Global Estonians: consultant Helena Hawthorn (Rome, Italy)

Hi Helena, what made you to leave Estonia?

I always had a passion for travel, learning new cultures and languages, seeing the world from the lens of an expatriate. When I moved to Rome, my dream of living and working abroad became reality.

Where are you based and how long have you been there?

Rome, Italy; almost 1 year.

What made you to choose Rome?

I cannot say that I chose Rome; in reality Rome chose me. I was always attracted to Italian culture, traditions, style of living and strong personal connections. When the opportunity knocked on our door, we could not resist it.

What is it like to live in Rome and what challenges have you had?

Rome is one of the most beautiful capital cities in the world, with a glorious history and teeming with art, culture and life. Motorinis (italian scooter or Vespa) are zig zagging between cars, avoiding the hectic traffic, the coffee shops (il bar) are full of people discussing politics and soccer, nuns walk through Vatican Square savouring a mouth-watering gelato (ice cream), and tourists flock to the trattorias in Trastevere, attempting to twirl spaghetti around a fork – a skill that I managed to master already before moving to Rome. The pace of life in Rome is very hectic – so different from the quiet and reserved Estonia. I love the energy that Rome has, however I also wish that it could be more organised. Letʼs face it, organisation is not the strongest point with Italians! Pedestrian crossings in Italy, for instance, function a little differently than in the rest of the world. Traffic lights are merely a suggestion, though you can be sure of one thing when crossing a road in Italy; male drivers will always slow down when they see an attractive woman, to admire her beauty, rather than to allow her to cross the road. In fact, I have had no problems of any kind, while crossing roads in Rome!

Estonia has many more forests than Italy, however it’s the Italians who take first prize for their ability to overload their citizens with paper and to push it from one government office to next. I take out my Estonian ID card from the wallet and smilingly say: “We should tell them that there is an easier way!” I recount what I experienced when I attempted to deal with a government entity in Italy: “An appointment at 8:30 am does not mean you will be seen at 8:30 am, it only means you will start queuing at 8:30 am, and upon arriving at 8:30 am, you are required to pick a number from a pile of handwritten scraps of paper, only to find out that you are number 33 in the queue. As an Estonian used to doing a tax declaration online in 5 minutes, I only had one option: to leave!” In Italy, experiences like the one I recount, are the norm, not the exception. Whether it is opening a bank account, waiting for the train or seeing a doctor, things just take a little (!) bit longer. Why? Italians love chatting, they love their coffee and never consult their watch.

So, put your frustrations to one side and smile. This is Italy. You will never change it. And it will most definitely change you. The secret to living in Italy is to find your own rhythm, enjoy the true beauty this country has to offer, and revel in the genuine enjoyment of life that the Italians have mastered so well; il dolce far niente.

Was it easy to integrate into Italian society?

Life is as difficult or as hard as you make it. Italy is a very different country to live in compared to Estonia. When you live outside your home country, you can really enjoy and appreciate the unique elements that make the country you live in, special. Or else, you can constantly compare it to home and live life according to the “grass is always greener on the other side” motto. In the beginning, there is always an adjustment period – I learnt a lot about myself and grew personally and professionally. So, it was not always easy, however, looking back now, it has been worth it.

How do you make your living and what has been your best experience? 

Despite what we hear about the economic situation in Italy, my own career has gone from strength to strength. With a background in luxury and boutique hotels, I now work as a consultant for organisation that provide services to luxury hotels, restaurants and global retail brands such as Louis Vuitton, Armani, Burberry and Christian Dior. My role is to evaluate the level of customer service and satisfaction in their establishments, in Italy, and overseas as well. The best experience in my work life? My current job!

What motivates you in life?

Knowing that I am adding value, learning new skills and travelling. Waking up in the morning with the thought of many projects I need to work on. Keeping my brain engaged. Enjoying the journey of life to the fullest.

Have you had any setbacks?

Who hasn’t? I define failure as the lack of courage to try something new, something different. To accept the status quo and let the waves of change wash over you.

What’s your recipe for success?

Living abroad is not easy – but it is extremely rewarding! The challenges faced every day enable you to learn something new about the country you are in and, more importantly, about yourself. I definitely learnt a lot about myself, living as an expatriate in Rome. Secret to success? From my perspective: have a true passion for what you do.

Do you still have any connection with Estonia?

I still have family in Tallinn, who have already visited me in Rome (twice!). I am Estonian, therefore I will always be connected to my country. I follow the news and stay abreast of what is going on in Estonia, an innovative reality that is making headlines for all the right reasons. Wherever Estonians may go, they will always be proud of their young country, that has achieved so much in such a short space of time.

Is there anything special you miss about Estonia and do you plan to return?

It is only when you leave a country you have been living for so long, 24 years in my case, that you start to appreciate certain things that you took for granted. The snow-clad Raekoja Plats, the fairytale-like Christmas Market, the long summer days and both locals and tourists are sipping cocktails in the Old Town, the trips to the forests and manor houses, which are so characteristic of Estonia. I never rule out anything, including a return to Estonia, however I do not see this on the cards in the near future. There is so much more of the world to see!

What are your future plans?

I always seize the day. Carpe Diem. Learn from the past, live in the present and be in control of your future, your destiny. If I could look into a crystal ball, I would certainly see myself living in other countries, maybe even across continents, continuing to build my career and, who knows, even an enterprise of my own. To conclude, a message to all the readers … never be afraid to follow your dreams!

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