Interview: Massimo, engineer/photographer in the U.S.

I found  Massimo Strazzeri during my virtual tours on Flickr, when I came across the pictures of stunning landscapes from American wild lands. It’s so that lands on Miso Journal the second interviewed for the series Italians Abroad.

Massimo·Hi, Massimo! Tell us something about you.
I was born and raised in Genoa, in a typical Italian family with a father, businessman, a mother, full-time mom and part-time help of my father, and an older brother.
The sense of responsibility is definitely the most important value taught me by my family, which, for a boy, was expressed in being good in school, doing homework and helping my mom with little housework. Moreover, thanks to them and to a natural inclination, I have learned to develop, quite early and with full support of all, an intense curiosity. Therefore, a high school program with concentration in sciences was my natural choice: ironic, everything that came later from the professional point of view has been supported on this decision. During the years of high school, arose one of my two great passions: photography.
The “University chapter” is opened with the Department of Electronic Engineering at the University of Genoa, Biomedical Engineering course. I also take my first part time job for a software house where I’m responsible for the website and the translation of the brochure from English into Italian. In those years comes my second great passion: tennis.
The second University chapter is based on another important decision: a Master in Computer Engineering at the Graduated School of the North Carolina State University, US. Going abroad to study has been a wonderful experience: living in contact with people of different cultures, especially in the US with people from all over the world, is extremely challenging and rewarding. After the Master, I got a job in the capital of North Carolina, Raleigh, where I stayed and still live. My job deals with the engineering of telecommunications networks: I work in an R&D division of an American company where I design the network infrastructure for VoIP solutions.
And I keep on exploring the world every day through the eyes of an Italian boy, with photography and tennis always with me.

·Precisely what is your job?
Let me try to explain it without falling into exaggerated technicalities. Basically, I have to decide, according to the solution or the product involved, how to interconnect all network elements (for example, routers, switches, gateways, phones), specifying and optimizing the different parameters of telecommunication protocols. All this is aimed at achieving an end-to-end system that can survive a failure or single malfunction, so as to ensure that telephone communications can take place normally.

·Why did you decide to enroll on a Master precisely in North Carolina?
The choice fell on North Carolina State University because the Department of Networks Engineering was very famous. I was also given a scholarship that allowed me to work within the university and simultaneously lowered my tuition to those of a resident.
My duties were very similar to those of my current job (albeit extremely simpler) and I was able to apply what I studied almost daily. So I have accumulated knowledge and working experience such that I managed to find a job 3 months before my degree (in pre-crisis times).
The first interview was at a Career Fair, an event held at American universities, where companies go to the campus to “recruit” the best candidates. The second interview, instead, was on the campus of the company, in Raleigh.

·Have you had difficulty in choosing to live in the US? Were you doubtful about moving so far away from your hometown?
The decision in itself was easy: it was the best thing to do both from the point of view of the academic career both to experience life abroad (that I had always wanted to try). The hard part of the choice was “abandoning” my family and dearest friends: these are two things that I always miss.

foto Massimo·Now you live in Raleigh, capital of North Carolina. How do you feel abroad?
Honestly I feel very well. The quality of life is very high and I managed to get the job satisfaction that I could never have in Italy. The difference between Italy and the US is the sense of civic responsibility: the approximation and the attitude to cheating (to be the smartest of all) is largely absent from American culture (on average, of course). All this makes life much less stressful.

·Apart North Carolina, which places have you visited in the US?
I try to travel through the US as much as possible (depending on time and money), to absorb this country as far as possible. My  favorite areas  are the Pacific Northwest and the Soutwest. In the Northwest, the states of Washington and of Oregon are of astounding beauty, with mountain ranges and vast forests, with a rugged and sandy coast simultaneously, and with dramatic tides. A place on all: Olympic National Park.
In the Soutwest, the states of Arizona and of Utah are my favorites and in fact I keep on going back: the national parks are full of wonders and rich in elements so alien, to what I am used, that amaze me every time. A place on all: Canyonlands National Park.

·Can you describe your American life? Did you get used immediately to the climate, the language and the new rhythms, or there is something left in Italy you still regret?
The first six months here were very complicated. Although knowing English well enough, living in a location with different accents, both those of native speakers of the southern US and those foreign of mates of courses, staff, professors, etc., has made ​​the transition very difficult. In addition, the university is very different from the Italian one and it took several months to get used to the efficiency of the system. Furthermore, the fact that I was alone, without friends (initially) and without family support, has significantly burdened the whole situation.
But when I began to understand people better and how things worked, I really began to appreciate my life and all the advantages: I didn’t see just the bad things anymore but also the positive factors. An important help to me came from an Italian girl and her husband: she was studying for a PhD in my own department and I was lucky to meet her by chance at the beginning of my second semester. Having someone to share the daily problems of an Italian expat helped me a lot.
Getting used to the climate was another complicated thing. Coming from Genoa, where it is very mild throughout the year, I had no idea what can be the summer in the Southern US. 35-40 degrees with 80-90% humidity are really devastating when you’re not used to, and the outdoor activities become a Herculean effort: it took at least 3-4 years before I could get used in a decent way!

·Have you found problems to obtain the visa and find a home?
Luckily, I had no problems because I got the residence permit very quickly: this permit in the US lasts for 10 years and is renewable so it has never been an element of tension.
Even for the accommodation was very easy: being a city with very large university, the student apartments are very cheap and of good quality. I definitely had a very favorable logistical situation!

·We’d be curious to read a particular or funny event happened in America.
One thing that I found very funny took place during the first little party (basically a dinner with friends) where I was invited. As often happens in Italy, each of the guests had to bring something: main or side dish, desserts or wine, and so on. The funny thing is at the end of the party/dinner: in the US, in these situations, it is customary for guests to take back what they had brought. I was almost shocked to see people taking back bottles of wine or trays of pastries!

foto Massimo·How do you see yourself in future? Do you think to stay in America, move elsewhere or maybe go back to Italy?
Definitely I will stay in the US for a while. The research in my field is in a tragic situation in Italy so it would be very difficult, if not impossible, to find a comparable job. I wouldn’t mind moving to another area of the US (especially in the Pacific Northwest) but clearly I have to find a job that allows me to do it.

·According to your experience, what would you recommend to young Italians who dream of living abroad?
After having lived it directly, I recommend to all an experience abroad, especially beginning with the study (finding a job directly is very difficult, because of work permit). The US university is something special for people who really want to learn and get involved, there are endless opportunities and it’s worth, even with the difficulties that I have had!

·Last question: what would you suggest to who wants to make a trip to the US but has no much time available? What is the best time to travel and what place is definitely worth to be visited?
What makes the U.S. are the extraordinary wide open spaces of untouched nature. I suggest strongly to go to the national parks of the west and south-west, before the big cities, because they are unique.
The best time to visit is in March or November before Thanksgiving: in these two periods the climate is fairly mild and there isn’t the crowd of tourists who invade the US in the summer (and as an additional factor, it is cheaper…after all, I’m from Genoa).

foto Massimo
Thanks to Massimo for his time!
If you want to contact him, this is his personal website:
Furthermore, I advise you not to miss his beautiful photos, you can find on his page of Flickr: