I met Thea Duncan through my friend Georgette, Girl in Florence.
People are always asking me about moving to Italy. I found the person that can help with all the questions you have. Moving to Italy is a very personal experience, and it is not one size fits all by any means. Although there are some basics that one needs to know before embarking on this life-changing endeavor, Thea can help you.
I thought she would be a really cool person to introduce you to. Of course, you can always ask me questions, and I will do my best to answer them. But two heads are better than one, am I right?
I think you will enjoy this interview. Thanks, Thea. xx
A little background on Thea:
Thea Duncan is the Founder of Doing Italy, a company that helps people gain the knowledge they need to move to Italy with ease while avoiding many of the pitfalls that negatively affect most ex-pats when moving abroad.
Trinidad and Tobago-born and Miami-raised, Duncan spent much of her life traveling the globe before Italy captured her heart. She studied for her master’s degree at Milan’s Bocconi University in the early 2000s, later holding roles with some of Italy’s most storied fashion and design houses – including Gucci and Luxottica.
Doing Italy, which began as Duncan’s effort to reconnect with travelers and curate her Milan, now offers individuals the opportunity to get an even more authentic understanding of Italian culture by helping them move abroad. The company offers one on one sessions and group coaching where students dive into just about everything a foreigner should know about moving to Italy. This includes insights into the Italian job market, to why, if an Italian home announcement says an apartment is unfurnished, it most likely means you literally need to bring your own kitchen sink.
I had some questions for Thea:
Q: How long have you lived in Italy?
A: I’m originally from Trinidad and Tobago. My family and I moved to the United States, Miami to be precise, when I was about 6 years old. Miami has a huge Latin American influence, and I’m so grateful that my parents had the hindsight to enroll me into a bilingual school that intensively taught Spanish (and French and German – but I took Spanish). This gave me a very multicultural and intercultural outlook on life from a young age. In fact, in fifth grade, we took a class trip to Spain. To me, that seemed absolutely normal, but I realize now that it’s not most people’s reality.
Many years later, I met a young Italian man in college, a study abroad student. We started dating, and when his semester was up, he convinced me to come back with him to Italy. It was 2002.
I ended up doing a semester abroad in Spain, which I absolutely loved, and a semester in Italy, in L’Aquila, a university town in the Abruzzo region of Italy.
While I had an incredibly memorable time in Spain, Italy stole my heart, and I was committed to figuring out how I could get to experience more of it.
Q: You are married to an Italian; how did you meet?
A: My husband and I met about a decade after my first trip to Italy. By this point in time, I had returned to Milan to pursue my master’s degree, and then I had returned to the States shortly thereafter.
As my husband, Diego, explains it, he saw my photo on a mutual friend’s Facebook page and was convinced that I looked like the Black woman that lived in his building. Evidently, to him, it made more sense to reach out to me on Facebook than to say hi “in real life” to the woman that lived in his building.
Diego proceeded to Facebook stalk me for months (not in a scary way) until I eventually agreed to meet him in person. During that time, I was working for a company that frequently brought me to Milan, so I agreed to meet him on a work trip.
The rest is history.
But I think it’s worth noting that I did meet this woman that lived in his building. We look nothing alike.
Q: How long did it take you to learn Italian?
A: Only about 8 months. I started studying Italian during my semester in Spain (in a class that was taught in Gallego! lol). Then I moved to L’Aquila, in the Abruzzo region of Italy. Almost no one spoke English, so I was forced to learn and practice. It’s what I call a very intensive Italian school, and I really recommend doing something similar if anyone is really serious about learning the language.
Q: When did you start your business Doing Italy?
A: You know how people say that when one door closes another one opens…or that when something horrible happens in your life, a lot of times it’s God’s way of point your life in a new direction? Well, that’s exactly what starting my business was for me.
A few years ago, I had an injury a stupid freak accident that resulted in me being on bed rest for months and in pain for way too long taking high doses of pain killers.
After watching every single episode of Scandal, and just about everything else that I wanted to see (and things I probably didn’t want to see) on Netflix, I decided it was time for me to retake control of my life.
I decided to spend my time at home learning, so I read more and decided to focus the hours I did spend online on things I found intellectually stimulating.
One day, I happened upon a woman that was creating these absolutely incredible tours in Latin America. Experiences that were light years away from the cookie-cutter superficial way of doing tourism. I thought, OMG, I have to do something similar in Italy. From my previous years working in travel and tourism, I knew all about those big bus tours where people ate at tourist traps right in front of the Colosseum that sell frozen pizzas to unsuspecting tourists.
My business was born out of a desire to help more tourists see the real Italy – to travel slowly through this country that I love so much.
Q: How has Covid changed your business in the last year?
A: Then Covid happened, and obviously, travel and tourism was out of the picture. I spent the first few months of the pandemic, when we really didn’t know what was happening, praying, meditating, and cooking. Then one day, I thought, “I wonder if people want help moving to Italy”. And so I decided to test that hypothesis. I created a program and sold it to my audience. I am so blessed and happy to say that they loved it! Helping people with Master Classes on How to Move to Italy has been amazing.
And oddly enough the whole process felt so incredibly easy. Yes, there were so many things I had to learn and do along the way. I spent quite a few nights up until 2 or 3 AM, and a few times until 6 AM. Plus, I worked just about every single weekend to get it done…
But somehow it still felt easy. Like all of my experience in Italy collided for this perfect moment. For example, I’ve held several very different jobs in Italy – from being a private English teacher to working in the corporate communications department of Gucci. And since I’ve lived in so many different places in Italy – from the small university town outside of Rome, to Pescara the seaside town in Abruzzo, to the internationally acclaimed city of Florence, to the bustling city of Milan — I feel like God has uniquely positioned me to help people navigate the ups and downs of moving abroad and more specifically to moving to Italy.
I realized that over the years, since when I first visited in 2002, I had gained so much experience on what to do, and perhaps equally important, what not to do.
Q: What does your business do?
A: I created an online course that helps people move to Italy. It’s the sum of everything I and lots of expat friends wished we had known when we first moved to Italy. And while my knowledge of ins and outs of moving to Italy is extensive. I don’t know everything, so I have incredible (if I do say so myself) guest speakers (immigration lawyers. tax accountants, and real estate professionals) come on, who also share their experience and know-how.
Most recently, my team and I have also started offering one on one Move to Italy Coaching and Consulting. We have two programs, one for individuals/families that want to move – for example for people that want to retire in Italy. The other is for people who want to start a business in Italy – either as a freelancer or even a product-based business.
I was very fortunate that I married a very capable project manager (by profession and mental configuration). We also have a very capable network of friends and professional acquaintances. Trustworthy people that we have been able to lean on and ask for assistance over the years. Not everyone has that.
We have expat friends that made horrible decisions when it came to setting up their partita iva (their freelance business structure). Or another friend who was going through the hassle of redoing her permesso di soggiorno (permit of stay) every year because she didn’t know that since she’s married to an Italian the procedure for her was a bit different.
Plus, from doing the course I realized that some people have all their ducks in a row, but they just need someone to metaphorically hold their hand and say, don’t worry it will be okay. This feels like a big leap but lots of people before you, and after you will do it. And you can do it too.
So the one and one consulting brings together these two aspects professionals they can trust to help them with the bureaucratic difficulties of moving abroad, plus they get more personalized access to me. I kind of see myself as your knowledgeable friend on the ground who you can call and send WhatsApp with questions. The friend that will listen to your problems and help you find solutions.
Q: Any future plans or events you’d like to share?
A: I have so many thoughts, ideas, and plans in the works, but for now, you guys are going to have to follow me on my social channels. I’m “Doing Italy” just about everywhere but I especially like hanging out on Instagram these days. That way you can see all the things that my team and I have cooking up.
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