Advice for Homesteading Abroad

Read about one family's journey to Europe, where they worked and homesteaded for two years.

| January/February 1982

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    The Heller's home in the Italian countryside. There was a steep learning curve as they tackled homesteading and living abroad. 

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Our dream had always been to live and work in a European country. And — as longtime subscribers to MOTHER EARTH NEWS — we're well aware that dreams are only what you make them. So, in 1978, after a great deal of deliberation, we made the exciting but difficult decision to break our ties with home and go. We both quit our teaching jobs in mid-June and spent the following month painting and fixing up our city home, which we then put up for sale. During the same period we obtained the school records of our two older girls and scheduled final vaccinations for our toddler.

The next three weeks were full of nervous expectation. We visited close friends, did a bit of short-range traveling, and sought interviews for any kind of overseas work. Finally, on August 10, we were offered jobs teaching in an American school in a small village near Turin, Italy. We accepted and were given two weeks to ship our belongings, say our goodbyes, and get to our teaching assignments. Although the school paid the plane fares of its teachers-to-be, we still had to foot the bill for our three daughters. We arrived in Italy — a very tired but eager family — on August 27.

Our new hometown was a storybook village called Pecetto, and the school was actually located in a 17th century villa! We found the people very congenial, but the housing situation was depressing. Most accommodations with at least two bedrooms rented for more than half of our $900 combined monthly salary. Even more distressing was the fact that almost every bit of housing available was located in monstrous apartment complexes in highly congested areas of neighboring Torino, instead of the more tranquil hillsides of Pecetto. We immediately felt discouraged, because we certainly had not come to Italy just to find ourselves in a city that seemed to duplicate all the worst aspects of American urban centers.

Finding a Family Home in a Foreign Country

Finally, after five weeks of frantic searching for a suitable place to live, fate and our kindhearted headmaster's wife intervened. The woman had found a badly injured kitten, and rather than let it die, she decided to take the animal to the vet. Unfortunately, the small cat couldn't be saved, but as it turned out, the mission of mercy was worthwhile for us. Our friend asked the vet if he knew of any available housing, and he replied that his mother had a 200-year-old farmhouse for rent. We made arrangements to look at the farm the next day.

The house and surrounding land seemed to be our dream homestead come true! There were loads of trees — pear, cherry, apple, fig, persimmon, plum, hazelnut, and walnut — and more than one full acre of gardening space. The house contained Napoleonic furnishings more than 120 years old, and a wood-stove for cooking and baking. A small second-story balcony overlooked the Torino hills and provided a distant view of the stunning Italian Alps. Naturally, we jumped at the chance to move in.

Problems With Our New Home

Our happy honeymoon with the new home was short-lived, however: The first winter proved to be a period of real challenge for our family. We slowly acquired the patience necessary to work with the ancient wood-stove, and kept a barrage of letters going back and forth across the ocean seeking information and advice from home. Our furnace went out in January during the worst cold spell of the season. (Italy may be known as sunny, but there in the foothills of the Alps, we experienced nighttime temperatures of -4 degrees Fahrenheit!)

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