, living the good life in Amsterdam, uh, smoking weed and all?” They imply that all I do here is have a good time by partying, drinking, and being high all day. I usually just reply with a laugh and say “Well, I study there.”
A Place Stuck in the Past
Living abroad is a challenge. Some people leave their home countries because they want to explore the world and see something new, but many leave because they feel stuck. Italy is a great country, a place everybody romanticizes: the amazing food, the breathtaking landscapes, the loud people and the music in the streets. Who wouldn’t want to live in a place like that? And yet, more than 300,000 young Italians are living abroad at the moment.
We chose to leave our country because there were no opportunities for us. The job market in Italy is not great: people accept underpaid jobs because there is nothing better they can find. People work in toxic workplaces, where the power is not well distributed; as an employee, you don’t have the possibility to say what you think, because there is a line of people behind you, ready to get your place as soon as you let your guard down. You have to be willing to shut up. This is not the place where I can see myself grow and learn. It’s a place stuck in the past, scared to move forward and to accept change.
The Need for Change
Many Italians are scared of the unknown, the new. They still believe that how they do things is the best way to do them. There is an educational system that has not changed a bit in the past 50 years — university professors give three-hour-long lectures and expect every student to learn and repeat everything by heart. They don’t know much about computers and the power that technology has in today’s world. They think their system is valid. And maybe it is, surely it is not completely wrong, but the world is changing and the new generations ask for a new way of learning. Here, in Amsterdam, classes are smaller and open to debate. We discuss and we listen to different opinions from people that come from all over the world. It teaches us acceptance of a view that is not ours, it shows us respect for other cultures and it lowers prejudices towards people that have a different background from ours, different traditions.
Losing Part of Yourself
You will never see things only from your own eyes anymore because the world is wide and full of people with different perspectives.
It certainly is not easy to live abroad. I miss Italy. But I know that there is no future for me there. Not for now, at least. When, from my balcony, I used to glance over at the horizon and see the mountains, rising in all of their beauty, I remember feeling a bittersweet sensation in my heart. I always knew I couldn’t stay, not because I didn’t want to, but because it wasn’t enough for me. Looking at the horizon I could see all of the possibilities awaiting me, just behind the tip of the mountain. They were there, I just needed to go out and catch them. So, here I am, one of the millions of Italians living abroad, missing my home, but finding new ones all over the world. Am I even Italian anymore? Am I European? Am I American? I guess that when you decide to leave, you also accept to leave part of you behind. Part of your identity. You will never see things only from your own eyes anymore because the world is wide and full of people with different perspectives. However, as scary as it can be to leave part of you behind, what you gain from a life abroad is much greater.
Facing the Unknown
Millions of young people nowadays prefer to leave and face the unknown instead of staying and facing the knowledge that there is no future for them.
When I talk to certain people in Italy I would like to scream at the top of my lungs: “What are you still doing here? Leave, get out of here before it’s too late.” I would like to explain that I work hard here in Amsterdam. I study full time and I have two part-time jobs. I need to take care of myself completely on my own, going from basic things like cooking everyday to filing rent agreements that cost a fortune. It certainly is not a vacation or a partying all night kind of life. It sometimes is lonely. I am out here, on my own. Sure, I am surrounded by friends and people that I love, but it’s not the same as having your family around. You need to learn to stand on your own.
Pack and Leave
However, leaving is necessary. It’s not even much of a choice anymore. If you wish to have a ‘better’ future you need to go and don’t look back. Italy is becoming an ancient county, with 21.4% of the population being over 65, the biggest percentage in all Europe. It is called the Brain Drain phenomenon: young people that have been educated in one country, leave in their 20s and bring their knowledge elsewhere. This leads to increased debts in the country that has invested in childrens’ education and lost them when it was their time to enter the work environment. But, what can we do in a country that doesn’t offer us anything? We leave it.
Sometimes it might be common to think that expats come from underdeveloped countries, looking for a better life. However, there is also a big part of the world’s population that migrates from Western, progressed countries to other places in Europe, in the USA or China: mainly young people who feel like they do not belong to the country they live in, young adults who are searching for something more. This phenomenon of Brain Drain is a reality in many countries like Italy, Greece and England. Young people pack their stuff and leave. We are tired of waiting for our countries to show us a better future, to treat us like we deserve to be treated, and so we go and look for what we deserve, something that challenges us to be better and to do great things. Some place that gives us the hope we can do something to change this world for the better.
Cover: Gustavo Fring