Getting off the bus with my suitcase, I noticed that the vibrant autumn gold had overtaken the summery green of the leaves in the trees along the street to my apartment during my two weeks away. The past month or so had been a rollercoaster, culminating in a solo trip back home to Australia. And now I was back in Bologna, the brisk wind keeping me sufficiently awake to get home and to bed after around 32 hours in transit. I was relieved to be back and excited to finally be back in the same country, the same hemisphere, as my husband.
This journey was a difficult one of trust and faith. Of fear and doubt. Of finding peace in all the craziness that comes with moving to another country.
The decision to go back to Australia was not an easy one. The original plan was for Anthony, my husband and an EU citizen, to become a resident of Italy, after which I would apply for a resident’s permit based on my status as wife of a resident. However, we weren’t able to find accommodation that met the requirements to become a resident – verbal agreements we could find. Official contracts, not so much due to our only staying for six months. You can read more about the difficulties in finding an apartment in this previous post.
When I realised that I would be overstaying my 90 day tourist permit with no guarantee I would be getting a permit to stay in Italy with my husband, the fear and uncertainty set in. This was compounded by the fact we want to go to the UK after Italy where I also will need to apply for a visa.
The fears ranged from anxiety of being deported or fined in Italy, to possibly not being able to get a UK visa as I had overstayed as a tourist, of feeling I wouldn’t be able to work as planned because of the situation and fearing our finances would dry up and cause us to struggle. Rationally, I knew that all of these except the UK visa issue weren’t likely to occur. A number of Italian officials told me not to worry, that I could probably stay up to six months before anyone would really care, rather strange but also in line with what I have come to understand as the Italian way of life.
In the end, it was the question of my personal integrity that decided the course of action. As the Italian officials here had told me not to stress too much about overstaying the 90 days, I decided to book tickets for a couple of weeks’ time to coincide with the birthday of my sister Anastasia. Three of my five sisters happen to be born in October – Ana, Sarah and Rachael – and I booked my returning flight the day after the third birthday. I only told my sister Rosie, my mum and my brother Alex, who is currently in Canada, I was coming back, with plans to surprise the rest of my family.
I arrived the day before Ana’s birthday, early in the morning. As a member of our extended family had tragically passed away the previous week, my family were in another State to attend the funeral, held the day before I arrived. This meant I was the only family member in Melbourne for a few hours. Rosie’s boyfriend kindly picked me up from the airport and I crashed for a few hours before the others started to roll in. Hiding in Ana’s bed, I managed to equally confuse and surprise her before doing the same to everyone else. The reunion was amazing, I am very close to my family and it was such a crazy and beautiful experience to be able to talk to them face to face.
Despite having a completely legitimate reason for getting a working visa, and fulfilling all the requirements online, I could not shake this irrational fear that I wouldn’t be able to get the visa and even if I did, that there might be some trouble at the airport in Bologna that may not allow me entry. I don’t know where these fears came from. Even when I was at my lowest, tired and vulnerable from jet lag and missing my husband, I knew that they were irrational fears. What got me through was a song, Prince of Peace by Hillsong United. I am a words person and whenever I go through challenging times, I cling to words and phrases, be it song lyrics or scripture or just truths about me and my life. On this occasion, the lyrics I clung to were:
Your love surrounds me
When my thoughts wage war
When night screams terror
There Your voice will roar
Come death or shadow
God I know Your light will meet me there
When fear comes knocking
There You’ll be my guard
When day breeds trouble
There You’ll hold my heart
Come storm or battle
God I know Your peace will meet me there
While this managed to keep me falling off the precipice of despair, true peace did not come until I went to church with Mum on the Sunday morning. Being in the presence of God, singing songs with a whole group of other believers and remembering that I am meant to be in Bologna, with my husband and that the plans to come here were for a reason, that chased away all the fear.
On the Monday, I went to the Italian consulate with my lovely mother in law. The process was not only painless and quick – I got the visa on the spot – but the official at the consulate who had given me the original advice on residency ended up completely waiving the $170 visa fee! I just felt so incredibly blessed. I knew so many people were praying for me and the outcome was so much better than expected.
The rest of my time in Australia was spent with family and friends which was incredible. Four months previously when Anthony and I had initially left, I had three days between finishing work and leaving. I was crazy busy packing and hadn’t had the time to really see and talk to my family. So this time was amazing.
Now I am back in Bologna with Anthony – who bought and fixed up a bike for me while I was away. I am convinced more than ever that this is where I am meant to be. It is still a challenge, but I feel refreshed and ready to take it on.