Hey there. I’m Maureen and I’m glad you stopped by. Are you ready for a long read?
I’ve loved traveling ever since I was a child. I used to ride, “shotgun” with my parents when we drove cross-country in our campers. I always took command of the road atlas telling them where to turn.
Then, when I was brainstorming a blog name, my dentist, Dr. Rudy in Beverly Hills, told me that the ‘Atlas‘ is the first vertebra between your head and your spine. Who knew? He said, ‘call it Moe’s Atlas‘. It resonated with me on so many levels.
My first International Living Experience
The best experience of my life was when I was 20. I moved to Italy to study abroad for a year. Having come from a small town in Wisconsin, I set out to study in a land unfamiliar to me, in a language not my own. I don’t even have Italian roots! Any rate, my stomach made the decision. I thought about the food. What could I eat for 12 months?
So that was it! I crammed 2 years worth of language courses into one, and said, ‘arrivaderci!’ My life would change forever on September 5th when I got on that plane.
In 11 months, I visited most of Europe, met many lovely Italians, and cool US and international students who were studying in Bologna. I fell in love with a Calabrese guy, came away with fluent Italian skills, and lost 20 pounds.
The following July, I returned to the US kicking and screaming, but I had to finish one more year of college. I finally finished in December the following year with a double major in Journalism and Italian. I knew that living in Europe was my dream. But how?
Reverse Culture Shock
Once returning to the States, Italy started to seem so far away. None of my friends were interested in hearing about my experiences in Italy because they simply couldn’t relate. And I couldn’t let it go.
There were no systems at that time for students with reverse culture shock, but I was feeling it big time.
Over the months, I adjusted, but Italy was always on my mind. I wanted to get back, but the bureaucracy of how to get back there when unemployment was so high weighed heavily.
Coincidentally, Lisa pictured above, wanted to do the same thing and did. She said ‘fuck it.‘ Three weeks after she finished her degree she was back on a plane back to Italy. Little money, no visa and no job lined up. Just an Italian man she fell in love with. I wished I had done the same, but my parents were weighing heavily on me. ‘You need to finish school, get a good job…’ I didn’t like the thought on not being legal. I was miserable.
Just let it go. I integrated back into the pace of life in the US. I finished college, moved to Minneapolis for a few years then New York City, always moving up the ladder. While in NY, I met my future husband at a wedding, moved to Chicago where he was, got a good job with a prominent hotel chain, got married, and decided to put my nose to the grindstone, always with the hope that I’d find a way to get back to Europe.
I should mention that I was still in contact with the Calabrese guy for 10 years after I left Italy. He’d continue to write and occasionally call when money permitted. He’d tell me about his time in the military, that was still obligatory at that time, and the new places he had moved to, always hoping I’d return to Italy and we could have a life together. It was only when I got married, that I had to ask him to no longer contact me. It was heartbreaking. We lost contact…
I started working for a Chicago-based study abroad organization who was building a dorm in London, and needed someone to market their beds for a month to local universities. They asked me to go given my prior hotel experience. I jumped at the chance. My husband was supposed to come with me, but then my company made other plans, so I went alone.
What was supposed to be a 4-week stint turned into a 3-month stay, and I started to think, either I get a permanent position back in London or I’m going to have to find a new job.
I couldn’t go back to my desk job after what I tasted in London. The new working environment, the trips I took with the students, working day and night to get the dorm set up and operational, new colleagues who became friends at the study abroad center.
Life was so very different, and I felt alive again after 7 years of being an Arlington Heights suburban wife and working in an environment where my direct reports resented me. (I got promoted over them.)
In the mean time, my husband tells me he has no interest in leaving his good job in Chicago to have no job in London, just because I have this ridiculous fantasy of living in Europe… Alright, then.
On the Rocks
Within a week of returning, my company decided they would send me back to London, and I was going to go, with or without him. Since it was clear he didn’t want to move, and I was sure I wasn’t in love with him anymore, I wanted to have an official separation. We were not going in the same direction, didn’t want the same things, and I’d worked 16 years to get to this point in my career and life, and no one was going to stop me.
My Marriage is Over
Within 2 days, he serves divorce papers. At the same time, he blocks me from our joint bank account. He looked at my expenses when I was in London and was worried I would drain the account. Hmmm.
Mind you, I left the US in July with 1 suitcase and returned in October. I didn’t have cold-weather clothing or a coat, aside from a rain jacket, and I’d lost 20 pounds! Yes, another 20 pounds that I regained over the years. Nothing fit me and it was getting cold. I bought a few pair of pants, a few sweaters, some boots and a leather coat that I got at the market in Italy. I spent maybe $500, but the bank blocked me from taking any money out. (Next I will write about why every woman needs her own bank account and should never change her name in marriage.)
You can imagine my anger, particularly since my husband was the type that gave me an ‘allowance’ every week. He controlled the money and always did. After 7 years, I didn’t even know how to take cash out of a frickin’ cash machine any longer! It was bullshit. Plus my excellent salary was going into that account. We were making about the same amount of money, yet I was unable to access my own money!
We eventually decide to amicably part ways, particularly since I got my brother involved who’s a lawyer. We split the accounts, put our house on the market, got my life organized, and within three weeks, I was back on a plane to London with a proper work permit in hand.
Six weeks later I received a packet from my husband that said, ‘Merry Christmas.’ It was my final divorce document.
The next spring I got the nerve to call the Calabrese guy. I still had a phone number and wasn’t sure it would still be the same after 7 years. It went something like this: Me – Hey, It’s Maureen. I moved to London a few months ago. How are you? Him – Wow. I’m great. In fact you are the first person to call. I just got married today. Me (devastated) – Wow, I’m really happy for you. That’s great news. I really wish you all the best. And it ended something like that. It was brief and I was in heartbroken disbelief. I knew that was the end…, but
On to new adventures!
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