An Italian-Newyorker Living in the South

Growing up as a city girl has its pro and cons. You learn at an early age what “fast-paced,” “chaos,” and “crowd place” mean, but also what “opportunities,” “options,” and “dynamism” mean. Growing up in a metropolitan city was just a perfect match between the hectic lifestyle and my colorful personality.

As long as I lived in my own country, I have never really questioned my identity. I have never realized I was a city girl. It is when I moved to New York City that I realized that and it felt just amazing: everything there was thousand times more. Cultural shock? Forget about it! In New York City I was in my natural element. Fast walking, people dodging, rapid corner turns, hundreds of stimulus every second, a multitude of languages, and continuous adrenaline, were just the perfect blend for me to feel like I was at home, like I lived in New York City my whole life, like I was belonging to that jungle. That is how I became a “Newyorker by adoption,” perhaps.

Italian Life Tour |

I miss Rome and I miss New York City every single day.

I miss the people, I miss the things to do, I miss the warm welcome, I miss the conversations, I miss the networking opportunities, I miss the architecture, I miss the history, I miss the hidden gems, I miss the skyscrapers, I miss the diverse food, I miss talking three languages in less than a hour, I just miss everything. Somehow, I miss myself, because – especially when I moved to New York City, I was the best version of myself.

Alexander Spatari |

I moved to Orlando to pursue a dream: getting my Ph.D.

Not a Ph.D. “The” Ph.D. My whole academic and professional career moved around the fields of security, international relations, counterterrorism. I was a good student and I was a good analyst. Now, perhaps, I am a good Ph.D Candidate (I can provide you with references, no worries). There are not many Ph.Ds in Security Studies – neither around the world nor in the United States. It is a very niche field, a very men- and military-oriented field. Was it to take for granted for me to get into the program and then navigating it? No. But guess what? Because I stick to my dreams, my goals, and my passion, here I am. I am a proud international woman pursuing a Ph.D in Security Studies in the United States being the only woman in my cohort. This sounds powerful, doesn’t it?

This, of course, didn’t come without sacrifice.

Moving to Orlando, in the South, as it is called in here (even if someone from Texas may argue that Central Florida is not South, but whatever), was not easy. Here is why. First, Orlando is not a city. I mean, it technically is, but not a city like Rome, New York City, Milan, or Chicago. Downtown Orlando (aka, the city center) is an agglomerate of buildings where the business life is concentrated. There is the beautiful Lake Eola surrounded by a park and some establishments where yes, it is awesome to go for outdoor dining, a walk, or a picnic. But there is no street where to take a relaxing walk and get your coffee on the go. No one walks from place to place because distances are so big that people just drive place to place. In other words, there is no dynamism as you may think a city should have. Second, distances are a different story here (and I heard in the whole South). If you need a car? Oh yes! There is no way to get your grocery without. This, unless you pay for a Uber/Lyft every time or walk under 95F (35C ish) with a cart full of bottled water (because yes, it is unlikely you will like tap water if you are not from here – there is no filter that can help, especially if you rent your place and cannot install a system). Distances prevent interaction, for sure. Sometimes, at the end of a long workday, you may don’t feel to drive 45 minutes just to have a beer. So you end up staying in your neighborhood more than you expect. I am glad I love mine and has a lot to offer (a lot for the South) but sometimes it feels too small…for a city girl.

And this is fine.

This is how cities are also conceived. Many people find this lifestyle – more relaxed, quiet, slow paced – their perfect dimension. For instance, if you have a family and want to have a big house and live around the corner of Disney, hey, Orlando is your place! Overall, is a safe yet naturally beautiful city. People say hi to each other on the street, people are proud of their neighborhood, and you know, everyone knows each other, especially in the suburbs. Food trucks are a thing. Trick or treat also. Christmas tree lightening is a big event. Best restaurants in town? Just ask on the Facebook group of the neighborhood and you don’t need any app. Looking for something? There is a good chance that someone on the same Facebook group is willing to give it to you for free. There is a strong sense of community, for sure, especially if you are an outsider and they know you tried both gator bites and gravy sauce (my next step is to cook a casserole, we’ll see how it goes…). Jokes aside, the community is important here and overall, everyone is welcoming (there are exceptions of course, especially when you have an accent). But many people here have a family, meaning that the family is their whole world. Therefore, it is less likely to find the same kind of inclusion you may find somewhere else where many people are alone and therefore, see in their friends their family away from home.

City of Oviedo |

Does it sound bad? Not at all.

But here’s the thing. As much as you can feel alone in a big city like New York City, your days are filled with adrenaline, opportunities, meetings, friends that are – themselves – alone. Here, your days are more routine-based and, in the long run, loneliness can start kicking in if you don’t have your family around.

Guess what is working for me? Dreams. Goals. Passion. Until then, New York City.

Sara Belligoni

Featured Image Credits: Vivid Maps