Danielle Jennings is an interior designer from Toronto, Canada and the mother of a six-year-old girl. She first came to Florence seventeen years ago with a study abroad program when, she met her husband.
“How did you meet your husband?”
“I met him in Piazza Santa Croce on a Saturday night in August.” she answers smiling. “I was out having drinks and dinner with my roommate, when a group of locals came over. Among them was my husband. We dated for the rest of my stay here.”
After that encounter, Danielle went back to Toronto to finish her Design studies. They visited one another until December of 2001, when Danielle officially moved to Florence.
“My husband owns his own IT company. He has a web agency and develops on-line software for the hotel industry. This would have made it very difficult for him to move to Canada” explains Danielle her decision to move to Florence.
“Did you encounter any cultural differences that you had to overcome?”
“I am Italian descent so the differences weren’t so obvious for me. My mother is Italian from Bari.” Danielle replies. “Maybe one of the differences was the approach of people and how to go about making friendships. I found relationships to be more open here. At the beginning, it seemed very odd for me that girls were friends with guys. I was also struck by the different way to celebrate the festivities. In Canada the festivities felt so much more alive whereas in Italy they are more modern. It wasn’t what I was expecting.”
The first few years, Danielle worked in Design, but her job didn’t meet her needs to be creative. After building a career in fashion, she recently became a self-employed interior designer.
“I was working in the showroom of an Italian company, doing projects and reaching out to clients. But I felt like I was working in sales and that didn’t meet my needs. In 2003 I had an opportunity to work in fashion. I started off as an assistant in the buying office. I was working for American firms selling stock and also private label development. Later I started working with leather goods and leather development. In 2009 I started working for Jimmy Choo. I started my career there. I moved my way up in the company, the back office to private development and leather development. Two years ago, I started working in Design again. Now I am a self-employed interior designer. I went back to my first passion and I am doing what I always wanted to do.”
Danielle has a six-year-old daughter and she gave birth at the Careggi Hospital. She describes her experience as an at least interesting one.
“The obstetricians were great, but as a metaphor I felt primitive. When my daughter was born, it was a really hot month of May. They kept the windows open and there were no bug screens, the lights were always on. We had to stay for four days in the hospital. I didn’t have enough milk so my daughter wasn’t recuperating her weight loss fast enough. My experience there was extremely impersonal. I understand that nurses and doctors are just doing their jobs. What they didn’t understand, was that she was our first child and we didn’t know what to do very well. The health system in Canada is different in terms of aesthetics and sanitation. As for the cost it was exceptional and everything was well organized.”
When asked if she is comfortable with the Italian way of raising children, Danielle smiles, nodding in approval.
“I love it. I think the Italian way of raising children is more towards the needs of the child and more open. When we started the weaning process, we went for a visit in Canada. I would make the broth from scratch the way my pediatrician explained to me. My friends and family members were surprised that I am not using homogenized foods. I also found helpful the fact that you have your own personal pediatrician whom you can call and can help you. Everything is more industrialized in Canada. It makes it easier for the parents, but health wise the Italian way is better.
“On the other hand there are a lot of opinionated people here. It was hard at the beginning until I gained enough self-confidence. Everyone was trying to tell me what to do and I became frustrated.
“I was also pleased with the daycare system here. My daughter didn’t go to public school because we were among the last on the waiting list. I ended up opting for the private. I think that extra money we had to pay was worth it because I felt she was well taken care off where she is. This year she will start school and we chose a private school. We want her to have access to excellent development in English. The school she will be going to has an English section, Italian and bilingual sections. It was one of the reasons we chose it.”
As an expat mom, Danielle felt it was hard to make friends with other moms. Being a working mom, made interacting with other parents difficult. The only other moms she knew were work colleagues. Now, as a self-employed mom, she feels she has to juggle even more than before.
“I couldn’t wait to be self-employed and then when it happened it was different than I imagined. You think you know what the worries are going to be. You have to do everything. You are no longer a working mom. You have to be a mom and you also have to be a businesswoman every day. To juggle that in 24 hours is quite a challenge. Before when I had that 9 to 6 job and I could have weekends off and the paycheck was still coming in. However, when you are a self-employed mom everything happens seven days a week, nonstop. After I got my Partita Iva, I had bills coming in after the first three weeks.
There are also advantages of course. If I need to take a day off, if I need to be creative or if I have to do research, I get to decide what to do and when.”
Danielle believes that one of the biggest advantages of living in Italy is the quality of life and food. On the other side, she thinks that not having grocery stores or pharmacies opened 24 hours a day is a minus.
“It’s the small, everyday things that bother me; like going to the postal office or pay bills. But Italy has changed a lot in the past 15 years, Florence in particular.”
She never excluded the possibility of moving back to Canada.
“For now Florence is the right size. If I were to move to Canada it would be for my daughter and her future. Her living her childhood in Italy is great. I think she would profit better from Canadian schooling in the future though. Here a lot of people depend on what is passed to them. They don’t teach children the responsibility of being self-sustainable. They don’t teach them about the value of money and earning everything. That is not as valued here. I think kids need to learn the way the world works and the responsibilities that come with that. I feel that the system here for teaching life values is chaotic and without any structure.” states Danielle.
Towards the end of our talk, Danielle offers some advice for other expats who plan on moving here and start a family.
“You need to be able to communicate with your partner very well, because it takes a while to make friends. You need a good support system at the beginning. Also don’t to give up when it gets hard, because there are some days when you want to go back home. Italy has a lot to offer, you just have to find your space and it’s possible, especially in Florence.”
You can follow Danielle at www.dnj.design.
Author and journalist Ela Vasilescu
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