Meet Quest Maker Janet Riben
Quest Makers are women in their 40s and beyond who've declared
"now it's my time," and then set off on their own journeys to realize their dreams. Every month a Quest Maker is featured in the FREE e-newsletter, Your Next Quest Chronicles. Click here to enjoy archived issues.
Quest Maker Janet Riben
From following her impulses
to owning her dream house in Italy
"At 59, I found a job teaching business English in Italy which then led to learning Italian which then led to being the representative of an Italian company in Scandinavia which will soon lead to owning a home in Italy. Before I am 64 I will have my dream house there. All because I followed my impulses. I didn't listen to naysayers - they weren't fast enough to stop me - to frighten me out of my dream's path," contributed Janet in the April, 2008, Issue 181 of the e-newsletter from Changing Course. Right on schedule, Janet is where she wants to be!
Born in Maine, Janet Riben has been married for 37 years to a Swedish citizen and enjoys dual citizenship. Having traveled widely and lived around the world, Janet is fluent in English and Swedish, conversational in Spanish and Italian, with an understanding of French, Danish, Norwegian and some Russian.
At 59 Janet set off to Prague to learn how to teach business English and along the way she fell in love with Italy and discovered her quest—to own a home there by the time she was 64.
At what point in your life did you decide to embark on your quest?
It was after I had taken a month-long course in Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TELF) and getting a teaching job in Mantova, that I began dreaming about having a house in Italy.
In 2005 on a flight from Boston to Frankfurt, I happened to sit by a fellow from Rome, who got me excited about Rome and Puglia where he and his family had a country house. After meeting him, I changed my preferred country for teaching English from France to Italy.
When my husband took me on a surprise 3-day weekend to Rome for my 60th birthday, I found Rome absolutely fantastic and then I decided “This is it. I have got to work in Italy.” It is no problem for me to work in Europe because of my Swedish passport.
I taught in Mantova in northern Italy, southwest of Verona in the Po Valley. I was there for seven months teaching business English. Mantova is an incredible town with an exciting history. I just loved it. I rented my own car, a little FIAT Panda, and drove all over the area exploring all the wonderful sights in that part of Italy. I noticed many houses for sale and started thinking of ways to buy one.
How did you make time for your dream?
When my husband and I came back from our years living in South America, I was out of work so I had all the time in the world. Too much time. Our daughter was away at university so I started looking for interesting things to do. You have to follow different leads. The more you talk to people, the more you investigate things, the more ideas come to you.
Can you describe how you dealt with any obstacles in your path?
When I took the TELF course my friends and family said: “Isn’t that a bit unrealistic??” You are 59 and everyone else who does it is 25 at the most.”
I basically laughed at the naysayers. I decided I would disarm people and say, “Maybe you’re right. I‘ll just try it and see how it goes.” Arguing with people is not the key. By saying you are going to give it a try, they don’t fight you so hard. I got the certificate and I felt a whole new world had opened up for me.
One of the worst obstacles when you are traveling alone is, of course, loneliness. That can be a little tough sometimes. Before Italy, the month-long trip to Prague for my TELF course was the longest I had ever been away from my husband and daughter.
Not speaking Italian created problems. In the part of Italy where I taught, very few people spoke English. At the time, I only knew phrases in Italian, and at the school, they want you only to speak English to the students so they almost preferred that I didn’t speak Italian! If you are a communicative person, you want to speak the language, so learning Italian was important and fun for me. I found that when I studied my Italian, I kept up my curiosity and enthusiasm. Taking up a book and studying or planning my road trips, made me completely forget any loneliness I might have been feeling!
What steps did you take along the way?
I discovered an Internet magazine called International Living (www.internationalliving.com).This was a really good place to start getting information about all sorts of interesting places and ways to make a living once there. I learned about the different courses offered and I ordered a journalism course. The site also has what they call “IL Post Cards” where people tell about interesting places they’ve been to or work they’ve found. I wanted to travel so that was a real inspiration.
After I took the journalism course, I read on the Internet about a project in Italy being carried out by a company called Tricali. The company is revitalizing certain medieval villages where the young have left for the big cities and only the old remain. Beautiful towns are dying; houses are empty and in a horrible state of disrepair. Tricali stimulates growth and helps revitalize these villages by finding properties that can be restored and then selling the homes. The English just went wild with this concept. The cost of the houses includes renovation and basic furnishings, and averages about 1000 euros per square meter. Agents arrange viewing trips for potential buyers.
I decided to write an article about that. When I contacted Tricali, they invited me to come down and see what they were doing. I went on a viewing weekend, drove around the neighboring countryside and got a feel for what their project was all about. I asked them “Don’t you need someone in Scandinavia?” Now I work with Tricali’s lead agent in England, Each Property Med (www.eachpropertymed.co.uk), informing prospective buyers about this amazing project.
I found my own house when I was visiting this lead agent and learned that a new place had just come in. It was in Abruzzo, just on the other side of the mountains, 1.5 hours from Rome and only 15 minutes away from Abruzzo’s capital of L’Aquila, which is just a fantastic city founded in the 1200s. There are four different ski areas nearby, too. The closest is only 30-40 minutes away. I love to ski and I want to get back to that. I want to be one of the 90 year old ladies who you often see slowly making their way down the slopes with nice big smiles!
I called my husband Staffan and told him “This looks perfect for us!” We bought our house in November of 2008. I turned 64 this January 19, 2009. The renovations will take about six months and we will be able to move in May of 2009. I am planning to spend much of my winters there.
In addition to working with Life in Italy arranging tours perhaps or helping people that have bought houses there, I would like to teach English in the area, which should be possible with all the universities in L’Aquila.
What helped you stay on your path?
The more I travelled in Italy, the more enthusiastic I became about it. Diving deeper into what I wanted to do helped me to stay on track. I kept investigating and doing research on all the places I wanted to see and learned as much as I could about them. As my Italian improved, I was able to talk more and more to the people I met in the various villages and cities and sights I visited. I was becoming more infatuated with the country every day! There were problems of course, and frustrations. But I had fallen in love with Italy and there was no turning back!
Looking back, what's one thing you wish you had known as you set off on your adventure?
I wish I’d known how incredibly interesting Europe is. If I had read more history, I would have known. I didn’t discover the fascination and joy of Italy until I was 60. I wish I had awakened to this much earlier in my life!!
Language is the key. It opens up so many exciting worlds. You get challenged by the idea of learning more and of travelling to the country where it is spoken. I wish I had known of the possibility of teaching English outside of America directly out of college as many young do today!
What's been the secret to reaching your goals?
I think the secret in my case is that the more I learn, the more I fall in love with the place and the more I enjoy being there. So now we really need that house!
What is the one essential quality that you'd tell women to pack for their own journey?
Curiosity. If we open up our minds and hearts and want to learn about how other people live and think and see, we will experience vast new worlds we never dreamed existed. Such a pity that I did this so late but I plan to make up as much as possible for all the lost time!
America is a wonderful country and a lot of Americans think the only right way is the American way. It’s a little nearsighted. I’ve found that I knew next to nothing about Europe – and that’s only one small part of the world. The more I’ve travelled, the more I’ve learned, the broader my frame of reference has become and the more exciting my life has become. I feel I know so little and am so fascinated by the possibilities that exist to continue learning and knowing what fun I’ll have doing exactly that!
What’s the best advice for your quest that you’ve ever received?
“Where there’s a will, there’s a way.” In my family I always heard that if you really want to do something, you can make it happen. You can find a way.
Is there a particular quote, a movie, a book or a person that has sustained you?
There is one from Doris Lundberg. Translated from Swedish, it is “a woman in love is never too tired to make love.” And “a woman who loves life is never too tired to really get out and live it.” That’s Janet!
Do you have a new quest around the corner?
I want to study Italian until I’m truly fluent!
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
A lot of people don’t believe in themselves. They feel many things are beyond their reach. But it’s good for the soul to have a dream and why not work to make that dream come true?! Take one step at a time. Keep reading about what you want. Start working on it. It’s so much fun. Then the ball starts rolling and you see things falling into place.
I sold a house to a woman from Los Angeles. Now this woman Jane Stenehjem is doing the same thing with Life in Italy in the US that I am doing with Life in Italy in Scandinavia. She’s thinking of what she can do to spend more time in Italy; perhaps having tours from America would be possible. A year ago she never even imagined she would own a house in Italy and now she has both a house and her own little business selling properties there! She’s also learning Italian of course! A whole new world has opened up for her just as it did for me by following my impulses and working toward a dream.
I, too, am doing things I never thought I would or could do. But I started to dream about that house in Italy and then I started to work to make sure I got it. I plan to live to a ripe 95 years of age so that I can enjoy as much as possible of this dream that’s come true.
Before renovations had begun to Janet’s dream home in Italy. Her half of the house is on the left.
Covered in snow from November-April Grande Sasso makes for stunning views from Janet’s dream home.
To get in touch with Janet, you can visit her website or call her at
011 46 70 588 3885.