Me, My Heart, and I

by Melinda Gallo

Me, My Heart, and I :: Expats are immigrants with options

Every now and again the debate about whether expats are immigrants comes up. While I am not fond of labels, I do recognize their usefulness at times and am also aware however that they can be quite limiting. The difference between an immigrant and an expatriate is that the former lives permanently overseas while the latter does not. In my mind, expats are immigrants with options: they have the option not only to decide where they live and how long they stay, but also if they want to return to their native lands. Immigrants, on the other hand, rarely return to their native countries. My great-grandfather arrived in the US from China while my Italian grandparents arrived as children. None of my ancestors returned to their homelands and considered the US their home. That is what immigrants do: they make their new country their home and that’s exactly what expats should do as well. Even if you are in a location only temporarily, you have to treat it as if it is your home.

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Me, My Heart, and I :: Embracing diversity

One of the greatest lessons that my expat life has taught me is that "Tutto il mondo č paese.“ This Italian expression means that regardless of any differences that may exist between us, we are all the same. When you embark on a life overseas, you are invited to embrace diversity. Living in another country, you don't just accept the differences that may exist between you and the locals, but instead you open yourself up to the locals by speaking their language, adapting their customs and way of life, and basically living your daily life as they do. It doesn’t mean that you will end up liking everything that they do in your new home country, but you should open yourself up to it all and hopefully try.

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Me, My Heart, and I :: Reconnecting myself with Paris

I don’t think about Florence when I am in Paris and I don’t think about Paris when I’m in Florence. I try to always be as present as possible wherever I am. I feel more alive when I use my senses to embrace and enjoy my surroundings as well as the local culture and language. When I am having coffee with a friend, I like to be connected to her for the time we share together. I don’t want to be thinking about someone else or about what I’ll be doing afterwards. I want to be fully present with her so that I can fully enjoy the moments we share. The same goes for wherever I am, whether it is Florence, Paris, or some other city. I want to create a connection and forge a bond between the city and me.

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Me, My Heart, and I :: Creating my writer's life

It has taken me some time to create my new life as a full-time writer. When I stopped working at the end of January, I thought I would just wake up the next morning and focus on my writing projects, but that’s not exactly what happened. I sat down in front of my computer the next day and wasn’t able to concentrate. For a week, I looked at my projects and felt empty. I was surprised since writing full-time had been my goal for a long time. I decided to take a break to figure out what was going on and realized that I couldn’t just start a new life without first putting to rest my old one. For years, writing was something I fit into my life and now it was to be at the center of my life.

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Me, My Heart, and I :: Photography as a way to appreciate beauty

Like most people, I appreciate the beauty I see in this world. I love how beauty enters my eyes and gently settles into my heart. Even though I never studied photography, I find great joy in taking pictures. I have an SLR, which I rarely carry around with me due to its cumbersomeness, but I prefer taking pictures with my iPhone. It’s more convenient to use my iPhone because I always have it on me and can take a photo almost instantaneously. I never plan on taking a specific photo when I'm walking around Florence. I have a few favorite spots where I enjoy the view, but I only take a photo if I feel like it. A few of my best-loved photos are ones I didn’t plan on taking at all and it was just a case of being at the “right place” at the “right time.”

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Me, My Heart, and I :: My five-year hiatus to the US

In my last blog post, I mentioned my “five-year hiatus.” It’s a term I use to describe the time I spent in California after being an expat in France, England, and Italy for a total of ten years. I packed up all my belongings and moved back to the US a week after my mother called to tell me she was diagnosed with cancer. Ever since I made the decision to live overseas, I had always known that I would only ever move back to California to take of my mom if she ever needed it. Nothing could have ever prevented me from being at my mom’s side.

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Me, My Heart, and I :: Coming full circle to be a writer in Florence

I initially came to Florence to learn Italian and find my inspiration to write. I thought of going to Venice, Rome, or Siena, but the woman at the Italian Consulate in London convinced me that Florence was a better choice. I had visited Florence only once in July and never thought I could live here, but I’m happy I listened to her because Florence has ended up being the perfect city for me.

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Me, My Heart, and I :: What I learned as an expat benefits my writing life

Living overseas as an expat for most of my adult life has definitely shaped me. Not only has it affected who I am as a person and how I see the world, but it has also taught me many life lessons that I apply to everything I do. As I embark on this new chapter in my life, navigating my life as a full-time writer, I am fortunate that my experience as an expat will be helping me tremendously. While living abroad, I have learned to follow my heart, listen to my intuition, have faith that everything will work out in perfect timing, and be confident that I can handle whatever comes my way.

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Me, My Heart, and I :: An expat is both a foreigner and a local

I’ve been an expat for over 20 years. The word “expat” is not a word I use to describe myself; it’s a word I use to succinctly explain my life in Florence and Paris. Being an expat for some people means living overseas and returning “home” every year. For me, being an expat means being a foreigner and a local all at once in a place that is your “home.” Living overseas is a big part of my life and is at the heart of who I am. It explains so much about me: not just how I live my life, but also how I interact with others and how I see the world around me.

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