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You might remember Dennison from a Black Expat post last year asking for your for support and to vote for his entry in a photography contest that could boost his career if he won. We are happy to say that he did go on to win it (so thank you to those readers that voted for him) and his career is flourishing. Today we get to know a bit more of the man behind the lens.

 

Where were you born and in which countries have you lived?

I was born in the United States and have lived (in the proper sense) also in the Czech Republic.

 

Describe your first trip abroad.

I was fifteen and went for a study abroad program to Costa Rica. It was organized by the schools Spanish teacher who was Costa Rican and generally seemed to think we would get along fine in Costa Rica. It was a very unstructured program with a real mix of ‘host families’. San Jose was a bit of a rougher place back then, our family carried a gun and I spent a great deal of time on the streets at night with my host sister, drinking beer and hanging out. It might have been dangerous, but at the time I quite looked Central American and to most people I was just another kid on the street. It was a defining experience of my life and I’ve never forgotten the feeling of exhilaration at feeling how big the world was. I still chase that feeling to this day.

 

When did you come to realize that you wanted to live abroad?

When I was 15. (see above)

 

Did you move with your family?

To Italy I moved with my girlfriend who is Czech. I never imagined being in Italy, it always felt a bit cliche to me as an American abroad. But now that I’m here, it’s quite an adventure in itself.

 

What has been your most enlightening experience while living abroad?

I spent some time in Kosovo after the war and I finally understood how cruel people can be to one another, first hand. People are far more powerful in their ability to incite fear and preserve hope. Our humanity is a thing we must be ever vigilant to protect and defend. The darkness inside people’s souls may be small, but it can grow like a weed if left too long untended. Power is corruption and we must every day make the conscious decision to choose to be good.

 

And what would you say has been your most disheartening experience has been?

The globalization and the homogenization of world societies. The places I grew up dreaming about, no longer really exist in the way they once were. That past ten years have been particularly unforgiving to the past. Ironically, it’s our own curiosity about the unknown that so quickly wipes away the mysteries of our world. Thousands of years of cultural development have been replaced by Ikea, Facebook and Coca-Cola. If you’re going to see the world – there is no time like the present. If you wait, I promise you there will one day be nothing left to see.

 

What customs have you adopted in your new country?

Currently I’m in Italy which means starting each day with an espresso.

 

Which customs from home do you miss the most?

Sometimes I feel as though there are too many to mention, but there are some that I miss more than most:

– American Style Pizza.

– Summer sitting out of the fire-escape drinking with friends watching the sunset.

– Boys and girls being just friends. (This is rare outside of Native English-speaking countries)

– Road trip.

– Americana.

 

How important is it to know the local language? Do you have proficiency in the local language?

It’s important, but not always totally necessary. When you travel long enough you start to develop a sort of “ESP” with people that works surprisingly well. Patience above all is your greatest asset in communication. I speak Czech fluently, but I’m still working on my Italian.

 

How have you gone about making friends?

The old fashioned way. You have to just walk up to people and say “hi”. Making friends, real friends, takes a very long time. Patience above all else.

 

Have you ever connected with the expat community?

Prague once had a near-magical expat community. A mixed bag of T.S. Eliots, Ernest Hemmingways, John Lennons, Ezra Pounds, Robert Cappas, James Joyces, and Gertrude Steins and many more. It was the “Paris of the East” for a generation nostalgic for a time they subconsciously knew had already come to an end. It was the after-party for the 20th century.

 

Do you know what is the general composition of the expat population in Milan?

Not sure, not really a part of it anymore.

 

In what ways do you keep in touch with family and friends from home?

Telephone, email and Facebook. Facebook keeps my sister and mother in touch far more then any time in the past. I loath it in some senses, but love it in others.

Are you working? Is it difficult to find a job?

Yes and Yes. I’m an Artist, and I work exclusively thus. Finding a job that is meaningful however, especially if you’re not an artist, is very hard. The Great Recession is everywhere, and foreigners are the first to be cut.

 

Would you classify yourself as an entrepreneur? Is it difficult to start a business?

In some senses, I work in fashion which requires a great deal of entrepreneurial energy. Starting a business varies greatly from country to country and local laws. It’s fairly straightforward in the Czech Republic, but the paper work in Italy requires some seriously commitment to work through.

 

Have you found that you have to live on less income? And if so how have you made the adjustment?

I moved abroad as a teenager, which besides poverty is probably the ‘cheapest’ moment in many peoples lives. I prefer to hope that income will always gets better.

 

How hard is it to find a good place to live?

Not hard. First make friends – this makes finding places to live easier.

 

What are the opportunities to buy property?

Everywhere I have been has had an enormous boom in property. You can buy something anywhere. You just have to figure out if you want to actually live there, or deal with the headache of managing it from afar. I know quite a few people who bought something every place they ever lived and now have the unenviable task of managing a small British Empire of properties where the sun never sets on a landlords responsibilities.

 

What are your top attractions or places of interest?

– Italy is chock full of places of interest. It’s probably the densest place in the world of things to do and see. It’s incredible like that. Italy excluded?

– Mount Sinai, the place where supposedly God gave laws to the Israelites. Climb it by the stars to watch the sun rise in the morning. The exhaustion and freezing desert lends itself to a religious experience when you see the light break over the horizon.

– Istanbul. It’s the forgotten center of the Western World. And you can feel it.

The other truly top places you have to find for yourself and jealously guard, lest when you return you find only McDonalds and Timex billboards.

 

Where are the best places to vacation in Italy as a single person? A couple? A family with children?

Good question. Not sure.

What goals have you achieved while living abroad?

Discipline.

 

What has living abroad taught you about yourself?

That I am a sojourner in this world. We all are. What we do is to bear witness to the way things were, and hope we make better the place we wanted it to be.

 

What would you say to a friend or relative who is considering moving abroad?

Ralph Waldo Emerson said,

“But here we are; and, if we tarry a little, we may come to learn that here is best.”

Why you go abroad is more important than where or for how long. There is a lot to discover about the world, many adventures and discoveries to be had. But to leave, to “expat” is to go it alone. Being able to really know yourself, on your own, is a hard thing to do – and a hard thing to keep up as the years stretch on. It’s deceiving to think that modern comforts like credit cards, Internet and cheap flights home are safety nets that provide a stable, “way back” when really they may just encourage you to “tarry a little” at first and then perhaps, too long.

There are a lot of people out there who wake up and see their name in a passport, only to realize that person isn’t them anymore. Odysseus spent seven years with Calypso, and it was only by the intervention of Hermes that he found his way home. Calypso’s name in ancient Greek means various forms of “to conceal” or “to hide” and should you be unsure in anyway of who you are when you meet her, (and she comes in many shapes and forms) she will wipe blank your slate of memory, identity and you will awake to find you are someone else.

 

If you have moved home after living abroad how was the transition?

I tried it briefly many years ago, but it wasn’t for me. Feeling like a foreigner when you return is a very disconcerting experience.

 

Do you consider yourself a permanent expatriate, a temporary expatriate or an incidental expatriate? And why?

I don’t really consider myself an expatriate in that I haven’t left my identity as an American. I’m not one of these people who move to Paris and effectively “become French”. I travel because I am young and it’s my path through life. Perhaps one day I will settle down and raise a family in some exotic place, but perhaps even then I won’t really ‘expatriate’. I am abroad, I prefer to think of myself in that way.

 

How has your life as an expatriate changed who you are?

That’s too much to get into here. 🙂

 

Do Blacks (or foreigners in general) in your view have any problems with adjustment or discrimination?

It depends. If you are really dark skinned you may be lumped in with African Immigrants, which can be a tough pigeon hole to get out of. It also takes a great deal of open mindedness to go abroad as a person of colour as most other countries don’t share our particular history. There are some places where the only experience people have of Blacks is through Hip-Hop and American movies. You end up spending a lot of time explaining that no, you don’t carry a gun, and no, you don’t deal drugs. But people rarely mean any malice, indeed most people in the world are exceedingly excited to meet someone new.

 

Living & Spending in Milan

 

Monthly rent:

600-1000 Euros

 

Cost for meals:

At a restaurant, 60-200 Euros. At a really good restaurant, 400 Euros and up.

 

Transportation costs:

1 Euro per ride.

 

Compared to your home country are most things cheap/same/expensive?

More expensive.

 

Recommended monthly living budget?

2000 Euros per month. Everything is expensive.

 

Note: Currency converter set to the Euro for your use, just select the currency you would like to convert to in the lower menu.

Currency-Converter.com

How modern are basic amenities/infrastructure?

It’s modern.

 

Any legal hurdles all foreigners have to face to live there?

You need a Visa.

 

Top 3 things you would recommend someone to bring when they come:

– Laptop

– Camera

– iPhone.

It’s the 21st century after all.

 

Top 3 things you would recommend for someone visiting or living here to do:

I’m bad at these sorts of lists. I don’t really know. I live places, but I rarely see them like a tourist. I like to get into a routine as a local as quickly as possible.

 

Be sure to visit Dennison Bertram’s website www.dennisonbertram.com where you can view his extensive portfolio of photographic and film work.

Photo credits: photography by Dennison Bertram

 

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