The paper, based on a nearly two-decade long ethnographic fieldwork and an hermeneutic analysis of a set of life histories, discusses the development of two key informal institutions that have played an important role in the settlement of the very first wave – the so called pioneers – of Eastern European women migrants in the Italian Northeast. I describe the birth of an informal group able to sustain a minimal sociability pattern and the evolution of an erotic normative system able to guide the women in their navigation of a new and largely unexpected lovescape. The participation, often ambiguous and torn by serious strains, in such informal institutions has provided many women pioneers with information, material and emotional support and even mating chances. I argue, however, that their most important contribution has been providing the women, although somewhat ambiguously, with an emotional grasp of a new urban citizenship. Through these informal institutions, they have learnt how to experience and perform in emigration a different Self.
Keywords: Migration Pioneers; Ukrainian Migration; Moldovan Migration; Care Work; Intimacy; Sociability.