Embarking on a year of gastronomic discovery in Italy

I’m saying it out loud, I’m writing it down, I’m telling friends and family, yet still it seems like a delicious fantasy. A wildly adventurous, unashamedly romantic, ridiculously out-of-the-box idea that maybe, just maybe, we might manage to pull off.

In 2019, my family and I will throw ourselves into the adventure of a lifetime and move to Italy to live for one year so I can undertake a Masters in Food Culture, Communications and Marketing at the University of Gastronomic Sciences (UNISG) in Piedmont.

Since the idea first took hold, the universe, in her infinite wisdom, has proceeded to reward our audacity with work opportunities that we hope will pave our financial road all the way to the north-west Italian town of Bra; birthplace of the Slow Food movement and the gastronomic heart of Italy.

Long have Jeff and I romanticised Italy – its food, wine and convivial culture – not to mention the language, history, architecture, art, landscape. Need I go on? This ambitious plan takes the fanciful notion of travelling to Italy and supercharges it.

The following is our ideal scenario, which will require serious head-down-bum-up work and a HELL of a lot of luck. But we are never ones to shy away from a challenge, so here goes:

  1. Over the next 18 months, Jeff and I will win plenty of work in our respective consulting businesses to save enough money to fund my tuition and the majority of our living expenses for the year in Italy. Amazingly, it is currently looking possible.
    • Any day now, I will receive written confirmation from the project director of the large construction company who has verbally offered me the role of Stakeholder and Communications Manager for a perfectly timed 16-month consulting contract. This is the linchpin of our financial plan; our ticket to Italy. Oh please, please let this come through; the waiting is killing me!
    • Jeff conjures a scenario that sees him able to win a small amount of consulting work for Australian clients that he can undertake remotely from Italy to supplement our income and fund our travel (and wine/cheese) habit.
  2. I am accepted into the 2019 Master in Food Culture, Communication and Marketing program at UNISG, which heralds the beginning of my new career path following my passions into food and sustainability.
  3. Jeff enrols in a PhD program with WA-based CUSP (Curtin University Sustainability Policy Institute) and begins preliminary research into his ideas around sustainable food systems in urban design using his year in Europe to great effect.
  4. Jeff spends the year splitting his time between being No.1 parent for the kids, doing PhD research, learning Italian and maybe working a few hours while ensuring he has enough time to sit in the piazza, chat to the local nonnas, sip espresso and sketch.
  5. Henry and Hugo attend a local Italian primary school, become fluent ridiculously quickly, make friends with Giovanni and Giulia who teach them how to make pasta, play soccer and swear in Italian much to their parents’ chagrin.
  6. We spend several months travelling through Europe in August (summer holidays) and December (Christmas) in addition to taking as many long weekend jaunts to nearby towns/cities/countries as humanly possible (and as our budget will allow.)

Sounds ok doesn’t it? If the universe plants a giant kiss on our forehead, that’s how it’s gonna roll. So far so good.

It’s not all about Italy

There’s a plethora of reasons why we are pursuing this venture that have nothing to do with Italy. Even the Masters degree at UNISG is only a catalyst for a far more ambitious dream. Call it a new career jumpstart, cultural immersion, global citizen education program for our kids, language lesson, wanderlust, gastronomic pleasure cruise, antidote to stagnation – it all fits.

My beloved husband, number one supporter and partner in crazy big ideas said to me in passing not long ago: “You only get one life.” Simple, cliched even, yet profound. I keep coming back to this statement every time doubt creeps in. It’s almost becoming a mantra that’s helping me stay focused, positive and determined to make the most out of every opportunity. I don’t just want to talk and dream; I want to do.

Birthing a new career

For some time, I have been stagnating in my career and lacking enthusiasm for my consulting business despite outwardly achieving success with a reasonably reliable income and a steady stream of clients. It’s time for a change.

I never really thought about food as a career. It’s something I’ve always been passionate about, particularly what I view as the inextricable link between gardening and cooking. My garden is an extension of my kitchen. But I am also becoming increasingly aware of and interested in food systems: the issues surrounding fair food sovereignty and provenance, and the challenges facing small-scale artisanal producers in a market dominated by a voracious industrial food system. It’s somewhere within this broad context that I want to build a career for myself and I hope this Masters program in Italy will be a fantastic foray into the industry.

Master of Food Culture, Communication and Marketing

header_master_foodcult_comm_mkt_5.7.2017

While the Masters program sounds truly incredible and I can romanticise it endlessly, I recently read a “brutally honest” review by an American student that was less than flattering. The university copped flack for being disorganised and the course for being too experiential and not sufficiently academically rigorous. The review was written in 2011 so much could have changed since then (and I’m led to believe it has). However, it momentarily dampened my enthusiasm and wobbled my resolve until I remembered how much bigger this endeavour was for me than simply obtaining a university degree.

I also think I may have different expectations to the author of the review who was a young, Ivy league university economic graduate. To be honest, I’m also not specifically chasing an overly academic course that will totally kick my butt. That would mean I’d have to spend every available hour in front of my computer writing essays and doing research instead of drinking wine, eating and exploring the Italian countryside with my family. A highly experiential course balanced by solid academic structure sounds pretty bloody good to me.

Pass the cheese board!

A global education for our kids

I love my hometown of Perth but it is the most isolated city in the world and both Jeff and I are starting to feel that more keenly. Living in Europe for a year will either satiate our wanderlust or heighten it. My sons are currently aged 7 and 8, the perfect portable age for cultural immersion in a foreign country with a strange language and different customs.

I hope it will blow their minds wide open and sow the seeds of a lifelong love affair with travelling and learning.

I am passionate about ensuring they understand they are part of an incredibly diverse and culturally rich world that is theirs for the exploring. I want them to be intelligent, thoughtful, open-minded, tolerant and adventurous global citizens. Travelling is not the only way to fulfil that brief. From subscribing to Crinkling News to enrolling them in a private school offering the International Baccalaureate program, as parents we make small and large decisions every day to shape and guide our kids to become their best future selves.

A life-changing adventure for our family

This trip embodies the concept of “family-centric parenting” (as opposed to child-centric). It’s one of the few tips I remember from parenting literature that rang true and one of the principles by which we have sought to bring up our kids. It will be challenging and difficult at times and we may have moments of doubt and homesickness. But it will bring us together in a unique way and we will have to support each other. I have no doubt it will bring untold benefits to our whole family. Go Team Thierfelder!

Gastronomic pleasures