Guage magazine Jessica Johnson, Study Abroad in Italy: Study Abroad Italian
By: Jessica N. Johnson (justin) 2013.01.26
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Cristina was one of my favorite English students.
We were about the same age. She had a great
sense of style. She was always showing up for
class in some combination of motorcycle boots, a
crochet sweater, chandelier earrings, and a funky
scarf that on her looked fabulous, but on me, like
the floor of my closet threw up. Unlike most
Italian women, she left her hometown, and moved
to Padova to pursue a career in publishing. We
were both relatively new to town, far from friends
and family, and during our hour-long conversation
classes, we bonded over the people and places we
missed from our respective homes.
We always met on Thursday afternoons during her
afternoon pausa. One day, we decided to meet an
hour earlier, have lunch together first outside the
office, and then return for class. On my bike, on
my way to meet her, I practiced in my head how I
would politely refuse if she offered to pay for my
sandwich, how I would tell her that we were meeting
as friends and therefore we should split the
cost of lunch. It wasnít an issue. We ordered at the
bar, paid for our respective sandwiches and spritz,
and then found a table. We always spoke in
Italian, when not actively engaged in an English
lesson, and I continued chatting away in my, clumsy
but nonetheless can-get-my-point-across Italian
as we sat down.
She turned to me and said, ďYou speak Italian,
and I speak English for practicing.Ē
I felt a subtle shift of mood. It may sound selfish,
but I didnít want to spend the next hour listening
to her piece together the words she needed to
form a rudimentary sentence. I didnít want to correct
her mistakes, and modify my speaking, using
simple words and tenses to make sure she understood.
I wanted to have an actual conversation,
gossip, relax, and then start teaching. I didnít
want a watery two hour session that was neither
totally one, hanging out, nor the other, working.
Teaching English in Italy can be an ideal way to
earn enough money to live on and by live on, I
mean rent an apartment, eat, and buy shoes, and
at the same time, maintain enough flexibility to
travel and partake in Italyís endless artistic, epicurean,
and recreational diversions. Even so, it
takes patience to get started, and the line between
paying student and friend can be easily blurred.
The economics of teaching English in Italy arenít
only the Euro exchange rate; itís how you balance
friendships, schedules, payment, travel, and a
wineglass and textbook at the same time.
LIVE TO TEACH OR TEACH TO LIVE?
The easiest job to snag when traveling or living
abroad is teaching English. While actual certified,
experienced teachers will cringe at this notion, in
many places around the globe we are qualified simply
by virtue of being native English speakers, given
how great the demand is. Present day Italy is no
exception. The Italian economy is in a precarious
position right now as they too watch their manufacturing
jobs scamper away to Romania, and China.
Further compounding the situation is a drying up
of research funding at the university level, precipitating
a considerable brain drain of the countryís
top scientists, engineers, and researchers, all looking
for positions overseas, and all looking to
improve their English speaking abilities.
Itís difficult to get started. Initially, one has to
decide where to teach, and in Padova, like in
many mid-sized Italian cities, there are three basic
options: international schools, instruction centers,
and going solo. Padova is home to two private
English instruction primary schools, Villa Grimani
and the English International School of Padova.
Both schools serve children ages 2-10, and the
International School also includes a middle and
On the plus side, these schools will take care of
securing working papers, including the all-important
codice fiscale and permesso di soggiorno (fiscal
code and work permit), essential for working
legally in Italy. They also help find housing for
new teachers. The money is decent, approximately
1,195 euro a month, certainly enough to live on in
a modest fashion, with enough left over for weekend
excursions, eating out, and some occasional
retail therapy. While certainly helpful, it is not
necessary to know Italian.
But itís a real job! Who moves to Italy to arrive at
8 am every morning? As with most real jobs, it
means you have to actually show up five days a
week, severely cutting into travel time. Remember,
working can really get in the way of not working.
THE BENEFIT OF ENGLISH THEFT
The second option is to contract with one of the
half dozen English instruction centers operating
throughout Padova. These franchises, which
include Wall Street, CEPU, and the Oxford School
of English, have sprouted up all across Italy and
Europe. They provide private conversation classes
for executives and professionals seeking to
improve their ability to speak English. The major
benefit of working for these schools is that you
donít have to do any marketing or lesson preparation.
You set your schedule with them, show up,
students will be waiting (and if they cancel, you
still get paid), and lead students through an
already set curriculum.
Theyíre also a great place to get your feet wet. I
taught English as a Second Language (ESL) before,
but itís not like I spend my free time endlessly
ruminating on the difference between the past
perfect and present continuous tenses. Working for
a language center enabled me to raid their materials
and relearn how to distinguish between
countable and uncountable nouns (strawberries,
eggs vs. bread, pasta, for the uninitiated).
The principal drawback is that you earn between 12-14 euro per hour, which is then taxed at 20%, so
your take home is approximately 9-10 euro. Also,
these schools need to ask for official working
papers, ďin teoriaĒ anyway. When I worked at one
of the Oxford schools in town, they never asked me for working papers, which was helpful, since I
didnít have any, and they paid me in cash each
week. A friend of mine works for a local multicultural
language school and they did ask him for his
codice fiscale. He also didnít have one. They
decided they needed a teacher more than they
needed to obey the law of the land.
These schools also provide a convenient introduction
to future private students. The furbo, or more
clever, students are there to audition private
instructors, who they can then hire for private
classes. By removing the middleman, students pay
half what the schools demand, and teachers can
double their salary. As there is a revolving door of
both students and teachers, I didnít feel too guilty
when I departed with a handful of students in tow.
GOING INTO PRIVATE PRACTICE
Which brings us to what I believe is the optimal
option; building a steady stream of private students.
The going rate is 18.50 euro an hour, tax free,
students typically come to you, talk for an hour,
pay, and leave. You can schedule classes Tuesday
through Thursday, leaving four glorious responsibility-
free days for travel and exploring, thereby
ensuring the best of both worlds, making enough
to support yourself, but working just enough so
that it doesnít actually feel like work.
I set up shop in my miniscule one-bedroom apartment,
and we sit around my cleared off kitchen
table. Each student is operating at a different
level, and I plan each lesson accordingly. I use the
Headway textbooks, which are available at
Feltrinelli, the local international bookstore, with
my beginner and intermediate students. With my
advanced students, I gauge their interests during
the first class, and then select a newspaper or
magazine article, which I think they will like. I
build our hour-long class around reading the article,
which enables them to practice their pronunciation,
discussion, and a short writing assignment
on a theme related to the dayís topic.
Beginner students are more difficult to work with,
and here I feel that it is essential to have both
knowledge of their native language and the
mechanics of teaching ESL. Otherwise, youíre
doing them a disservice, and they will pick up on
it fairly quickly and move on. Many universities
offer introductory Teaching English as a Foreign
Language (TEFL) courses. Check out the course
offerings at TEFLInternational.com, TEFL.com, and
TEFLworldwideprague.com. There are hundreds of
on-line courses and location-specific courses
offered everywhere from Rome to Bali that offer
TEFL certification for $295 to $1,500.
Private lessons require patience. Students do not
materialize overnight. You need to make signs,
post them in the international bookstore, cafes,
and local shops. The bulletin boards at the local
hospital are another good bet since all Italian
doctors have to learn English to present papers at
international conferences. I recommend putting
some effort into your sign. Most signs are plain,
simply listing basic contact information. I decided
to play up that I was offering American English,
and by using clipart featuring Americana such as
Marilyn, Elvis, a baseball player, the Hollywood
sign, and the Statue of Liberty, I created a simple
but eye catching flyer to hang up around town.
Also the longer you stay in one place, the more
students will find you. After establishing an easygoing
rapport with my local fruttivendolo, she
asked me to come by once a week to tutor her
daughter who is preparing for her college
AND THE STUDENT BECOMES THE MASTER
Going from the security of a 9-5 job to the structured
schedule provided by the English learning
centers to freelance freedom can be a risky
endeavor, but the payoffs are well worth it. I now
have the extra cash and flexibility to afford to live
(rent, food, shoes) and travel. It also doesnít take
long for students to meld into actual friends, leading
to invitations to grab a beer and watch a football
match at the local pub, after hours so to
speak., Also, in exchange for mastering the intricacies
associated with phrasal verbs and the infinitive
of purpose, my students enthusiastically
teach me how to appreciate the rhythms of life in
the Veneto. Thatís a lesson you canít get for only
18.50 euro an hour!
LOWDOWN: MONTHLY BREAKDOWN OF COSTS