Work in Italy Creatively
Teaching English is Not the Only Option
By Emma Bird
Arezzo, Tuscany. Photo © Transitions Abroad.
Teaching English is the most popular profession for those looking for quick and easy employment in Italy. The work is open to everyone who can get a work visa and offers a relaxed lifestyle. But because the pay is generally low, teaching
English is tending to become the option of the rich.
Most schools pay around 900 euros a month for a 20-hour week regardless of the city you live in. Whereas you can just about make a living if you share a house in the south, in Milan and the other big cities, sharing
a flat will set you back up to 600 euros a month excluding bills. So there is little left to live on. And when you consider that teaching jobs dry up completely once the summer comes, you realize you need a second income anyway.
I know of one school that charges students the highest prices in the city but regards it teachers almost with contempt. This past summer eight teachers left in protest, but as long as there are eager, willing applicants
ready to step into their place, pay and conditions will never improve.
So what options are there if you don't really enjoy teaching or are looking for a fatter paycheck so you can make the most of the relaxed Italian lifestyle that is the envy of stressed-out executives everywhere?
You could go down the traditional route of looking for a job in an Italian office, but the chances are that you don't want to be caught up doing the same mundane office work you would be doing back home.
Tracy Roberts is a perfect example of how initiative, determination, and hard work can get you what you want when you no longer want to teach English.
Fresh out of college, Tracy arrived in Rome in 1982, longing for a year of adventure before returning to the States. She started teaching English to children and unexpectedly landed a contract to teach English to the
journalists at the Mondadori publishing house. And from there she began to teach top bank managers and politicians.
But by 1984 she wanted a new challenge and a steady income for herself: the English Yellow Pages were born. The fruit of her labor is now online at www.englishyellowpages.it (note from editor: down now for redesign) and the pages employ five full-time staff. It has become one of the main sources
of information for English-speaking expats in Italy.
Tracy offers this advice: "You have to be honest, hardworking, and pleasant to succeed. I think my success comes down to the fact that I went everywhere with a smile on my face. As a newly arrived person in foreign
city, you are never going to land the best expat job, so you have to be willing to start at the bottom."
Like Tracy, you also need to be able to think outside the box. Don't assume that the line of work you pick when you first move to Italy will be the one you still have five years down the line. People who are most successful
abroad are those who try out different jobs until they find the one that fits. It's a bit like buying an expensive suit. You wouldn't dream of parting with your cash unless you knew it was a perfect fit. It's the same with your career.
Odd Jobs Lead to New Skill Sets
The jobs may seem like a series of odd-jobs to you but if you pick wisely you will soon be able to market your different experiences in a complete package. Truly successful people are passionate about their work. Why
not take a part-time job so you can start making an income from your hobby?
I know one American, Claire, who used to work as an accountant in Dallas. After being out of work for nearly three years, she realized that she was good at interior design. She is now paid well to overhaul the homes
of wealthy Italians. And she started by accident.
Of course, if you have had one career for ten or more years, it can sometimes be difficult to think what skills and abilities you have outside the context of that job. A useful book to read is Elizabeth Kruempelmann's The
Global Citizen: A Guide to Creating an International Life and Career. Similarly, Jo Parfitt's Career in Your Suitcase - A Practical Guide to Creating Meaningful Work... Anywhere
provides inspiration to look for a portable career.
I landed an important relocation contract thanks to my website. When I tell friends and contacts what I am up to, their replies are always along the lines of "I can see you being really good at that" or "Well,
that's right up your alley, isn't it?"
I love the challenges of relocating people of all nationalities to Sardinia and helping them adapt to the new culture. Actually, it was something I would never have considered, but combined with my writing and PR skills,
it means I now have another string in my bow. Should I end up moving to another part of Italy, I can always find employment in the corporate world.
Most major cities will have at least one expat association. However, if there is no networking group in your
city, then create one. Place ads on the Internet and on expat sites that you know will be read by people in your area. The important thing to demonstrate is initiative.
Integration into Local Society
Integrating yourself into the local community is important. Without it you will feel uncomfortable, forever an expat outsider. The post office is an excellent place to start. While you are in line to pay bills or post
letters, use the opportunity to find out what services are lacking: if they need house cleaners or window cleaners, gardeners or baby-sitters. If you have no money, you may want to offer to do these services yourself. But afterward, there
is no reason why you can't set up a business matching prospective clients with cleaners.
Exploit the Internet
Another way to make money is to exploit the Internet. If you can set up an Internet service, then you may just find yourself with more work than you imagined.
Import Services or Products
You might be used to using virtual secretaries, but in Italy the idea is only just taking off. So are vending machines selling anything other than potato chips and fizzy drinks. The possibilities are endless.
Now that I have been in Sardinia for over a year I have a good knowledge of the local community and I am known for my ability to turn opportunities into realities. This makes me sought after both by expats and Sardinians
who need my skills. But had I waltzed in with a know-it-all attitude I certainly wouldn't be in the position I am in now.
Instead, I have found, like Tracy, that a genuine smile, honesty, and the willingness to try your hand at anything is the key to getting ahead. Plus, of course, a working knowledge of Italian is vital if you are going
to be able to maximize your chances of work. Sure, it may lead you in a completely different direction to the one you imagined. But if you're that determined to live in Italy, aren't you ready for adventure?
Emma Bird continues to work as a freelance journalist in the U.K. after many years working in Italy.