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Doing Italy’s Thea Duncan, If you’re thinking of moving to Italy, You will want to know her.

Doing Italy

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.

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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. 

Doing Italy: Guidebook Part I

 

 

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Aperitivo snack:: Salami Puffs

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Salami puffs are such a quick and fun appetizer for an evening aperitivo. This easy appetizer pulls together in no time. Think of it as pigs-in-a-blanket’s chic older sister…but better!

The recipe calls for cream cheese which is always a winner. Fun fact: in Italy, cream cheese is simply called “Philadelphia.”

Salami Puffs
serves 12

You will need:
– 12 slices Genova salami slices cut in half
– 1 sheet puff pastry
– ½ cup cream cheese

To prepare:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Thaw the puff pastry, and unroll on a board covered in parchment paper. With
a rolling pin, roll the pastry into a 12-by-12-inch square. Then, spread the cream cheese on top of the puff pastry. Cut the pastry with a sharp knife into 3-by-3-inch squares. Place a salami half on top of each pastry square, then fold corners of the square together over the salami until they meet in the center, forming a small pouch. Place on a baking sheet, and bake for 15 minutes until golden brown. Serve at room temperature.

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From Her Perspective:: Alexandra Korey, ArtTrav

Alexandra Korey in Florence – Photo by Christine Juette

Alexandra Korey runs a successful travel blog, ArtTrav. There, Alexandra reviews temporary exhibitions, wineries, museums and luxury hotel experiences.

A few months ago, Alexandra interviewed me about Italy is My Boyfriend for The Florentine. She had such great insight, I asked her to contribute a little something about the state of tourism in Italy for the blog. Below, she shares her insights and offers us a way to escape to Italy without leaving the comforts of home.

What does tourism look like in popular destinations in Italy so far this summer?

Summer 2020 has been a constant evolution, and as we make our way towards August, tourist destinations seem to be seeing greater numbers, and people seem to be becoming more confident about going outdoors and traveling.

What I have seen is that beach destinations here in Tuscany quickly have become rather crowded, and although regulations have been put into place for greater distance between “ombrelloni” at the bathing establishments, these spaces look and feel almost as full as usual, and masks (which are currently obligatory indoors, and outdoors only where distance cannot be maintained) are few and far between. Although all studies show that keeping a distance outdoors is much safer. The numbers remain low, so safe to say there is less infection floating around. So some things can get back to almost like normal. Like at the seaside.

Friends who have visited Venice and Rome have commented that they are pleasantly empty. Florence feels quiet and in my opinion quite pleasant. Tourists can easily be spotted; there’s a few with maps or speaking another European language, and you look at them and think “Hello tourist! You must be so happy here. Welcome!”. I don’t know what it feels like for them, but I think it must be marvelous.

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On Florence’s main shopping streets between the Duomo and Piazza Signoria, there are people walking but never as many as before, and there’s an absence of a loud buzz that I never really realized was there before, but now that I do, I realize it was one of the things that made the centro storico a stressful experience for me. I wrote about overtourism on The Florentine a few years back, and comparing the photos I took for that article to ones I took last week, it’s a whole other story. Tourism was a big problem. Groups, on a set route, not bringing value to the city. What I pray for is a shift to a kind of tourism that brings real value, both to businesses and to travelers.

What are some experiences that Americans can look into for the future, that they might not have thought about before? For example, I saw your post on your website about visiting (and even staying) at wine resorts.

I’m a big fan of wine resorts, which I have lately billed as the perfect post-COVID experience. These wineries offer a type of experience that tends to appeal to independent travelers, and by their very nature, they have a ton of space. From May through October, wineries and wine resorts offer mostly outdoor hospitality that represents some of the best parts of our culture – products of the earth, presented by locals. That’s authentic!

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If cities remain less crowded, what I hope is that people will stay longer and travel deeper. And also explore beyond the usual cities and regions. I’ve got my eyes on Abruzzo for example, somewhere I’ve never really thought of visiting. During the lockdown, I interviewed Frances Mayes, author of Under the Tuscan Sun about her newly released book, Always Italy, in which she travels to all 20 regions. She suggests we discover lesser-known centres, regions we’d never considered. Many have artistic, cultural, and enogastronomical treasures just waiting for you to discover.

How are some of the museums in Florence adapting to social distancing? Are any museums offering virtual tours?

Museums, as inside spaces, follow social distancing and mask-wearing laws. The museums in Florence have been slowly reopening, with special, limited hours and online booking is mandatory. A free app offered by Mibact, the ministry for culture, can be used to buzz when you’re too close to other people (like when you’re gazing in awe at a work of art). I’m not sure if everyone is using it, though I think they ought to!

The Uffizi has really ramped up its digital content during lockdown and continues to create new material on a daily basis, on social media (including tik tok, an account they recently opened and are totally killing it!) and for their website, which they claim is receiving record viewership. Few museums have the forethought and budget to produce digital content like the Uffizi, so this is the one that stands out the most. Palazzo Strozzi has also produced a regular deep-content newsletter and videos with artists from the current and recent exhibitions, and some smaller museums have put one or two online exhibitions up.

How can we, as Americans and other non-EU residents, “visit” Italy this summer without leaving our homes?

Good question! There are lots of ways you can visit “virtually” and keep your love of Italy alive.

  • Museums: as above, check out what the Uffizi and other museums are doing
  • Travel through Instagram / follow Italy-based bloggers (I’m at @arttrav if you’re interested!)
  • Wine: many wineries are offering virtual tastings that you can complement with a box ordered from them. It supports their business and keeps you closer!
  • Food / Italian cookbooks are the perfect complement to food either ordered online – some specialties from Italy – or purchased locally, maybe at Eataly or if you have a “little Italy” in your area you might have access to small-scale-sourced Italian foods. Some tour operators are offering Italian food tours or cooking classes online.

Thank you for your insight, Alexandra! After looking at Alexandra’s suggestions for cooking classes and virtual offerings, I found a few great resources for you to check-out:

Portrait of Alexandra by Christine Juette.

Other photos via Alexandra Korey for ArtTrav.

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Summer Recipe:: Olive Oil Poached Shrimp

Whenever you order a cocktail at a bar in Italy, there is always food involved. Simply brilliant. I think it may be my favorite part. Full disclosure: I love seeing what bars choose to serve with their cocktails. Sometimes it’s just olives and the humble potato chip, and sometimes it’s the most lovely fresh focaccia with sublime charcuterie, a veggie frittata or mini salad. Poached shrimp, rice salads, and fried calamari are some of my favorites.

Here is a recipe for olive oil poached shrimp, inspired by the tradition of aperitivo. This recipe serves up a true summer delicacy!

Olive Oil Poached Shrimp

You will need:
– 3 cups olive oil
– 3 large fresh rosemary sprigs
– 18 uncooked large shrimp, peeled and deveined
– 4 Lemon wedges

To prepare:

Add 3 cups olive oil into heavy large saucepan, and add rosemary sprigs. Attach deep-fry thermometer to side of saucepan and heat oil over medium heat until thermometer registers between 165°F and 180°F. Sprinkle shrimp with salt and pepper. Add shrimp to hot oil and poach just until shrimp are opaque in center, adjusting heat to maintain temperature between 165°F and 180°F, about 8 minutes. Transfer shrimp to paper towels to drain. Serve at room temperature, garnish with lemon wedges.

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The Negroni Sbagliato

I am always asked what my favorite cocktail is, and without hesitation, I say the classic Negroni or the Negroni Sbagliato from Bar Basso, they make it best.

I am a Campari girl and always will be. Since we cannot get to Italy anytime soon, do yourself a favor and make one of these cocktails at home. Sit on the terrace or patio or porch, listen to some Italian hits on spotify and create your own apero-o-clock at home.

Negroni Sbagliato – Bar Basso
serves 1

You will need:
– 1 ounce sweet vermouth
– 1 ounce Campari
– 1 ounce lightly sparkling wine
– Orange slice

To prepare:

Combine vermouth and Campari in an ice-filled glass. Top with sparkling wine, stir to combine and garnish.

Photo credit: Moi

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