As a professional poker player, sideline reporter for ESPN, writer for numerous poker outlets and ambassador for PartyPoker, it’s safe to say that Kara Scott is used to the challenges that life can throw your way.
One of her greatest challenges to date has nothing to do with poker and everything to do with life. Kara has been searching for a new home for a long time now and has found her heart in Parma, Italy.
So how big is the challenge of moving to a new country where English is a language that is rarely used?
Let’s find out.
“I have been living in Parma for almost a year now and the food is absolutely incredible. It’s one of the food capitals of Europe, a never-ending stream of the most wonderful food, and the first Italian phrases I learned were all related to food, which is not surprising to anyone who knows me.
“The weather is beautiful, the whole town smells of flowers and the springtime, its gentile, beautiful, cultured, and the people are lovely. I couldn’t imagine a better place to live.”
So you have finally found your nest?
“I was basically homeless for about 18 months. I put all my stuff in storage and when my work visa in the States ran out I didn’t want to try and go back to the States before my new work visa came through, because if they turf you out thinking you are working it goes on your record and I didn’t want that.
“I couldn’t actually go back to get my stuff because it was all in a store locker in California. It was great and fun to be footloose and fancy-free, and I lived with friends and on the poker circuit, but I did get really tired. I wanted to make my own food and sleep in a bed that I recognized.
“My body started to rebel against it as well. I started to get allergic to all the detergents they were using in hotels and it was like ‘stop Kara’ so it was great to find a place in Parma. It’s this incredible place, a wonderful old building that’s got beautiful old features, and having some furniture that is actually mine is really nice.”
It’s not easy to secure an apartment when you are connected to the poker industry.
“It was a nightmare and I didn’t expect it because I have never faced this problem before. As a poker player, sometimes you have to offer to pay 6-12 months rent in advance, and that’s a lot of money. It’s all because people don’t trust you, which is strange because I have really good references
“We went to place after place. We would meet the people, we would sit down with them, they would find out what we did for a living, and they would say no. It started to feel like a personal rejection based on our life choices and the industry we work in.
“Then we got really lucky at the last place we looked. This beautiful older couple had Googled us and we showed up for the meeting and they said they knew who we were, and we were like, ‘crap we have lost this one as well,’ but they were really upset of the reactions we had been getting and said they believed that we should be proud of what we have accomplished.”
What are the most difficult things when setting up in a new country?
“It’s hard to know the things you don’t know. Because I don’t know the language there is this huge area that is completely foggy and I don’t even know what’s in it, like regulations and taxes and residency and simple things like how to pay bills, and there are all these other things that I don’t know how to do and I don’t even know what they are, so I can’t figure out how to do them and that’s what’s really difficult.
“I have lived in a lot of countries and this is the first one where English is not an option to me. It’s hard. It’s also really isolating if you don’t know people who speak your language because you can’t do things yourself. I’m trying but you can’t even answer the door or the phone by yourself because nobody understands you. You really have to rely on other people and that can be hard for someone like me – but I am learning.”
So you have been learning Italian
“It’s gone slower than I would have hoped. I had a teacher, but it didn’t really work out because I was travelling so much. I was also learning through Rosetta Stone but what helped me the most is that my partner is obviously Italian and he would teach me words, verb forms and conjugations and his family are all lovely and they have been helping me learn.
“I want to understand who they are and help them understand me. Thankfully they are very empathic people, warm and lovely and we share the same love of food. There is a certain amount you can get out of body language, but to get to the deeper stuff language is so important – so I am learning.”
Did any poker players give you any tips?
“Alec Torelli helped me out a little bit a while ago. He lives in Parma too. He helped me out with some programs that helped me to learn the language and he’s picked it up and is basically fluent so I kind of hate him. I am so jealous.”
How far away are you from being fluent?
“I feel like I am so far from fluent right now. I can have really basic conversations but I don’t know how to talk about the future, for example, so I am stuck in the here and now.”
What would your approach been had your traveling not interfered?
“I would have definitely gone to classes. Having that structured set up really works better for me rather than this natural style of learning that Rosetta Stone teaches, because they don’t tell you how to conjugate verbs – they just expose them to you – and I want to know how to conjugate them, what the rules are, the forms are…so I would go to the class with a bunch of student and practice. So if I could get the time to do that it would be high on my list.”
What are some of the biggest problems you have faced?
“I had a really mental block about it at first. I think I thought it was going to be super easy, which was dumb. When I realized how hard it was I think I shut my head down like I used to do with math when I was in school ‘I don’t think I can do this therefore I am not going to do this’.
“Then in the first few weeks I was in the company of a lot of Italians and all I was doing as having to speak Italian and it helped. I realized I had to start practicing and trying more.
“I find the exhaustion the hardest bit because it is mentally and physically exhausting, because I am always concentrating super hard on everyone’s facial expressions and in a big group, by the end of a night, I am wiped out – but it’s worth it.”
What advice would you give to people who are trying to emigrate?
“Prepare yourself for eating differently because you are not going to be able to find the comfort foods you find at home. But approach this as a wonderful opportunity to try new things and it won’t feel so scary and different.
“Try to meet people. People are pretty friendly generally and you learn a little bit of the language. Go to your local watering hole or pizza place and get to know the staff. This is what I did and I will go in every few days and say hello and they know me. I then start to feel like I belong to that community because people start to recognize me as one of the people in that community now.
“Community is one of the most important things in my life. I need to feel connected and I love people so it’s a really good reason to learn the language and people have been very forgiving up to this moment. I am so lucky.
“So very, very lucky.”