Black Expat Interview: Life In Italy With Tamara Pizzoli
By Parker Diakite
Heartbreak is what led Tamara Pizzoli to Rome where she is now running The English Schoolhouse, a boutique-sized publishing firm that specializes in literary luxury in books, audiobooks, and art.
It’s been over 10 years since she made the move and in a recent interview with Travel Noire, she discussed what people who are thinking of moving abroad should consider.
Travel Noire: You have so much going on (in a good way) since you made the move to Rome back in 2007, including The English Schoolhouse. What inspired your publishing company?
Tamara Pizzoli: In 2013, I founded an English-dominant language school for children. In March of 2014, my sister and only sibling passed away after a very abrupt cancer diagnosis. I decided to transform the school that summer into an independent publishing house. The name remained the same, and I still like to think that I’m educating, only now it’s through stories. To date, I’ve published fifteen titles, and I have so many more in development that will soon be published as well.
TN: Many people ask this all the time of expats: how did you do it? More specifically, did you have a plan, why did you pick Rome, did you know Italian before moving? If not, are you fluent now?
Tamara Pizzoli: Yes, this is the question I probably am asked most often–“What brought you to Rome?” My answer is always the same: “An overdramatic reaction to a broken heart.”
I was dating–no, I was being courted (there is a difference, you see because when you court the expected end result is marriage) by a guy for five years. At the time he was in Ghana, and on the way to visit him in 2007, I had a layover in New York. While in New York I found out he’d basically been cheating on me the entirety of the relationship. I never got on the next plane bound for Accra. I stayed in New York instead and a friend at the time had a younger sister who would travel back and forth to Rome regularly. When she heard what happened she invited me to move with her to Rome in September, and I did.
Our plan was to get jobs teaching English under the table; Italians call working under the table ‘lavorando in nero,’ or to work ‘in black.’ I’d just graduated that August with my doctorate in Education and instead of taking a university position, I found myself working in Piazza Re di Roma at an English school for Italians making 10 euro an hour. Most language schools here still pay somewhere around that amount. Some people pick up private students as a side hustle and that can pay 20-30 euro per hour, but the important thing to take into consideration if you’re pondering a move to Rome is the wages are not comparable to those in the states. I think the average salary for a degreed individual in this country is 1200-1500 euros a month.
As far as the language goes, when I first moved here in 2007 the only word I knew was “Ciao.” I’d never even visited Italy prior to the move. I learned quickly though because I fell in love with an Italian by that winter, plus I already spoke Spanish when I arrived so that helped. To date, I’ve never taken an Italian class and I am now completely fluent. When people ask me what the best way to learn Italian is, I always say through love. I really believe that love, through friendship or romance, accelerates language acquisition. It also makes the process that much more enjoyable. There’s a reason they call it “mother tongue,” right? I mean, who loves better than moms?
TN: What has been your best experience of living abroad?
Tamara Pizzoli: The best experience has been evolving into a version of myself I never could have imagined existed. I could have never dreamed that this life awaited me here in 2007.
My daily routine is some version of the following: a run in Villa Borghese gardens, breakfast at home or at the bar Museo Canova Tadolini where the African American/Native sculptor Edomina Lewis was an understudy of Antonio Canova in the 1800s, hanging out with my baby girl Lotus, writing and editing, lunch at home or out with friends, a walk over to Campo dei’ Fiori to master Italian painter Elena Tommasi Ferroni’s studio where I sit in my favorite chair for at least two hours drinking tea while she paints masterpieces and we plot our takeover the literary and art worlds, a stop at the market for vegetables and wine (I cook daily), dinner and more work–you see? It’s a dream!
I moved here with a broken heart and the life I had in mind for myself was to eventually end up teaching education at a college, retire at 50-something and then really start living. Instead, the life that was meant for me that I enjoy every minute of involves owning a publishing house, writing children’s books, curating high art, selling high art, producing documentaries and web series, consulting…Rome really introduced me to the artist within me, and I love her for that.
TN: For our readers thinking about relocating, what would you tell them to consider?
Tamara Pizzoli: My advice would have two sides:
The left side: Make sure you properly plan with your finances. Move with a cushion just in case things don’t go according to plan, because they rarely ever do. Once you get to where you’re going, invest in really being involved in the culture where you are. A lot of expats have the tendency to just find other Americans or English speakers wherever they are and hang out. If you do that you’re denying yourself the richness and gifts that come with authentically engaging with those who are from where you’re choosing to reside. And the locals have better tips than any travel book or an Instagram influencer can give you.
Call home often. Learn keywords and phrases in the country’s language before you go. Pack as light as you can. You’ll only use 1/4 of what you bring anyway.
On the other side, consider nothing and do it. Leap. What are you waiting for? Do it. This is your one life, that we know of. Quit playing it safe. Do it.
Is there anything else you would like to tell our readers that you feel is important?
Yes! Adversity guards the door to success. A wise man named Don Folden who owns dcblacktours.com told me that years ago and I’ve found it to be true. If you’re traveling or moving abroad and things get tough, resist the urge to get down or negative about it–feel and flourish through it, and I promise you’ll find yourself blossoming into the most glorious version of yourself–one adventure at a time.
TN: If you’re traveling to Rome, Pizzoli offered the following advice:
Where I get my hair done in Rome: I don’t. I haven’t been to a hairstylist in eight years. The best area in Rome for Black hair I’ve heard is Termini.
Favorite restaurants: Osteria da Fortunata and Elle Effe, both close to Campo dei Fiori. I also love Tora. It’s a Japanese Restaurant near Piazza Navona. All are owned by lovely people who are friends of mine.
Food you should definitely try in Rome: pasta e fagioli (pasta and beans) and cicoria (dandelion leaves)
Favorite place to shop: with my friend and favorite designer Stella Jean (@stellajean_sj_). She’s Haitian and Italian and Italy’s first major Black designer.
Best kept secret in Rome: Elena Tommasi Ferroni’s atelier–Piazza Capo di Ferro 24. You can gaze at her painting for hours in her chair from the front window and it’s like watching someone spin gold.
You can follow her adventures on Instagram.