Your interactive family guide to Italy as recommended by local mums | Last updated 9 months ago

Interviews with Mums

Marzena Feuchtwanger - Milan

"As an expat you eventually have to leave and friendships are severed (in the physical sense of course, because today more than ever we all know it is easy to keep in touch remotely), but explaining this change to young children can be hard. My daughter gets attached to people quickly so when other expat friends have already left, she struggles with saying goodbye to those kids that she normally associated with" (MF, Nov 2012)

  • What is your name, age and how long have you lived in Milan?
    My name is Marzena and I have lived in Milan for 3 years now.

    Which part of Milan do you live in?
    We live in the south-western part of Milan and truly love the area we live in.

    Why did you move there?
    I moved so that I could keep spending my husband’s money. We’re both geophysicists but I am at home for a few years to raise the kids. His work brought him here and naturally, we came along for the ride.

    What is the area like where you live?
    The area where we live is quite busy-there is always something going on. There are parks and busy streets near by and the nightlife is great too, but luckily we live on a street that is somewhat tucked away and so it’s not the loudest.

    What nationality are you and your partner?
    We come from the Great White North….Canada.

    How many children do you have, what are their names and when were they born?
    We have two children-Samantha was born in 2007 and Jakob was born in 2009.

    What was your experience of having a baby in Milan (if relevant)?
    Not applicable to us however many times I have tried to convince my husband to make us qualify for this category. He will not budge and hence it remains that since our two children were born before we arrived in Milan, I do not have the experience of having a child in Milan.

    What was your experience of relocating to Milan with children (if relevant)?
    Relocating to Milan with kids was slightly stressful in the sense that we had to organize our physical transfer from the airport to our temporary residence on our own, but that was just one moment on the first day. Otherwise, we had all our possessions moved for us and that was taken care of by my husband’s company. In the general sense, coming here with kids was pretty easy as Italians love children, so relocating here was pretty simple. You learn so much as you go along and though I felt prepared with our kids for our move to Milan, should we have another relocation after Milan, I will be even more ready.

    Do you work and if so what do you do?
    The best part of being an expat is I get to stay home with my kids.

    Did you buy or rent your property? How did you find the process?
    We rent our apartment and finding this flat was a fluke-we heard about it from a good friend who was friends with the owner of the flat. The owners were suddenly being relocated to another city but didn’t want to sell their new home (which at the time was only months old). We were introduced to the owners and my husband came to take photos of the place to see if I would like it (because he came to Milan three months before I arrived from Canada). He emailed me the photos, I liked what I saw and took his word for it, so we agreed to the first place we saw. For us, it was easy-peasy.

    How well integrated would you say you and your family are?
    Though we don’t have a plethora of Italian friends, I would say we have integrated quite well into life here. It’s a conscious decision I made at the start of our time here. I could have either resented our move and made things difficult, or I could try to embrace this opportunity as much as possible and really enjoy it. We’ve gotten used to the customs and character of the city, the way of Italian life, and the pace at which Milan and its people function. Leaving here one day will be a rather hard thing to do-I hate thinking of it.

    What language do you speak to your children?
    We speak English together as a family, but when I am alone with my children, I try to speak more polish to them because that way, we can talk about my husband right in front of him and he will never know it. Now that we’ve been here three years and have some Italian under our belt, I find I repeat everything in polish, english, and then italian to help my kids learn the language so that they can communicate to kids on the playground and such, even if it’s at a basic level.

    Do you think it essential to speak Italian when relocating to Milan?
    To further enrich your experience, yes, I think it is important to begin to get a basic grasp on the language. You will find people who speak English, but it is not everywhere and many tasks I have completed only in Italian, such as installing phone/internet service in our house, or requesting a technician to come fix appliances in the house. Whether it’s asking questions as the post office or talking to locals at the grocery store, Italian has been required. It will also add to the depth of your time here and make it more memorable.

    What is your impression of childcare and education in Milan?
    Being an expat, we have had access to private schools for our children so though the care and structure has been great, it does come with a higher price tag than I ever expected. In general, I’d say Milan is an expensive city and so (private) schools follow the same trend. Regardless, we have had no issues with the schools whatsoever and we let our children’s reaction and response to school help determine what we think of the system. Granted, our kids are still in pre-school and kindergarten so I cannot comment on the level of education and such of higher grades, nor can I comment on the public system, but overall, we are pleased.

    What do you think are the main advantages and disadvantages of being a parent from the International Community living in Milan?
    The biggest advantage of being an expat parent in Milan is you get to see how other cultures and groups of people raise their kids. You get to decide what new methods you want to implement in your own home that perhaps you may have never seen before you went abroad. It is a mind-opening experience.

    For me, the biggest disadvantage of being an international parent is that all this is short and temporary. As an expat you eventually have to leave and friendships are severed (in the physical sense of course, because today more than ever we all know it is easy to keep in touch remotely), but explaining this change to young children can be hard. My daughter gets attached to people quickly so when other expat friends have already left, she struggles with saying goodbye to those kids that she normally associated with.

    How welcoming were the locals when you arrived in Milan?
    In general, I’d say the locals were quite receptive and warm to us. Italians love kids and so many times we still get stopped on the street by people who want to interact with the kids, even if it is brief. Italians are pretty forward people and so it is also to be expected that those of the older generation will also feel comfortable to give you some advice on how to raise your children, even if you don’t really need it. Take it with a grain of salt and just expect that from time to time, it will happen.

    Would you say your area is family-friendly and is there anything you think would improve children´s lives where you live?
    Milan has heaps of parks scattered all over the city so there is always something for the kids to do. In our particular area there are a few indoor playgrounds and of course parks, so from that perspective, I’d say yes, it is child-friendly. As a whole though, Milan could do with some changes to make it easier for parents to get around. For example, you will hardly every find child-friendly bathrooms in public places, so changing a messy diaper becomes an experience in creativity and improvisation and almost always results in frustration, especially if the kids are really young.

    The metro system is composed of 3 underground lines and only one of them (the yellow line) has elevators that allow you to access the train platform from street level. The other two lines have stairs only, which does make it difficult indeed. Given that I do walk everywhere with the kids, if I could have one wish, I would ask that all city buses and trams be replaced with modern ones so to allow easy access on and off the trams/buses. Modern buses and trams are scattered on different routes around the city so sometimes I have to choose my routes wisely if I am going somewhere further because if an old tram or bus pulls up that has narrow doors and stairs, I cannot take it with the kids.

    Are you able to recommend to other MumAbroad members in the area any local services (home delivery, plumbers, dentists, babysitters etc) or any activities, restaurants or shops for children in the area?
    There are many things to easily recommend from our experience here in Milan and hence I would be open to answering any questions. I can be contacted at marzif@hotmail.com

    What advice would you give for anyone having a baby or thinking of relocating to Milan with children?
    My biggest concern about moving here was regarding our access to medical attention. But, that has been easily answered and very comforting. Our son required 25 stitches last year when he introduced his head to our bedside table and the staff at the hospital were great and some spoke english. From a medical standpoint and for the medical well-being of your children, there is nothing to worry about. This concern of mine got calmed down very quickly.

    Another critical point to our arrival here was I wanted to make friends as soon as possible. I’m quite a social person as it is and so having a social outlet for me was very important. I seeked to meet young moms like me so I could have someone to connect with, but also this would allow my kids to make friends as well. Some of the women I have met here have become such incredibly close friends and I don’t know what I would have done without them. (ie, my good friend literally threw her sleeping son into their stroller and bolted to my house when I asked her for help to watch my daughter because my son was sort of bleeding profusely from the head when he injured himself (as mentioned above) and hence I needed to go to the hospital). Therefore, I would advise you to do your research into what is organized for young expat moms in the city and use that service extensively. In Milan, I attended the Moms and Tots group with my kids for 2.5 years and it was always something great to look forward to.

    What couldn´t you live without in Milan?
    My excellent stroller. We don’t have a car, so the wheels we bought for our kids have been critical in getting us around. Get a good stroller that can tackle cobble stone streets easily (as a general rule, the bigger the diameter of your stroller wheels, the smoother your journey will be), and purchase it with its rain cover too. You will definitely need it.

    What could you live without in Milan?!
    I could live without the dog poop and broken glass in the streets. You will find it heaps. I have rolled through both of these items before resulting in tires needing to be cleaned over and over again, and when I rolled through glass, my tire needed repair.

    November 2012