Teaching English in Italy: Living in Italy
Italy’s diverse landscapes, culture, and history make teaching English there a popular choice for many ESL teachers.
The beauty of Venice, the history of Rome, and the shops of Milan make Italy a very desirable teaching destination. Teaching English in Italy is also a great way to experience Europe, with Switzerland, France, Austria, and Slovenia bordering the country to the north. Miles of coastline and several islands can be found in the southern region of the boot-shaped country, while mountain ranges - including the Alps and the Apennines - cover much of the country. This diverse geography makes Italy an interesting and attractive destination for ESL teachers.
It must be noted that securing an ESL teaching position in Italy without European Union (EU) citizenship can be very difficult. That said, despite the low salary and the visa-related difficulties, Italy is still a place to which many ESL teachers wish to travel.
ESL teachers should note that accommodations are not usually included in Italian ESL teaching contracts. Finding housing on your own can be very difficult and time consuming, especially in major cities. English teachers who do not speak Italian may require the assistance of their school while conducting an apartment search. Online advertisements and searching local newspapers are effective ways of researching accommodations, though another option is to place a small ‘looking for’ ad in the local newspaper with a description of a specific apartment. Due to the high demand in Italy, it is important to be very active in an accommodation search and to pursue potential leads as soon as they become available. Something else that ESL teachers should note is that an apartment listed as ‘unfurnished’ is literally empty, other than bathroom porcelain and possibly a kitchen sink. Items such as kitchen cupboards, appliances, light fixtures, curtains, and carpets will be absent from the apartment; however, it is possible to purchase these items from the previous tenant. A more suitable option for foreigners might be a 'semi-furnished' apartment, which includes cupboards, bathroom fixtures and a few pieces of furniture. Furnished properties are also available and are fully equipped with all the essentials, even pots and pans, bedding, and possibly towels. There is a diverse range of properties throughout the country, from tiny studio apartments to immense castles. It is important that ESL teachers give themselves sufficient time in their accommodation search and remain open to different possibilities.
Italy is an incredibly popular location for ESL teachers; as such, very few contracts will include paid airfare as most individuals are willing to travel to the country regardless of such perks. In addition, it is extremely difficult for non-EU citizens to secure a teaching position before arriving in Italy, which means they are not able to negotiate contract benefits prior to departure. Some employers may reimburse the cost of airfare after the contract is fulfilled, but teachers wanting to teach in Italy should not expect this to be the norm.
Foreign residents who have secured an Italian identity card have obligatory public health insurance coverage by the national health service (Servizio Sanitario Nazionale, or SSN). A percentage of an employee's annual salary is contributed to this insurance, entitling them to medical assistance for lesser fees. However, there is also the private health insurance market, often very desirable to foreign teachers despite the higher costs. Teachers wanting additional medical coverage from their home country are encouraged to obtain this prior to moving to Italy.
Italy's official minimum retirement age is currently at 65 for men and 60 for women, though it is anticipated to increase gradually up to 68 and 63, respectively, by 2050.
Technology and Advancement
Technologies in Italy are widely available, resulting in easy access to a variety of comforts. If Internet access is not obtainable at an ESL teacher's home, there are a few options for accessing it which are listed below:
- Rent or purchase a mobile phone with an Internet connection
- Purchase a pre-paid Internet card that can be used on most computers
- Visit an Internet café. ESL teachers should note that by law, public access Internet points are required to keep a record of all websites visited by customers and that a customer must present a valid ID before using the Internet. This law was put in place to avoid possible terrorist activities.
North American Food
While Italians take a lot of pride in their national cuisine, North American culture is affecting the way some Italians eat, particularly the younger generation. Large supermarket chains, such as Penny Market and METRO, offer familiar North American brands to customers. In addition to supermarkets becoming "Americanized", fast-food chains are also finding their way into the country.
Travelling by taxi can be a very expensive mode of transportation. Fully-licensed taxis are mainly white or yellow and must have a meter. Fares include an initial fixed cost and the additional costs are calculated by mileage. All licensed taxis should have fares and extra fees listed inside the car. Extra charges will include a fee for each piece of luggage, for travelling on Sundays and holidays, and for going to and from the airport.
English teachers should know that hailing a taxi is almost impossible as it is illegal for a taxi to stop on the street if hailed; they should either go to a taxi station or call one by phone. However, the meter will start running from the time the taxi gets the call. English teachers would do well to ignore rides from private drivers who are usually waiting outside airports and train stations. These drivers charge a lot more, especially to foreigners. While tipping taxi drivers is not required, most passengers will round up to the nearest euro or two.
Buses are definitely the most popular mode of transportation for commuting within a city. They are fast, comfortable, frequent, and service all major routes (though beware that they can be held up in rush hour traffic). Foreigners wanting to travel by bus should know that tickets are purchased in advance and are validated by punching them in the machine found when entering the bus. Tickets can be purchased at the following locations:
- A tobacconist (tabacchi) – black or blue sign with a white “T"
- News stand
- Public counter of the bus operator
- Automatic ticket dispenser
Please note that routes and fares vary by city. For detailed information regarding bus services, contact the local information office of the city in question.
Train and Subway
The train is viewed as an alternative to bus travel and is definitely cheaper when compared to neighbouring countries. The low-priced appeal makes travelling by train popular and very busy during rush hour. Like buses, train tickets must be purchased in advance and validated before boarding the train. The cost and speed of the train varies depending on the particular route. For example, the EuroStar Italia, operated by Trenitalia, is Italy’s premier train that travels quickly between Italian cities, while the Diretto and Interregionali are cheaper and slower local trains. In addition to encompassing Italy, the rail systems allow commuters the ability to travel by rail to nearby nations such as France, Switzerland, Austria, Slovenia, and Vatican City.
When commuting within the city, most teachers will likely make use of the Italian metro system. Currently, there are subway systems in Rome, Naples, Milan, Genoa, Catania, Turin, Bologna, and Brescia (opening in 2012) . The metro in Rome is not as big as systems in other cities of its size and stature because of the risk that digging tunnel lines might compromise an archaeological site. Riding an Italian metro will cost around one euro.
Travelling by Boat in Venice
Stretching across numerous small islands and connected by approximately 400 bridges, Venice is one of the most unique cities in the world. English teachers wanting to live in Venice should know that the two major forms of transportation are by boat and foot. The waterbuses (vaporetti) are used for everyday travel and are less expensive than water taxis and gondolas. Water taxis in Italy are probably the most expensive in the world, but they are very fast and convenient. The gondola and traghetto are used for romantic tours or travelling down smaller canals, though they are not practical for everyday transportation and can be very expensive and slow. Venice sets official rates for gondola rides. Travellers still have to negotiate the length and rate of the ride, however; otherwise, gondoliers can charge an outrageous fee.
Similar to land taxis, hailing for a water taxi is almost impossible. Foreigners wanting to travel by water taxi must call to book them and, again, the meter will start once the taxi is dispatched.
Other Modes of Transportation
Other modes of transportation that are available for ESL teachers include:
ESL teachers will not see Italians bicycling in major cities. Bike lanes are usually nonexistent and traffic can be very intense during working hours. However, cycling is a major sport in Italy and foreigners will see Italians travelling around the countryside on the weekends. Purchasing a used bike is a good idea for those looking to save money.
Foreigners wishing to purchase a motor vehicle must already possess their Italian identity card. Italian laws require vehicle owners to be registered residents. In addition, some Canadians may view driving in Italy as chaotic given that the majority of people drive at high speeds. Gas prices are extremely high in Italy compared to North America, which makes owning a car expensive.
English teachers looking to rent a motor vehicle must obtain an International Driving Permit from their local national driving association and be at least 21 years of age. The International Driving Permit is valid for six months; those staying longer must obtain an Italian driver’s licence.
Travelling by air within Italy can be costly. English teachers are better off using rail or bus as they are more convenient and affordable methods of transportation. For those who are still interested in travelling by air, a few of the larger domestic airlines in Italy include: Air Dolomiti, Air One, Alitalia Express, and Meridiana fly.
Travelling internationally can be cheap if tickets are purchsed through a seat sale. In this way, foreigners interested in visiting places like France, Spain, Switzerland, or Austria may be able to find affordable rates.
Italy is full of unique customs and etiquette, so before departing for Italy, ESL teachers should take note of the following conventions. First impressions are of great significance in Italy and as such, it is important to demonstrate respect and politeness when greeting someone for the first time. It should also be noted that body language and eye contact reflect upon one’s trustworthiness; therefore, ESL teachers should maintain eye contact in conversations and carry themselves in a courteous manner.
- Greetings can be enthusiastic yet quite formal. A firm handshake with eye contact and a smile is usually sufficient when meeting strangers.
- Once a relationship develops, it is common for friends to greet one another with a kiss on both cheeks, starting with the left cheek.
- Many Italians use calling cards in social situations, which contain a person’s name, address, contact number, and title or academic credentials. They are slightly larger than business cards. Business cards could be useful to ESL teachers looking for a job or searching for clients for private English lessons. In this case it would be suggested to have an Italian translation on the back of the card.
- Italy has a high population of senior citizens and it is wise to be respectful, such as offering a seat on the bus.
- Italians prefer face-to-face contact; email and telephone are not as common for business communication.
- One should never wear sunglasses or a hat indoors or when interacting with another person as it is considered disrespectful.
Italians place much importance on eating, not only as an essential activity, but also as a celebrated social event that brings family and loved ones together. Meals are often a prolonged activity and during holidays, many family feasts can last hours, if not for the entire day. The structure of a traditional Italian meal is often separated into several sections: the antipasto (appetizer of marinated vegetables, meats and cheeses), primo (first course, pasta or a rice dish), secondo (second course, a meat dish usually accompanied by the salad) and dolce (dessert). Here are a few things ESL teachers should know about Italian etiquette while eating out:
- Like other European countries, a traditional Italian breakfast usually consists of coffee with a pastry or a piece of bread with cold cuts or cheese.
- Lunch in Italy is normally the most important meal of the day, to the extent that businesses will close for a couple hours around midday.
- Service charges are included in the restaurant bill, so it is not customary to tip. Leaving change on the table is acceptable, but not necessary.
- It is polite to pick up cheese with a knife rather than with fingers.
- To get a waiter’s attention, raise index finger and make eye contact.
- Italian restaurants are non-smoking, therefore do so only in a designated smoking area.
- If invited to a meal, bring a wrapped gift such as a vintage wine or chocolates.
- It is acceptable to be up to 15 minutes late if invited to dinner and up to 30 minutes late for a party.
- Stand until invited to sit down at the table. A designated seat may be offered.
- Always take small portions of food to begin with, as the host will typically persuade guests to have additional servings later.
- If no more wine is wanted, leave the wine glass nearly full.
Italian, along with French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Romanian and Catalan, is considered a Romance language. While there are small pockets of German, French, and Greek-speaking communities throughout the country, Italian remains the dominant language. Having knowledge of other Romance languages will make the transition to Italian phrases a little less difficult and ease the initial culture shock.
Before leaving for Italy, ESL teachers should learn the following Italian phrases to help them as they settle in.
- Hello, my name is______.
Ciao, il mio nome è ________.
- Would you speak slower, please?
Parleresti più lento, per favore?
- Thank you.
- Where is the bank?
Dove è la banca?
- How much does this cost?
- How do I get to______?
Per andare a/al/alla ______?
- Where do I get off?
Dove ottengo fuori?
- I want to go to _______.
Voglio andare a/al/alla _______.
- North, east, south, and west.
Nord, est, sud, e ovest.
These are just some of the basic Italian phrases English teachers may want to learn before arriving in Italy. They should be aware that rural areas tend to have fewer English traffic signs and maps compared to tourist locations like Rome.
Italian cuisine is one of the highlights of teaching English in Italy, since some very popular and delicious dishes have originated there. Much like its culture, Italian cuisine is highly dependent on the region. The dishes in Italy also vary in accordance to the produce that is in season as Italians enjoy working with the freshest of ingredients. ESL teachers will have a selection of sandwiches, pizza, pasta, and more. A typical Italian diet consists of plenty of pasta and vegetables; meat is rarely the focus of an Italian dish. Meals which feature meat as the main component of a dish are usually reserved for holidays.
Traditional Italian cuisine is known for having healthy quantities of fresh ingredients, generous amounts of olive oil, and for being cooked on the spot. Popular Italian cuisine among foreigners includes:
- Panzerotti – a smaller version of a calzone, made with softer dough and filled with traditional pizza toppings
- Piadinas – flat, folded bread with the filling served warm
- Risotto – a creamy and rich dish made with rice and combined with the local meat/fish
- Arancini – deep fried balls of rice filled with tomato sauce, peas or cheese
- Polenta – yellow corn meal that has been cooked with stock
- Gelato – this Italian version of ice cream comes in many flavours and has a lighter and smoother consistency. Gelato made without milk is known as sorbetto (sherbert)
- Tiramisù – translated, it means ‘pick-me-up’. This Italian cake is made with coffee, mascarpone cheese, cookies, and cocoa powder on the top
To truly get a taste of Italian food and culture in the region, ESL teachers should browse the local outdoor markets (usually held on Saturdays).
Italian wine is the most exported in the world, and great value is placed on a person’s ability to distinguish which wine should accompany one’s meal. Before travelling to Italy, it might be of use to research the local wines of the region. Waiters in restaurants are also available to make recommendations regarding the correct pairing of wine with food. Inebriation is viewed poorly among Italians as wine is mainly intended to enhance the taste of a meal; therefore, having only one or two glasses of wine is customary. Italian wine is another aspect of Italian culture that demonstrates the country’s richness and diversity of regions.
The mountain ranges in Italy create a very diverse climate which English teachers will want to discover during their stay. The type of weather a teacher will encounter depends on the area in which they live. Inland cities experience a more humid climate, whereas the coastal locations are classified as being Mediterranean-type: mild winters with typically hot and dry summers. Similar to North America, Italy has four distinct seasons, however each season’s length and intensity varies greatly by region.
Spring is a beautiful season in Italy as the blooming flowers, such as roses and poppies, enhance the splendor of the landscape. Temperatures are warm but not too hot, with little rain. Those living along the coastline will experience more precipitation.
Northern Italy experiences warm temperatures in the summer with occasional rainfall. The central region undergoes an intense humidity while the southern parts of the country endure a dry and hot summer. Italy is also quite crowded with tourists during the summer months due to many Europeans seeking warmer climates.
Autumn is similar to spring with relatively warm temperatures and a beautiful landscape that is enhanced with fall foliage. November may be the least enjoyable month, as the days are short and the weather is frequently rainy. Temperatures are slightly warmer along the coast and cooler inland.
Winter in Italy can be quite cold in the northern areas, while it remains milder in the south. Despite the cold temperatures, it is a popular time for winter sport enthusiasts as they can choose from the Northern Alps, the Dolomites, and the Apennine mountain range. The rest of the country is affected by rain.
There is a fault line running directly through the entire Italian Peninsula which results in the country experiencing minor and major earthquakes. Additionally, due to Italy’s proximity to the boundary between the Eurasian Plate and the African Plate, it is considered a volcanically active country. There are three volcanoes in Italy: Mount Etna in Sicily; Stromboli on one of the Aeolian Islands; and Mount Vesuvius, located in Naples and the only active volcano in Europe.
On national holidays in Italy, ESL teachers can expect that most offices will be closed. Museums generally open for shorter hours than usual on such days and public transportation may run on a limited service. Banks are sometimes open in the morning of a national holiday and closed in the afternoon (this may also apply to the day before the holiday). Below is a list of all of the national holidays in Italy. It is important for ESL teachers to prepare for holidays in advance by shopping early, planning transit routes, and by performing any banking.
- January 1st - New Year’s Day (Capodanno) is one of three days when most museums and restaurants will be closed for the entire day.
- January 6th - The Epiphany (Epifania) is a Christian based holiday.
- The Monday following Easter Sunday - Easter Monday (Lunedi dell’Angelo or Pasquetta) marks the conclusion of the Eastern weekend.
- April 25th – Liberation Day (Festa della Liberazione) celebrates the liberation of Italy from Nazi Germany in 1945.
- May 1st - Labour Day (Festa dei Lavoratori) celebrates the accomplishments of workers and is the second national holiday that most museums and restaurants will be closed.
- June 2nd – Republic Day (Festa della Repubblica) celebrates the anniversary of the founding of the Italian Republic.
- August 15th – Feast of the Assumption (Ferragosto or Assunta) is a religious holiday centered on celebrating the Virgin Mary.
- November 1st – All Saints Day (Tutti i Santi or Ognassanti) is a day to pay tribute to all Saints of the church collectively. It is also the day when many people in Italy visit the graves of loved ones with flowers and small gifts.
- December 8th – Feast of the Immaculate Conception (Immacolata Concezione or just Immacolata) is a Christian based holiday.
- December 25th – Christmas Day (Natale) is the third day of the year when you can expect museums and restaurants to be closed.
- December 26th – St. Stephen’s Day (Santo Stefano)
Along with these national holidays, each town celebrates the feast day of its patron saint. Again, businesses and public services may be shut down for the day. ESL teachers should research which establishments will be open and which will be closed. Here are a few examples in major Italian cities:
- Rome: June 29 – Feast of Saints Peter and Paul
- Florence: June 24 – Feast of St. John the Baptist
- Venice: April 25 – Feast of St. Mark
- Naples: September 19 – Feast of St. Januarius