Vanessa Greco co-founder of LiFT: Learning in France Together
My story has been known to give people vertigo… If you know my history you might say it was inevitable.
My mother was born in Havana, Cuba and moved to Miami as a child shortly after Fidel Castro’s communist regime took control of the island. My father is Italian, but was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina. His family also escaping the economic troubles of the Southern Peninsula. We bounced between Buenos Aires and Miami until I was 7 years old. At home, we speak Spanish and Italian, but school life was mainly in English.
Because I am an Italian citizen, a few months before graduating from high school my dad presented me with the opportunity to attend university in Rome. I accepted, and after graduation I enrolled at the American University. I loved Rome… it became my home and I dreamed of working at the American Embassy. So when I graduated I went to Paris to get my MA in Diplomacy. I hated Paris. It was right after 9/11 and the hatred that was felt on the streets towards Americans was, in my opinion, unjustifiable. I concluded that I did not like Paris, Parisians, the French, France, French food, and they could keep their freedom fries… But ironically enough, France in the end would become my home.
Upon my return to Rome, I was hired at the Vatican as a broadcast journalist, where I happily remained until I was finally offered a position at the American Embassy. I thought, ”that’s it, I made it!” This was the life I had always wanted since the first day I stepped foot in the City. I had made my dreams come true. Not only was my career in check, but I was about to marry an amazing man – my partner in crime and companion in all my adventures.
My husband was a lawyer when we met, but shortly after we were married he was able to advance his career by becoming a Notaio. The definition in English is Public Notary. However, in Italy (and in France) the notary has a very different figure (try explaining that to Anglos). We were married in 2009 and in 2010 we gave birth to our son. Two months later, I was pregnant again with our daughter. They are 11 months and 3 weeks apart! I thought, “Oh well, there goes my career!”
In the meantime, my husband was flying higher and higher on his path to success. The only catch was that he was eventually transferred to Ventimiglia. A city that you will frequently hear me compare to Juarez or Tijuana. A border town between France and Italy with very little life once the tourists have bought all their cheap products made in China, but sold as Italian. After the locals have finished sucking the life of those passing through, they close up shop and disappear. No more Roman style aperitivi, no more photo exhibits, nor art galleries. Only shops filled with junk! It was evident from the start that I could not live in this city.
Right after my daughter was born I was diagnosed with Postpartum Depression. It’s not hard to understand: I left my job, my financial independence, my city, my friends, my life! 14 years of my life to be precise. Only to find myself with two babies 11 months apart, in a town with nothing to offer me. And my husband at work from 9am until 9pm. They say that too much free time is the devil’s work shop… they were not kidding.
We found ourselves focusing on the other side of the border as a potential alternative to Ventimiglia. Nice is only 35min away from Ventimiglia so my husband could commute fairly easily. In Rome we would have needed that much time to traverse the city so in 2014 we purchased a small villa in Nice and began renovation. It took two years (and one ongoing law suit with the original contractors) to complete the house. In January 2016, in a desperate search for stability, we finally moved into our new home. Nice has more than one movie theatre, 2 international schools, and they even have art galleries and Sushi! I was able to stand on two feet again and for the first time, in a long time, focus on me. Namely “What do I want to do with my life?”
So here I am in Nice, and looking forward to starting my life again. Only to realise that Nice was not as big as I had been hoping. Yes, in comparison to Ventimiglia it is huge. But compared to Rome, Miami or Buenos Aires it is a small provincial town in the south of France. I had a horrible experience at our first “International” school. Mainly, it is not an International school! My son stopped eating all together and even wet the bed one night from anxiety. He didn’t want to go to school anymore. I was desperate and feared that my depression could potentially come back if I didn’t resolve the issues so I contacted the Riviera Mums on Facebook and was steered towards the bilingual school Pain d’épice. They welcomed me with open arms and both children have adapted beautifully.
One problem down and only a few more to go: Activities. I tried a few of those recommended, but quickly realised that what was being offered wasn’t truly international. Again, that false advertising that makes me cringe. I wanted a truly bilingual system! Like the one we are living at home with the children speaking Italian and English simultaneously. I wanted what I had growing up, a melting pot of cultures and languages flowing through my children’s veins. If it didn’t exist, then I was going to invent it! Even if it was going to be in my backyard…
It was incredible… once I knew what I wanted I met Frances Osborne at a Riviera Mum’s Halloween Party. Shortly after, she and I set off on our adventure to create LiFT (Learning in France Together). We are now 4 partners and offer various activities such as Yoga, Aquagym, Swimming, Arts & Crafts, Meditation, Music.. in several different languages (French, English, Italian, Russian and Chinese). We have native speakers and have created a truly international environment. My children and I partake in most of the activities since they are usually in our garden. I am so grateful that they are becoming such well-rounded individuals. We are constantly surrounded by people from all over the world with different languages, backgrounds and cultures. My backyard has become a classroom for locals, expats and some just passing through… but mainly for me and my kids. And we are enjoying every minute!
For more information visit www.liftfrenchriviera.com