In September 2021, we moved from Finland to the Italian province of Reggio Emilia. On our 5-day trip, we ferried across the Baltic sea, zipped along the German autobahn, and tunneled through the Swiss Alps.
The reality of our move finally hit us when we neared our new home.
Our weary minivan—saddled with two roof boxes, a jam-packed trunk, and all five of us—struggled to climb the steep mountain roads. Every hairpin turn, breathtaking view, and fearless motorbiker exhilarated us.
We were thousands of kilometers from Finland—and I felt that terrifying, thrilling realization that we had traveled too far to turn back now.
I admit that it may seem odd for us to have moved at this time.
We left Finland, the happiest country in the world for the fourth year in a row, during a pandemic. I surrendered my job as an English teacher and we removed our three children (4, 7, and 9) from a Finnish school.
What’s more, we decided to do something rare among Finnish families: homeschooling. On Instagram, one reader said what others are probably thinking too:
“Just curious…having read your book, it feels like you really enjoyed the Finnish educational system. So why the move to homeschooling in Italy? Is it a temporary thing due to Covid, and just the right timing for an adventure? Do you envision your kids eventually returning to the Finnish school system?”
In this post, I’ll share the seven reasons why we moved to Reggio Emilia, Italy.
For years, my wife and I have wrestled with the question of where to settle down. I’m American and she’s Finnish, so our hearts are always in two places.
Before moving to Helsinki in 2013, we lived in the Boston area. Ultimately, we relocated to Finland because it’s simply a great place to raise young children. (If you’re looking for universal health care, generous parental leaves, and affordable daycare, consider moving to the Land of a Thousand Lakes.)
Our eldest was just one when we moved to Finland. But now all our kids are of school-age, or close to it, and for their sake, we feel a sense of urgency about figuring out where to send down our roots.
By spending a sabbatical year in Italy and getting out of our comfort zone, we hope to gain a fresh perspective on life.
Nothing beats an old-fashioned family adventure. In our case, adventure meant traveling to a distant land and homeschooling all our three kids when we’ve never done so before.
Honestly, our life in Finland was not adventurous, and that was perfectly fine. We didn’t look to Finland for adventure. We came for better work-life balance and, in that respect, Finland delivered.
Over the last few years, I’ve written two books about Finnish education. As much as I’ve enjoyed studying Finland’s school system, I’ve wanted to learn more about other inspiring approaches to education.
In early 2020, I introduced Teachlands, my education startup, to the world. My mission for Teachlands: Explore best practices in schools around the globe and share insights with teachers and parents.
I hadn’t planned on COVID-19.
In March 2020, schools shut down everywhere. Suddenly, I found myself teaching remotely and teaming up with my wife to care for our kids at home. I quickly placed Teachlands on the backburner.
Italy has provided me with an exciting opportunity to finally carry out the original mission of Teachlands. This school year, I’m learning more about two fascinating Italian approaches to education.
- Reggio Emilia and Montessori
Since I started my teaching career in 2009, I’ve heard bits and pieces about Montessori and Reggio-Emilia. These Italian child-centered pedagogies have fascinated me.
Moving from Finland to Italy felt like a natural next step since similarities exist between Finnish education, Montessori, and Reggio-Emilia. This coming year I’m excited to see how these approaches compare to one another.
The pandemic pushed us to try homeschooling with our eldest, who’s in third grade this year. In many ways, he has thrived as a homeschooler.
For this school year, we thought it would be fun to homeschool all our children while living in Italy. We don’t see ourselves as a homeschooling family just yet, but we’re intrigued by this lifestyle.
Homeschooling offers us flexibility and freedom. During a year of travel and exploration, those ingredients are essential.
What’s hardest about the weather in Finland is the darkness.
Consider this headline from 2020: “Many parts of Finland see zero hours of sunshine in December.”
Yes, you read that correctly. Zero hours of sunshine in December 2020. Can you imagine not seeing the sun for an entire month because of low-hanging clouds?
In Northern Italy, we’ve enjoyed the sunnier weather.
- Cost of living
Before moving to Italy, we used to spend nearly a thousand Euros ($1200) on groceries every month! Granted, our kids eat like there’s no tomorrow, but still.
For months, we attempted to lower this sum through budgeting. We’ve even skimped on avocados and almonds. Despite our best efforts, we failed to spend significantly less on groceries.
In Finland, the price of consumer goods is 26% higher than the EU average.
Italy’s more affordable. Already, we’re seeing our grocery bill cut down by a third! The only problem is that we’re eating out more, so it’s become a zero-sum game.
Home is where the heart is
Recently, our middle child surprised my wife, Johanna, with this question: “Are we homeless?”
Not wanting to stress her out, Johanna quickly assured our daughter that we were not. She reminded her that we had a nice place to stay in Italy—our “home” for this season.
We know what’s behind our daughter’s question. She had a home in Finland. We all did. But we chose to move out. In one sense, we are homeless.
Our search for our next home continues, but for now—for all the above reasons—we’re savoring our time in Reggio Emilia, Italy.
Tim Walker is an American teacher, writer, and speaker living in Connecticut. He is the author of Teach Like Finland: 33 Simple Strategies for Joyful Classrooms and he created two online courses: The Finnish Education Insider and The Joyful Reader.