Teaching English in Italy: An Irreverent Guide

I teach English in Italy. I also teach in English in Italy, but I’ll explain that later.

Most Americans my age come from a lifetime of following a direct path: preschool, school, sports, friends, college. It seems that lately that train that has since been chugging along at a steady speed comes to a screeching halt at the “job” part.

How do you get a job? Amassing many degrees, working for free at useless internships, applying a lot, boot straps and all that noise. After this type of conditioning, it makes sense that when we decide to go abroad, teach ESL for a few years before finding a “real job,” we want to follow a process. “What certification program should I choose? Where do I send my carefully crafted resume?”

I was like that too, at first.   

I am teaching in Italy, but my process was anything but traditional.

ESLTextbooks

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I came to Italy as soon as I graduated, with no certificates besides the just-completed journalism degree that was coming in the mail. Setting up, settling down, I did look in to ESL teaching programs after my move abroad, but the truth was that I didn’t have time: I needed to make some money and I needed it before rent was due. I posted an ad online in two or three forums, “English native speaker offering private lessons in Monza-Brianza region.” To my surprise calls came in almost immediately.

Compared to its contemporaries of Germany, all of northern Europe and even eastern Europe, Italians are years behind in their English language level. Now they’re desperately playing catch up, and hiring waves of English teachers to do it.

There are ESL jobs to be had, especially here in northern Italy, but you’ll need a visa to find them legally. For non-EU citizens, your visa options are:

  • Work visa (Impossible, give up now. For a work visa companies have to “sponsor” you, meaning pay for your visa and deal with the bureaucracy. In this economy, unless you’re the CEO or close to it, it’s not happening).

  • Student visa. (In which case you can only legally work up to 20 hours a week, but I have heard of this being transferred into a work permit-of-stay at the end of your study).

  • Family visa (Italian heritage line? Prove it and you can stay in the country).

  • Marriage (That’s what I did! Definitely the easiest option).

  • Stay illegally

To be clear, I am NOT suggesting the latter option, just including it on the list because it’s done so often by others and done rather easily. As a god-fearing American, the last option terrified me, so I systematically worked my ass off to slip in a marriage in city hall before my 90 day tourist visa expired. So damn the man!

It was worth it, but I’ve since discovered how many people have overstayed their visa with no repercussions. Still, without a visa you can only work under the table, which brings me to another point: Things are rarely black and white in Italy.

Working “in nero,” as it’s called in Italian, is a common path, albeit a much less stable one. The best resource on this subject is Transition Abroad’s article, “Illegally Teaching English in Italy Legally.” If you do decide to go that route, you certainly won’t be the only one.

For me, having a visa was invaluable. Though I found work right away, it took me months until I started to actually make enough money to live on. Still, as a native speaker, a journalism major and a proud owner of an Italian visa, it wasn’t hard to find other options with English language schools. Though the offers weren’t fantastic, I had enough of them that I was actually able to pick and choose. Like I said, Italy is seeking English speakers like a college student seeks beer after finals – desperately and disorderly – and there are plenty of English jobs available for those willing to roll up all that red tape.

ESL

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After a few months doing odd jobs and programs, I found work in an Italian public school very near to my home. They had just started a bilingual program in their school and wanted native speakers on staff. The program followed the CLIL teaching method, meaning that the classic material taught to elementary school students would be taught in English, just as if they were American students. Meaning that in theory I’m not teaching English (they have Italian teachers who still teach one hour of English grammar every week) but I’m teaching math, geography, science, music, art in English. 

While work in Italy is all a bit precarious, I’ve found that I can offer something that is in huge demand here, and live well doing it. Any Italian knows that there is no direct path to their goals. The process isn’t school, college, job, but rather whatever route necessary to cut through the obstacles. Don’t be the American that gives up too quickly. It’s not easy to come to Italy to stay but if you’re serious about your move, you’ll find a way.

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