Photo Credit: Faith Katunga
How Expat Faith Katunga Landed Her Dream Career In Fashion, In Italy
Faith Katunga is a 30-year-old writer, teacher, vacation home rental entrepreneur, and owner of The Witty Poet, an obscure history blog. Faith was born in Malawi, and experienced her first international trip after completing her first degree.
It was a solo trip to visit her oldest sister in Johannesburg, South Africa, which she did by road from Malawi through Mozambique and Zimbabwe. Despite being a long and tiring trip, Faith says it was also incredibly beautiful, liberating, and empowering.
“After completing this trip and experiencing life in South Africa, I was never the same. I became curious as to what else the world had to offer. I had always wanted to travel abroad but after actually having done it, I knew I would never be content until I had seen more of the world and its cultures.”
Faith continued exploring the world, visiting various African and European countries. In 2015, she moved to Milan, Italy to study for a master’s degree in fashion.
“I wanted to study in a leading fashion country that was non-English speaking and would be completely different from what I knew,” she told Travel Noire. “I applied and was accepted to schools in France and Italy, and ultimately chose to study in Italy after considering several factors, including costs.”
The process of relocating, however, was no cake-walk. In fact, Faith says the visa application process was traumatizing. Upon arriving at the Italian Embassy, she and her family were greeted with hostility.
“They were pretty much convinced that as a Malawian, I would not be able to afford to study in Italy. The first time I was rudely sent back home without anyone having gone through my documents. I remember crying with my mom. I had already been accepted to study at the University of Bologna, but it seemed my dream would be shuttered.”
With the support and encouragement of her parents, Faith decided to reapply, and was eventually able to get her visa, just a few days before the start of her classes.
Faith’s first year in Italy was exciting, yet very difficult. Alone in a bureaucratic foreign country with a limited budget and no knowledge of the language, she struggled to stay afloat, prioritizing her grades.
“I always say 2016 was one of the toughest years of my life so far. I lost a lot of weight due to stress. But I also learned a lot and became more aware of my own strengths.”
As time passed, things slowly started getting better. Before graduating, she was able to conduct research for her thesis and eventually landed an internship in Berlin, Germany.
“I stayed there for a couple of months and loved it so much. During my internship, I went to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia for Hub of Africa Fashion Week and it was a wonderful experience. After I completed my internship, I got a freelance contract with them and traveled to Berlin often.”
Faith was flourishing in Europe as she grew more confident being alone there, and was starting to make her own way. She began making time to allow herself to enjoy more of Italy and other countries. In 2018, she moved to Milan and started building her career in the world’s fashion capital.
“I fell in love and haven’t looked back. Though life hasn’t been perfect (especially the past year) it surely has gotten better for me and for that I am grateful.”
Italy has now been Faith’s home for over five years. Having immersed herself in the culture, she has learned so much about the country, including the many cultural differences that exist between Italy and Malawi.
For one, Malawians are very friendly, humble, and welcoming, even to foreigners, which is not always the case in Italy. However, Faith has found Italians to be more open, whereas Malawians tend to be more reserved, with a desire for privacy and boundaries.
“Italians like to share many aspects of their life with lots of friends and family members. They can share all the details of their day while in Malawi we are brought up to safeguard our personal life, our accomplishments, and our failures. This can be difficult for me to navigate. I never want to seem secretive to the Italians in my life, but I also never feel comfortable sharing every single aspect of my life.”
Faith says Italy has a number of Black expats, although the term ‘expat’ is typically reserved for Americans and other Europeans.
“It seems if you are from an African country, the term that is usually applied is ‘immigrant.’ Living in Europe, I’ve met people from all over Africa. There’s a warmth and humility among Africans. I have learned so much about us and our similarities and differences.”
“For example the food. I absolutely love West African food. Ghanaian food is one of my favorite cuisines. I love how Ghanaians are so friendly and will cook for you in a heartbeat. I can’t wait to visit Ghana. I also love Nigerian food, their music, and their culture. And Ethiopians are some of the most friendly and humble people I’ve met.”
“And to think, when I lived in Malawi, I thought all Africans were the same! I am still learning a lot today, and I put effort into learning about African history.”
Faith says one of the reasons it is so important for Black people to know their African history is to have the strength and power that knowledge brings.
“As Black people, our history is skewed. I am an African who was born and raised on the continent, yet I learned more about Greek and Roman history than I did about Mansa Musa or the Mali Empire.”
“There are many resources available, but we have to put the effort into uncovering these resources ourselves and creating new material. Through our history and strategically learning the true history of other cultures and races, we can learn how we got here and how we can build our own strong identities, systems, governments, ideologies, etc.”
Faith and her boyfriend are currently renovating their vacation rental homes. Their trips these days are local ones, especially to the Italian region of Umbria they both fell in love with. You can follow Faith at @the_wittypoet.