I recently got an email from a woman who was contemplating moving to Sicily from the US as she desired a change in her life and felt connected to her Sicilian heritage. She was looking for some advice and here is what I said to her:
Thanks so much for your email, I feel privileged you choose to contact me about such an important choice in your life, I will do my best to be honest and hope I can give you what you are looking for.
As an Italo Australian I can honestly say Italy and Sicily will always be quite alluring to you as it is a part of your upbringing, your family and heritage so you will always feel emotionally connected to Sicily in one way or another.
Living in Italy is never going to be the same as simply visiting it, even if you have gone back and forth for years to visit relatives being here full-time will be a deeply challenging and at times isolating.
I moved to Sicily ten years ago with my Sicilian husband and I can tell you it has not been an easy journey. Yes, Sicily is a beautiful place, great food, wine and the people are amazing. At the same time it is a land of crippling bureaucracy, it’s an old country and so with it’s ancientness comes the problems of an archaic place, it’s not all museums and Greek ruins, it is corrupt, inefficient at an infuriating level, people will try to rip you off and at times the culture shock will be mind numbing. The bigger cities in Sicily have the usual problems of big metropolis, they are densely populated, with high crime rates, they are dirty and confusing. I guarantee you will always feel like an excluded outsider, despite acquiring a fluent level of Italian, there is nothing you can do about it you will always stick out, whether it’s the way you dress, your accent or diverse point of view, a Sicilian will always pick you out as a foreigner and you will be constantly reminded of this.
I suggest if you are feeling strongly about moving overseas why not simply test the waters a little, if you have long service leave coming up why not try to spend a few months here and see how you go? Rent a house for a few months, perhaps instead of coming in the summer try 3 months in the fall when things are more relaxed and real. I think the secret to life in Sicily to create your own community, projects and work towards your goals and above all do not let anyone get you down, Sicily can be a negative place.
The language is going to be important for you too, Sicily more so than anything else will mean one hundred percent Italian as it is a thoroughly monolingual country and it would help if you understood a little dialect too!
Be sure you have a project to keep you busy and connected while you are here, be it doing a language course, teaching english, volunteering, learning about Sicilian cuisine, wine, art, writing a book or whatever else you might enjoy as it will help you feel more connected to the place. The connections to make to the place are what will sustain you if you are not actively experiencing Sicily and not simply complaining about it constantly you will never get anything out of your experience here.
The best advice I can give to you is to be honest and tell you the truth, moving to Sicily isn’t going to be a bed of roses, but if you want to be challenged the an expat life can be rewarding.
So try it and see.
Life’s a journey feel free to try new experiences.
Good luck to you and let me know if you make it to Sicily.