My name is Maria Fresia. I come from Rome.
I arrived in Christchurch, New Zealand, in November 1988, with my Kiwi husband and two little children.
I met my future husband, Tony, in Rome and married there in 1984. Like many Kiwis, after a few years in Rome, Tony wanted to come back to New Zealand to bring up our kids in his country, language and culture.
Arriving in Christchurch in 1988 from Rome was quite a shock for me, The first year was hard and full of nostalgia. I left behind the life I knew, my five sisters and brother, my whanau and friends, my stunning city!
Italian culture is founded on relationships and belonging, suddenly here I felt lost, no points of reference, no back ground.
I recall walking around the streets and the city centre feeling a total "alien". No one was familiar to me, I had no past here and constantly faced difficulties in communicating in a satisfactory and meaningful way.
We bought a house in Sumner and our eldest daughter age four joined Sumner Kindergarten while I enrolled to English evening classes at Polytechnic.
The speed and ways in which we learned English were astoundingly different.
Chiara at kindy was learning fast and after six months she could understand and speak reasonably well, I witnessed her progress daily! My son, Joel, aged 2, was too young to go to kindy. He became friends with another little boy and used to play at his house once or twice per week. Joel was speaking Italian at home and in a very short time English with his friend. I was not aware he could speak English and I was surprised when the friend's mother told me that Joel and Tim had no problem talking to each other!
It took me 7 years to find pleasure in reading an English book - What a difference!
I have boxes of letters I received from my mum in the first years (before internet).
What a pleasure it was to receive her parcels! Parcels containing lovely Italian novels that my mother – a voracious reader thought I would enjoy. Hundreds! Sent not by air mail, but surface as the parcels were expensive and heavy - It took two to three months.
I joined the Italian Society 'Dante Alighieri'. The aim of such societies is to promote Italian language and culture throughout the world, rekindling the spiritual connection between Italians living abroad and their home and nourishing among the locals, love and understanding of the Italian culture.
The first time I attended their meeting, full of hope of finding some fellow homesick Italians like me, Iwas shocked to see that the meetings were conductedin..... English!
I approached a couple of elderly lovely Italian woman and they explained to methat they had arrived in Christchurch soon after the second world war, having married Kiwi soldiers: war brides!
I was so miserable and sad on my first year here, I vividly remember them reassuring me, saying that I would get used tolife here, it was just a matter of time. I forcefully replied to them:
"But I do not want to get used to it - I want to go home!"
They smiled saying that they remembered feeling exactly like me years before.
The Dante Society has been part of my life ever since, I have been a committee member for many years and managed to bring along many of my Kiwi students and friends along: we organise monthly movies, celebrations, language classes.
My twin sister, Sandra came to visit us in Sumner, and on her way to discover the North Island, she met her future husband in Auckland. They got married in Italy and lived there for 4 years before joining us permanently in New Zealand.
The twins finally reunited in NZ, one in Christchurch and the other in Auckland.
My third daughter, Giuliana, was born at home in Sumner in 1991.
Most mothers in Italy work and I also thought it would be very good for me to join the work force, make friends and improve the language. I was a primary school teacher in Rome, with a diploma for the Montessori Method. I got a job after 6 months in New Zealand in a little Montessori School in Ranfurly St. I could barely speak English but I had the right qualification!
A few years later I moved to another Montessori school in Opawa. For the last 15 years I have taught Italian language at Canterbury University Continuing Education programme.
In 2010 I became an interpreter for 'Interpreting New Zealand', and currently work as their Canterbury region Co-ordinator. I combine this position with my part time Italian teaching work.
In 2010 the first of the many earthquakes that would change the lives of most of us here damaged by house. My house in Sumner is now being repaired, six years on.
In 2013, I decided to donate a kidney to a kiwi friend of mine, whom I had known fora long time. After a few compatibility tests, it was decided that the transplant could go ahead. My mum came from Rome in 2014 at Easter time, to celebrate her 80th birthday and to reassure herself that the transplant was not a bad idea.
The following May the operation was performed and all went according to plan, thanks to the wonderful surgeons and hospital care. All is well two years later!
In three weeks time I will go to Rome as I have done for the past six years.
My twin and myself have taken Study Tours to Italy since 2011. We both teach Italian to adults students during the year and decided to complement it by adding a full immersion experience in a different Italian region every year in September.
It has been a wonderful way to bridge our lives here in New Zealand with our roots in Italy. Needless to say, that the whole Italian family participates and helps in one way or another!
The Italian and Kiwi cultures are so different, literally poles apart. Nevertheless I see a strong fascination/attraction between our lands, languages, people.
We love and respect both our countries and share a desire to learn from each other.
Only now, after having spent twenty seven years in NZ and twenty seven years in Rome, I can say I have the best of the two worlds!