FROM a village in the south of Italy to the bustling hub of Cork City, Felicia Ciocia came came to Cork for a three-month Erasmus trip as part of her PhD. Twelve years later, she is still here.
“I’m from a small village in the south of Italy called Salandra: Just 2,000 people live there,” Felicia said. “It is just 30 minutes from the seaside and it is very warm in summer and very cold in winter.
“It is a rural place: Lovely to grow up there, but when you get to 15 or 16, there is nothing to do there.”
As a child, Felicia turned to music to pass the time and became proficient at the saxophone, playing as part of a small local orchestra at funerals and festivals, as is the tradition.
Something Felicia misses in Ireland is what she describes as ‘proper seasons’.
“I love the sun and I love snow. I miss the seasons; you don’t have that here,” Felicia says.
After finishing secondary school, Felicia studied food science and technology at a nearby university, and it was after she won a scholarship to do a PhD in microbiology that she came to Cork.
“I had to do a three-month placement as part of my studies and my supervisor suggested UCC, as he knew people in the food-science department here,” Felicia said.
Arriving in Cork with little English, Felicia said the patience, kindness, and warmth of the people she met here won her heart.
“I came for three months in 2009 and, 12 years later, I am still here,” Felicia said.
The UCC graduate is still in contact with her PhD supervisor and said they sometimes reminisce about her coming into his office with a little dictionary in her hands, trying to communicate in English.
“It’s a beautiful experience to have gone through that and to be able to chat now,” Felicia said. “The lab I was in at the time was very multicultural; there were a lot of French, Italian, and Spanish working with me and a few Irish with just English. They were very good to help me with my pronunciations.”
After finishing her studies, Felicia got a job at UCC as a researcher and then moved on to work with Teagasc, in Fermoy, for some years, before joining Pepsico in 2017, where she works in quality assurance.
Felicia said she misses her mother and her sister and brother, who all still live in the south of Italy, but said she loves living in Cork with her husband, Simone, and her 18-month-old son, JJ (Joe Jackson), and their six-year-old golden retriever, Oliver.
“I met my husband through his brother,” Felicia said. “Simone wasn’t living here at the time — he was in living in Rome and came for a visit — we became friends and then, after time, he quit his job in Rome and moved to Cork.”
Felicia also helps out with a homeless charity, cooking meals every second Saturday evening to give to people in need of a good meal.
“I love cooking,” Felicia said. “I think it is in my blood. If I am tired or stressed, I just cook and I feel better.”
Felicia said she loves making pizza and baking pastries.
“I love making things traditional to the south of Italy and frying things: I love frying things.”
Living in Jacobs Island, Felicia said she was in the best possible place during lockdown.
“I had everything I needed in my 5km,” Felicia said, “I could walk to Blackrock Castle along the water, or to Passage West along the greenway: It was amazing.”
Felicia said the quality of life is very good in Cork and it is less stressful here than in Italy.
The microbiology expert also said she felt she had more opportunities for career progression in Ireland.
“In Italy, it’s a little bit about who you know and I think, in Cork, it is more about talent,” Felicia said. “If you deserve, you will achieve.”
One irritation Felicia has with her life in Cork is the trek to get home to Italy.
“Cork only has flights to Milan: That is 12 hours travelling from my village. It is not handy for visiting my family. It is hard for my mother to visit.”
Something Felicia truly enjoys about Cork is the way everyone says hello when passing, regardless of knowing you: “I think it’s lovely. I didn’t understand at the beginning, but now I do it, too. It’s a beautiful thing.”