Running Away to Live in Italy! Interviews with expats living in Italy

How many times have you considered moving to Italy, even for only a few months each year?

On every trip Home to Italy I meet expats who have done just that! 

Most recently a young woman from Arizona and more encouragingly a mature woman who retired, sold her home and moved to Italy and a few others who have lived in Italy for decades……

Often on a vacation you will spend time in a town or city that ‘speaks’ to you and think “I could live here”.   But we never again think about moving once we return to our regular lives.

In this series I will interview several expats and ask them why and how they ‘moved to Italy’.

Today meet Kelly Medford

Kelly is an accomplished, professional painter who I met several years ago in Rome.  She was kind to let me ‘shadow‘ her around while she was painting one day.  Kelly, as you will read in her bio at the end of this story, paints outside.  She paints in ALL kinds of weather.  
We have stayed in touch and I have watched as her reputation has grown as she has added teaching workshops in the USA and in Europe.  

 Hello Kelly, thank you for agreeing to this interview.

How long have you been an expat in Italy?

I moved to Italy in January of 2004, it’s hard to believe that I’ve now been here just over 11 years. 

Prior to becoming an expat did you live in Italy for any length of time?

No I didn’t. I did come on a landscape painting course with my teacher at the time, who suggested that I apply to study in the drawing program at The Florence Academy of Art 

What made you decide to no longer be a visitor but to be a resident in Italy?

After completing a year of drawing in Florence I realized that the majority of that year was spent focused on studying, closed in the studio. 
I wanted to stay and learn Italian, eat more good food, travel and just get to know Italy better.
I started taking my easel out on the street to paint, which seemed like the best way to accomplish my goals and indeed it’s what I’m still doing over 10 years later. 

 Any reasons you wish to share, for selecting the city/town you live in?

I moved to Rome after having spent 6 years in Florence. While Florence is a beautiful city, it is small and offers less opportunities to working artists today. 
Rome being the capital city is much larger with loads of opportunities, galleries and artists of all different genres and the big spaces just suit me- not to mention the whole aesthetic of Rome which is very different from any other Italian city.
It is where the old meets the new and everything in between.
I love the chaos interspersed with quiet found at the numerous spacious parks around the city. 

Did you speak Italian before you moved to Italy?

No I did not, not even a word. I took a couple of classes and then moved to the countryside of Tuscany for a year. Living in the countryside really helped me to learn the language, not having any other option if I wanted to communicate.
Then I took private lessons over the years in Florence. My teacher is still a good friend and wonderfully patient woman. She taught me so much and forced me to read novels, write essays and learn about history, culture and traditions in Italy. I am grateful to Lucia! 

What is or was the most difficult part(s) of expat life?   

Everyone says this, but it is true: the bureaucracy can be trying. For me I deal with a lot of paperwork in shipping paintings all around the world. You cannot imagine the various steps that go into shipping artwork! 
Also something that is difficult about being an expat is you have to learn a lot. First is learning the language, but then comes learning about the history, culture and politics and in my opinion is an important part of living abroad and understanding more about the culture you are living in. 
Being an American in Italy- or at least in Rome- I realize how we are so used to everything being “easy.” What I mean is in America you can just use your debit card everywhere or order everything online. 
Here you can still order from Amazon, but sometimes you can’t figure out where your package is and the endless hours of phone calls ensue. 
One good thing to do is observe how Italians handle these kind of situations and then when your Italian is good enough imitate them! This may sound funny, but it’s true. 
I remember the first time the postal service “lost” a tracked and insured package of mine. When I called the toll-free number the person on the other end told me that it must be stolen and there was nothing to do and promptly hung up. I literally broke down crying, the package was an original oil painting that could not be replaced, literally a one of a kind object.
So I called a friend and asked his advice as to what I should do. He laughed at how upset I was and just said, “Hey, this is Italy, just call back and talk to someone else.” And he was right, it was really that simple and I found my package with the next person I talked to.


The most rewarding parts of expat life?

I love being an American in Italy. For what I do as a painter working solely outdoors painting street scenes and landscapes on location, Italy is stunning with the largest variety of kinds of landscapes. 
The weather is great, the pace of life just right, the food is healthy and simple- it is easy to eat well in Italy.
I love the language, cinema and literature.
I also think that it is valuable to have the constant cultural exchange with Italians and other people from all over the world.  

Do you have dual citizenship with Italy?


Do you plan to remain in Italy long term?

Yes, I do. I call Italy my home and plan to spend my life as an artist here.

Some expats have joined social groups that only interact with other ‘foreigners’.  Do you spend time with other expats or Italians?   

My first years in Italy were spent with a good mix of expat students while I was studying at The Florence Academy of Art and then with Italians since I lived in the countryside of Tuscany for a year.

I’ve always had a good mix of both Italian friends and expat friends. Most of my artist friends are Italian and specifically Roman since I have my studio with other Roman artists now and have always been a part of the Rome Urban Sketchers group which is pretty much all Roman. 

You can join Kelly on one of her Roman workshopsSketching Rome Tours. Those are found on that separate website

You can find additional  paintings on Kelly’s website  where you can sign up for her blog and her newsletter.

Read about Kelly Medford’s credentials:
Kelly Medford
B. 1977 Washington, D.C)
currently lives in Rome, Italy
Kelly Medford is a classically trained oil painter specializing in Italian plein air landscapes and cityscapes.  She trained extensively in the U.S. before moving to Italy in 2005 to attend the Florence Academy of Art.  After 5 years in Florence, Kelly moved to Rome in the fall of 2010 where she took to the streets and paints daily.

Kelly shows in both the U.S. and Italy and works regularly on private commission,.  She most recently won 1st place in one of Italy’s most competitive plein air competitions Subiaco in August of 2013 as well as the St. Simon’s Land Trust Purchase Award in April 2012.

Teaching is also a part of her life in Italy where she leads small intensive workshops in Venice, Rome and Florence.  Kelly started Sketching Rome Tours in 2012 as a way for tourists visiting Italy’s capital city to see and experience it in a new ad creative way.

Her first major solo show in the fall of 2012 in Rome was entitled An American in Rome:  Stories and Paintings from the Streets.

You can see her work at

Published by Lee Laurino

A traveler not a tourist, searching for experiences not in travel books. Solo traveler who travels as long and far as possible sharing photos of the people and places I discover

One thought on “Running Away to Live in Italy! Interviews with expats living in Italy

  1. Nice post.Hope so that I will also be able to make it to the Rome. People who are really concerned about their next traveling destination may take help from the detailed road map so as to make it quite interesting. In my last trip I used the detailed Spain Road Map so as to make it more interesting and cut off my traveling cost.


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