Expat Life: Kat in Italy

I had the pleasure of meeting Kat when she came to London back in January to meet up with some blogging friends.  It was a shame I hadn't slept very well the night before and had to cut my visit short cause of tiredness.  Its very nice when you get opportunities to meet people who are in similar circumstances as yourself (i.e. living abroad) and I would have loved to chat to her longer.

I think that's why I thought it would be fun to interview Kat on her life in Italy.  She's not only a great photographer and very kind, but she's also got a wealth of wisdom that I greatly admire.

1) So where are you from?

I’m from Oregon, in the United States. For those of you who don’t know US geography well, it’s the state above California on the Pacific coast.

2) Where do you currently live?

Vedano al Lambro, Italy. It’s a small town outside of Milan, next to Monza. Motorsport fans will know the Monza Autodromo, we live a couple of kilometers away and can hear the races from our home.

3) What brought you to Italy?

I came to Italy for a two year work assignment for my job. I’m an engineer, and I’m working as the interface for a supplier here in Italy and the company I work for in the US. My husband, ten-year-old son and cat came along with me as well.

4) How has living abroad changed you?

Living abroad has changed me in ways I never expected. Living in another culture cuts things down to your fundamental assumptions of how things work and what motivations people have. I didn’t realize how big a role culture plays in our personal development until living here. An interesting thing happens when some of your fundamental assumptions are proven to be cultural – you start to be aware of assumptions in all areas of your life, and to ask yourself “is this true?” more often. There are more ways of doing things and thinking about a situation than I would have ever realized without this experience; it’s opened me up to new ideas.

Living in Italy and travelling in Europe has come for me at a perfect time, as I was ready to look at life in a different way. The art, the culture and the history of everything around me have helped me to fall in love with art and creativity again. It’s ignited my passion for photography and helped me find my artistic eye. I go home calling myself an “artist” – a big step in a new direction, with living abroad as the catalyst.

5) Whats the best thing about living in Italy? the worst?

Italy is full of art, beauty and history. The attention to beauty and detail in some areas, along with the textures wrought by time and neglect in others, is a perfect combination for my art. I also love the “piazza lifestyle,” where you take the time to get out, sit on the piazza and drink a coffee or eat gelato. The pace seems more relaxed, it’s not all about the quest for the “almighty dollar” but more about enjoying life.

The worst thing about Italy for me has to be the way rules are viewed as suggestions, subject to individual interpretation. It is hard to figure out how to get something done, when the answer changes depending on who you talk to. It sometimes works in your favor, because you can talk your way through some interesting situations, but in a corporate work environment with contracts and specifications at stake it has made things more challenging.

6) What would you say to anyone looking to leave everything and move to a foreign country?

Do it! It will be the most amazing experience of your life. Even as you do it, be ready for the most challenging experience in your life as well. I think a move abroad stresses every “crack” in your self and your relationships. You will find out the truth to the statement, “Where ever you go, there you are.” Whatever baggage you carry with you, it will show up magnified when you are living abroad. The beauty of the whole experience for me has been to work through whatever came up and come out stronger.

Since my experience was only a temporary move, a little over two years total, I think that made adjustment a bit easier. To pick up and move permanently would be quite different.

7) How has the language adjustment been for you? Do you speak Italian? Have you started having dreams in Italian?

Language adjustment has certainly had its ups and downs. When we got here, I had been taking lessons for a few months but could barely function. It was stressful to not understand much of anything, or to be able to communicate basic needs. My language skills peaked eight to ten months into the assignment, when I finished up my lessons. By that time I had realized I could function at a minimal level for day-to-day living and wanted more time for exploring art. Since I work in English (even here in Italy) and knew I would only be here for two years I didn’t have a strong personal motivation for fluency. I made a conscious choice to not actively pursue further study of the Italian language, so I could spend my free time pursuing art and creativity. For me, it has been a good choice.

8) What would you say the biggest difference between Italians and Americans are?

One of the biggest differences is the American individualism compared to the Italian sense of relationship and community. In Italy, you are part of a group and doing what you can to support the relationships and the group is fundamental. They are baffled about things like the American approach to health care.

In every day life here, you see over and over again how having a relationship with someone changes the dynamic of a situation completely. It’s one of the reasons why things work even though rules are often suggestions. Everything is negotiable, you just have to find the right person to discuss it with and develop a relationship. This is completely different from the US, where we have processes and rules which are (for the most part) fixed and it’s frowned upon to bend the rules for your friends or family.

9) As a photographer what's one way that we can instantly improve a shot?

Here’s the first thing that came to mind as I read your question: Have a clear idea of what you are trying to convey in your photo. You might look at something and think it’s pretty so you take a picture. But what about it is pretty? How can you portray your subject to highlight it’s “prettiness?” What caught your eye? Maybe you need to unclutter the background or contrast it with something else in the frame. Maybe you need change your angle, or to zoom in. Thinking about what you want to convey in the photo and then making adjustments to better display your subject is a small thing which can make a big difference in your photos.

10) Do you think living abroad has changed your photography?

Yes and no.

On the “Yes” side:
It has increased my knowledge, since I’ve had the opportunity to practice often and in many different situations. Taking many, many photos in our travels and then sorting through to find the best ones for my blog has also helped me to identify and refine my style, which is a huge confidence-booster. I have been able to get to the core of what I like and don’t like to photograph along with what motivates me in photography. I have learned to be myself as an artist, to be different from what might be popular with confidence.

On the “No” side:
Looking back at the photographs I was taking before moving abroad, I see similarities to my photography today. I can see my style was already there. What was lacking was the clarity of my vision and the confidence which has come to me through the increased photographic experience I’ve had here in Italy. Realizing I’ve always had this inside of me has been a great thing to learn, and is the premise behind my Find Your Eye e-courses. I believe everyone has a unique vision, it’s a matter of finding it and owning it. You don’t have to live abroad to find your eye.

11) What's next for you?

In July we move back to our home in the US. Repatriating will be interesting, I’m sure I’ll learn even more about myself and how I’ve changed from this experience. I’ll continue blogging and everyone will be able to follow along. My next session of Find Your Eye classes will also start in July, I can’t wait to meet some new artists online through teaching the course.

Before the move we are travelling as much as possible, within work and school vacation allowances. I am making the most of my time in Italy, I don’t want to go back with any regrets!

12) If heaven exists what would you like god to say when you reach the pearly gates?

Welcome! You’ll find the library straight ahead, the art museums are down on the right past the art supply stores, and the Mexican restaurant is to your left. We’re about to serve afternoon tea, won’t you join us?

**All picture are the property of Kat Sloma and have been posted here with permission.


urban muser said...

a great interview with kat! you make me want to take the leap and move to a foreign country for a while.

Jamie said...

What an awesome interview. I love Kat and loved reading more about her experiences.

Ashley Sisk said...

That was an incredible interview. I thoroughly enjoyed it and loved getting to know Kat a little bit better. Thanks so much for sharing!

Mel said...

Wonderful interview. If you ever look for another expat life, I'd be up for it. German living in the UK.

Elizabeth said...

I loved reading this interview, I love Kat's photography and the way she transmits her "view".

LindyLouMac in Italy said...

Called by to learn more about another ex pat I follow, interesting interview, thanks.

Kat Sloma said...

Christine, thanks so much for inviting me to do this! It was a great experience.