Brilliant Minds Collective

The Ex-Pat Series

In the increasingly contentious air that is swirling around America, some African Americans are taking their power back and choosing to leave America in search of kinder winds. The Ex-Pat Series aims to give voice to those who have made a Herculean choice to live well in their skin, without the constant threat that liberties will be stripped away by racist misinformed Americans and political figures who are in search of a scapegoat. Each Ex-Pat writer will share in three installments what made them leave and how it is “over there”: the good, the bad and the ugly. The intention of this series is to serve our readers with true stories that inform and remind us that we have choices.

For the Culture welcomes Jeffrey Hastie.

Come Si Trova?

Part 1 of 3: Ex-Pat Series

Come Si Trova? This is what Italians asked me after I made the unexpected moved to Italy in 2020. The literal translation is: “How do you find yourself?” This was the recurring question from every Italian I met. This is my answer…so far.

In 2017 I was at a crossroads. I had spent nearly 30 years chasing the American Dream, earning a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree. I attended Case Western Reserve University (CWRU), earning a degree in engineering. After graduating from college in 1985, I worked in finance, business management, and information technology across various industries including real estate, entertainment, and news. After getting married in 1988, my wife, who was in the fashion industry, gave birth to an amazing boy and then an equally amazing girl.

We had landed in the American Dream. So, in honor of that, we delved deeper. As city dwellers, we bought a big house in the suburbs, got a dog, and had two foreign cars in the two-car garage. But like most American marriages, ours did not survive. While my son was halfway through college and my daughter was a junior in high school, my wife and I made the necessary decision to part ways. Ironically, I stayed in our home with our daughter so she could finish high school. I was the original Girl Dad.

It was at this point that I met my soulmate Luz, or should I say my eyes opened to see her. We served on the local board of a nonprofit organization that supports women’s healthcare. I was always impressed with the thoughtful and succinct points she made at every meeting. She intrigued me. However, it wasn’t until we took a four-hour road trip to Washington, DC for the national meeting that I really got to understand what was so intriguing about her. Luz is generous to a fault, non-judgmental, loves to travel, is into jazz, and has a wicked sense of humor (My now 26-year-old son says we’re goofy). On a serious note, Luz is the only person I know who shares the same favorite movie as me: Lawrence of Arabia. While our interests and personalities are similar, it is our differences that make her even more appealing. Luz, who is of Latin descent, was raised in the Bronx by a single mom, which makes her fiercely independent. I am African American and was raised on the Jersey Shore with both of my parents and a twin brother (which is how I ended up attending the college that offered a single room for a freshman…I was desperate for some space!). Although I did crave distance from the tight quarters with my brother, I was more accustomed to a life that included support from others. Both of our cultures are family-oriented, but Luz is far more expressive than I am and, as she says, I am far more reserved. She is probably right.

On the four-hour car ride to the National conference, Luz and I discovered that our lives were taking a similar turn; we were both in the midst of a divorce. Only five months after we started dating seriously, Luz then hit me with an unexpected possibility. She, too, had been thinking about a life-changing move, and miraculously, a work opportunity actually presented itself. She was offered relocation to Italy.

“Do you want to come along for the ride?” she asked without hesitation. After getting over the shock, I had to seriously think about it. After I earned an MBA from Columbia University, bittersweet memories flooded my brain as I remembered my post-graduation trip through Europe. I remember how beautiful and historic it was, but also scoffed at the European practice of closing shops at midday. Smugly, I thought, “This is why Europe and the rest of the world will always be in America’s shadow. I laughed at the thought that when the stores were open, there were no greeters at the front door or aggressive salespeople selling me things I wasn’t looking for. They also had no one hired to follow me around. My feelings about moving to Italy were still slightly ambiguous, but my brain was clear; I wanted out of America.

If I decided to go with her, what would I do there? I don’t speak Italian and I have no family or friends there. And because of the fast-tracked decision, there was no time to acquire any. However, this invitation did resurrect my dormant desire to live abroad, despite my naïve observations from 20 years ago. What prompted me to take this opportunity and run with it? It probably wasn’t that I was so keen on living in Italy, but it was clear that I no longer wanted to live in America. Despite my petty criticism of European culture in the past, the possibility of being away from the United States could possibly make me a man finally at peace.

When I think of the daily brutality that African Americans (especially men) are facing on a daily basis in the States, this move was a no-brainer. For me, the American Dream which was sold to me at birth no longer seems relevant and it no longer exists. Sure, I was educated, had met a “nice girl,” we lived in a nice suburb in an expensive home. We did all of the things that signaled happiness. But it was increasingly clear that most of the oversized homes around mine were as empty as I was. The houses were not devoid of occupants, but the amount of time that everyone spent “on the clock” fed into the epidemic of materialism that had defined the American lifestyle. I saw how daily online interactions had replaced human relationships. In my quaint and expensive suburb, I observed that children were too often being cared for by non-family members, and true friendships had been reduced to “likes” and tweets. Satisfaction with the American way of life was getting further and further out of reach. Although everyone I knew was longing for happiness, no one (especially me) could find it. The dystopian, fatalistic worlds depicted in The Hungers Games or Divergent had become real life. We were zombies.

So, in answer to the burning question, “How do I find myself in Italy?” In short, well. Very well. My favorite part of living here is not having to be constantly conscious of my race. It is quite an adjustment. The concessions that I had to make in the U.S. never enter my mind here. Wearing a hoodie no longer poses a threat. I leisurely walk around stores without being followed, even in rural parts of Italy where I have been lost, there is never a concern about stopping to ask for directions. When my son was leaving for college, as all African American parents, I had to warn him, never to wear a hoodie, especially at night.

Even for myself, there were certain stores I would not go into if I felt underdressed, fearing that I would draw negative attention and that security guards would target me. I once had a conversation with a security consultant who shared that he was consulting at a store in northern New Jersey. He saw the employee keeping an eye on a Black customer while a white customer was stealing merchandise.

I am ecstatic to say that since moving here, I have never been denied service or heard the click of car doors being locked or saw women clutching their purses simply because I walked by. And this level of decency is not new in Europe. On my first trip to Italy, over 20 years ago, my ex-wife and I were shopping at a high-end watch store in Milan. We were the only two African Americans in the small store. When we asked the shop owner to show us another model, shockingly, he went to the back to get the other watch, leaving the others on the counter. My ex-wife and I looked at each other and joked, “Are we on Candid Camera?”

Just a few weeks ago, Luz and I were looking for a cushion to protect the car doors when opening them in our small garage. I went into my neighborhood tobacco shop where a number of small transactions are typically done. I asked the manager where I could purchase something to solve our garage issue. He and a couple of customers talked about it in Italian, and then he said to me, “I’ll take you.” In his car, he took us to where we could find it. When we found it, I asked, how much? “Niente” was his response. Nothing?

This is what I love about the Italian culture. Even business transactions are relational. Extending a helping hand seems to come as second nature to Italians. In America, everyone seems to operate on getting something for themselves and they will go to great lengths to do it, even if it’s information they are seeking.

I will never forget years ago when my ex-wife and I were invited to another African American couple’s house for dinner. It was the first time we had been invited. A fair amount of the dinner conversation strangely centered around my wife’s place of employment but, in the US, everyone has become accustomed to conversations centered on what one does for a living. Lo and behold, a month later we found out that the wife of the couple would be working at my wife’s company, which she never mentioned at any time during the dinner. We had clearly been invited to get information about my ex-wife’s company. And no, we were never invited back. The transaction was complete.

First defined by Canadian anthropologist, Kalervo Oberg, there are four stages of culture shock for transplants: 1) The Honeymoon phase, 2) Negotiation/Frustration, 3) Adjustment and 4) Adaptation/Acceptance. Am I still in the Honeymoon phase after 3 years? Yes! But when forced to be realistic, no (or ‘ni’ as they say in Italian).

In my next installment, I will discuss the other truths of being a Black man in Italy. Rimani sintonizzato. Stay tuned.

Photos courtesy Jeffery Hastie

If you know an ex-pat who wants to tell their story, please contact Kim Green at

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