The Black Expat: My Life in Florence as a Black Artist from The Bahamas

In “The Black Expat: My Life in Florence as a Black Artist from The Bahamas,” Amara Amaryah (Travel Noire) interviews Bahamian-born artist Sheean Hanlan. [Many thanks to Peter Jordens for bringing this item to our attention.]

Sheean, an artist and social media creator, left the Bahamas for life in Florence, Italy. Making the move from the Caribbean to Europe proved to be as challenging as it was idyllic. With a vision, a love for Italian culture, and lots of talent, this Black artist set out for a whole new life abroad. Aware of the limited opportunities available for young Caribbean artists, Sheean decided that Florence was to be her new home. In this Travel Noire interview, she speaks us through her transition and inspiring Italian lifestyle.

Tell us about yourself: I’m Sheean Hanlan. I was born and raised on the tiny Caribbean island of New Providence, one of over 700 islands in the Bahamas. Consequently, I’ve grown to love the beach, bright colors, and heavily seasoned food. After being homeschooled from age 13, I was ready to see the world. 

So I matriculated at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California. Pepperdine is within the Greater Los Angeles area, with easy access to Santa Monica, Hollywood, and Beverly Hills. Music concerts? Check. Beach? Check. Boba and Korean BBQ? Check. Rodeo Drive? Check. Generally, due to a lack of finances, many Bahamians study at smaller in-the-middle-of-nowhere schools in Florida, South Dakota, and Texas, but I was determined to go somewhere beautiful, even if that meant I had to work during the year and every summer, fight for scholarships, and sit out of college for a semester. I also saw that Pepperdine students became world travelers, adventurers, explorers, and global citizens due to the university’s study abroad programs.

What inspired your move to Italy?  Italy is the embodiment of my passions, wrapped into one beautiful singular country. I am a romantic and a lover of grandiose aesthetics. I’m drawn to the elegance and romance of the architecture, the traditional values of family, the emphasis on genuine relationships rather than on baseless popularity, and the way Italians seem to walk everywhere and place less reliance upon the phone as we of America do. I scarcely had a burning desire to be bilingual, until I began studying Italian. It truly is the most beautiful of languages. [. . .]

I adore Florence because I can live a beautiful life relatively cheaply. I can travel on foot, eat fresh pasta, drink wine, and wear vintage Italian clothes for half of what I would spend in LA or the Bahamas. 

Anyway, fate sort of decided my next move for me: a year after graduation, my application for a work visa to remain working as an associate editor at a luxury lifestyle magazine in LA was not picked up by the US H1-B lottery system. I had 60 days to leave America. This was it. This was my time to attend an atelier, a small art school that is patterned after the apprenticeship system of the renaissance. In ateliers, students make cast drawings, copy masterpieces, and do a number of still life and figure studies for 3-5 years in the spirit of the Old Masters. It sounded like a dream come true. So I left my things at my ex-boyfriend’s apartment in Culver City, got on a plane at LAX with one suitcase and a carry-on, and flew to London Heathrow and then, finally, to Florence. [. . .]

What does a typical day in your life look like as an art student and expat in Florence? I usually wake up at around 7 a.m. and make a quick breakfast of fruit and granola with almond milk, and La Via del Te tea. Then I attend Italian class. I write some articles and blog posts and do some social media work. Next, I get a panino with truffle sauce from Pino’s or I Fratellini for lunch for five euros. I head to class from afternoon until evening, and then come back home to finish up any writing assignments. I eat Venezuelan food for dinner or truffle pasta, or cook salmon and rice, Bahamian style. I always drink prosecco. For dessert I have a pistacchio cornetto, pistacchio gelato, or pane del pescatore con cioccolato.

What do you miss most about life in the Bahamas?  This is about to get really specific so please bear with me. I miss hearing Bahamian dialect spoken around me, eating guinep and mangos in the summer, buying Jamaican chicken patties for lunch, and strolling Atlantis’ Marina Village with my friends for an evening out. I also miss the parties with dancehall music, the beautiful blue beaches, and my grandfather’s garden with ackee and breadfruit trees. [. . .]

For full interview, see

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