This first post has been a long time coming. I plonked myself in Italy during the COVID pandemic about three weeks ago now. I will not start this blog by glamorising travel during a global health crisis. I am a constant wanderer, but this is not some vacation with idealised notions of living “La Dolce Vita” – let’s get real: the world is a confusing place to be in right now.
I originally applied for a job in Rome for all the wrong reasons: I had never felt so lost in my entire life. I had just come back from a year of living in London and was back in the grind of living in Melbourne, Australia. I returned to my wonderful school after this year of leave with a different heart. I love teaching Italian. It is my passion and what I studied my Masters to do; but I felt myself being locked into a puzzle that did not fit into the bigger picture of my life. My school gave me English and Linguistics and Italian to teach. From this viewpoint I should have been grateful: the students were some of the best I had every taught, my friends and colleagues had welcomed me back with open arms and hearts. Yet something in my soul was not present anymore. On a whim, I applied for this job in a wonderful international school in Rome. I wanted to live Italian language and culture like I had in my early 20s again (more on that bizarre chapter later lol).
Then came COVID. Every person I know lost something in this pandemic; be it their job, their hobby or their well-being. After two rounds of interviews, I was still determined to get the job and only secured it fully around Easter. A week before schools were shut down and everyone’s lives in Australia caught up with the pandemic that has spread through China and Italy by this stage. It was at this point that I came the closest I ever have to giving up. I was enjoying the comforts of my home. I was starting to nest in my unit again and enjoy the simpler pleasures of the day. International travel was officially banned by the Australian government so I was essentially stranded despite landing the job. That was it.
It was then that I discovered that there was the possibility of being granted a travel exemption. It wasn’t travel after all – it was a form of emigration. It seemed like a straightforward millennial goal: apply for another year of leave from my permanent teaching gig to improve my Italian, pack up my apartment again and palm everything off to the parents for a year and jet off. The reality: leave was denied – in the meanwhile I was waiting for my travel exemption to approve – and my school wanted to know whether or not I was going to resign. Honestly, I am a person who lives with strong emotions. Some would call it sensitive. I was living my days waiting for an email of approval to come through. When it did I resigned that morning.
A whirlwind few weeks of packing up my Australian identity followed: my job – rather, my work family- was hard to leave. I boxed up my apartment, moving back to my parents’ for a week and prayed that the borders of Italy would not be closed off to Victorians. Melbourne was starting a second wave of pandemic cases and I was just waiting for Italy to lock its borders again somehow. Luckily Dad was able to accompany me to Melbourne Airport. The goodbyes with my family and furbaby were hard. I’ll just leave that there.
So what does travelling during a pandemic look like? Face masks, face shields and some poorly executed social distancing. I literally looked like Buzz Lightyear and suffocated for most of the journey. I do stress: Italy is a second home for me and I would never recommend travelling overseas during a pandemic – even for employment- unless you had some certainties about your sense of stability in that country. Let me explain why: when I landed, I was placed in fiduciary isolation, which was explained poorly (if at all) by customs. Basically, I landed in a heatwave, with no Italian number, no one in the apartment that I had arranged to live in with my friend and was told I had to isolate for two weeks. It is a lot when you add the exhaustion of 30 hrs of travel and severe jetlag. Needless to say, I was a little emotional and exhausted on so many levels for the first few days. That said, I could still manoeuvre through the obstacle course that is Italian democracy with ease. Let me explain iso to you:
- I was required, according to the border force official I encountered at Fiumicino Airport, to call the local health authority ASL to let them know where I would be staying for my isolation…luckily for me I speak Italian. Problem: how does one do that without a phone?
- So….I leave the house to procure an Italian sim. The logic of this? Well, there is none whatsoever. I made sure that I wore a face mask, gloves, sanitised and socially distanced. Still, I needed a phone.
- I finally call the ASL. A man abruptly tells me that I have called the wrong number and gives me three other numbers at lightning speed to get me off the phone. Again, I speak Italian. I honestly cannot imagine how you would cope without having the language here.
- I call those numbers and there is no response. Finally, I find a COVID hotline number for Lazio, the region Rome is in. I call there and am given other numbers that do not work. At this point, I am over it. Finally, I call back and a Dr answers who tells me that she can register my arrival with the local ASL. Hallelujah.
- A doctor calls me and says I will need to do a COVID test after my iso and isolate again until the results come back.
Clearly, these results were negative, but it gives you an idea of how complicated things are both in Italy and during a global pandemic in general. Was this a selfish choice to go against the odds and come anyway? Definitely.