1. Where are you from originally?
I was born in Connecticut and grew up mostly in Colorado, but have also lived in Washington DC and Los Angeles. My wife was born in Germany of a Puerto Rican military family and grew up in Puerto Rico, Panama and Colorado, where we met.
2. Where do you live now?
3. What first attracted you to your new home? Did you try anywhere else on the way?
We’re pretty mobile. We lived in Rome for over 10 years and used to come here a good deal to get out of the city. We just finished a 2 year sabbatical in Bali,Indonesia and decided we needed something smaller and cheaper than Rome.
4. What kind of property do you live in now? Will you stay here? What’s your ideal place to live in within your new country?
We live in an apartment building built in the 1600’s with high, wood beamed ceilings and two fire places. It’s my ideal place, but I would also love a country house nearby with a pool to go to in the summer. We have an 8 year contract (standard for Italy) and we have a 2.5 m tree/table that took a crane and 7 guys to get through our window that we brought from Bali. We’re not going anywhere! Or at least, we’ll go but we’ll keep the apartment.
5. Are you speaking a new language? If so, how did you learn?
Yes, I speak Italian fluently as does my wife. For her it was easy. She came and could understand everything since Spanish was her first language. She took some classes and winged it and then got lazy and stopped improving. I came by myself to Italy before we were married and stayed here about 6 months and took some classes, did odd jobs and then taught myself. Since we own a business here and have had children here and bought property here, we have had to learn loads of varied vocabulary and different ways of speaking to different people, depending on the level of formality required.
6. What do you do for a living? Where do you physically work from? Do you work with clients/customers back in your home country or your new one?
We own a small hotel in Rome called The Beehive (www.the-beehive.com) as well as an online apartment and B&B agency in Europe called Cross-Pollinate (www.cross-pollinate.com). Essentially we work from home on the computer or when we’re away, by computer. The hotel has a manager and great staff so we’re only there physically when needed. Our clients are all foreign, so yes, we work with clients from abroad. We also outsource a lot of stuff – design, coding, legal, etc. so our hours are sort of Italian time 9-5 and then 5pm onward to deal with emails coming from the US.
7. Do you work online? If so, what is the internet connectivity like? What software do you commonly use on day to day basis? What would be your top tip for online working from your new country?
Connectivity is always a problem. Goes out all the time. We have iphones too and can set them up as hotspots in a pinch, but it’s always stressful. We use loads of service to maintain a virtual office. Phone.com for multiple, European phone numbers. Skype, of course. Payment gateways. The list is pretty long. Top tip is to be patient and tolerant and don’t throw a fit when things don’t work.
8. Are you paid in your new home currency or in pounds/dollars/euros? Do you exchange money often? If so, what service do you use?
Euro and pounds. Never exchange money.
9. Is your life better than it was before? If so, how?
Absolutely. We used to work a 9-5 job, spend an hour in traffic. Complain a bit about our work, eat dinner, watch TV and go to bed. I can’t imagine having been able to have kids or do any of the things we do now. Plus, the longer we’re away, the more “home” seems foreign to us. It’s constantly moving in a direction away from us.
10. What are the best things about living in your new country?
The food. Slower pace – less materialism. Stronger family and personal ties.
11. What are the most challenging things about living in your new country?
Getting things done in a timely manner (or at all). The lack of organization. Feeling like we just don’t belong sometimes.
12. Do you have children?
Yes, just 3
If so, how did they adapt to the move?
Well, our kids were born in Italy, but always went to an English school. When we moved to Bali, that was their first time moving away from what was then “home”. They dealt with it just fine. As a family of 5, we’re our own little unit and they are their own social network. If we had just one it might have been harder for them to adjust, but for the most part it wasn’t a big deal. When we moved back to Italy, we went to a new town and they started Italian school, which they’d never done. They were very worried that the kids would not accept them in the small town. In the end, the kids were very welcoming and friendly. The school work is hard but now they’re about 6 months in and it’s getting easier. Although Italian wasn’t a foreign language, they’d never had to speak it. Our littlest one, at 5, seems to be learning less fast, whereas the older 2 are quite fluent at this point.
How are their schools? Are they bi-lingual?
Yes, I’d say they are now. My oldest is also learning French in school, which she seems be pretty good at too. Beyond bi-lingual though – they are also bi-cultural. They can do Italian expressions with their friends that we would never do at home. They can not only change language but change attitudes, which is far more important!
Are their good future career opportunities within your new country?
Not at all. Especially for women.
13. Has the move been good for the whole family?
Absolutely. However, on a closing note, I’d say that happiness is something you find and take with you. If you can be happy, you can be happy anywhere. If you can’t be happy in one place, moving probably won’t cure that. For people hoping that the grass will truly be greener somewhere else, it might temporarily but I think being unsatisfied in life is something you need to reconcile from within.
14. Are you here for good? If so, why? If not, why not?
Yes, in the sense that I have no intention of moving back to the US. But once you take the leap, you realize you’re capable of going just about anywhere. I can see us doing sabbaticals again. Maybe Israel, or Latin America. It’s a big world and there’s lots to experience. We like that our children don’t really know where they’re from. But I’ll always consider Italy home.
About Steve Brennar:
I’m into surfing, photography, yoga, food, travel, good design and cool ideas. I grew up in Colorado, have lived on both coasts of the US, and have spent most of my adult life in Italy, except for the last two years on sabbatical in Bali, Indonesia. I have 3 amazing daughters and have a split personality – half is an old-school, single-fin, ex-skate punk, beach bum and the other half is a cashmere sweater wearing, Italian talking (with hands) businessman.
About Linda Martinez:
I’m Steve’s wife, mother to 3 forces of nature and my biggest teachers: our daughters, Giulia, Paloma and Viola. I was born in Germany and grew up in Puerto Rico, Panama and Colorado and spent several years in California before moving to Italy. If I had a cv/resume it would be about 10 pages long filled with 2 decades of inconsistent employment. I’ve been an Acura car salesperson to an executive assistant at the US Olympic Committee and even a flower seller on a street corner. I finally found meaning, love and passion for my work when Steve and I started The Beehive in Rome in 1999. A few of my interests include Tibetan Buddhism, yoga, social justice, food activism, nutrition, and natural health therapies, but I also like to speak in an opera singing voice to my children, make up nonsensical songs and indulge in general silliness. What I do take seriously is my belief in happiness and freedom from suffering for all people.
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