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There is no easy way to sum up Florence. It's an impossible task. There is no describing the feeling of your first sun-lit afternoon wandering the streets of Florence, convinced you may have accidentally wandered onto a movie set or through a time machine, were it not for all the tourists. Florence looks much the way it has for centuries, with no small degree of character, artistic sensibility and style. Called the Italian capitol of culture by some and recently named #1 city in Europe by Conde Nast Traveler magazine, Florence thrives on this modern celebration of its phenomenal past. Home to over 300,000 people, the city maintains a sense of calm despite the masses of people. Living and working in this city is something that can't be described; you'll just have to go out and experience it.
Teaching jobs are available in both public and private schools at all grade levels. Italians teach English as a foreign language starting very early in primary school and continue through the end of high school. There are also the options of working in a language school or tutoring. Many who work in the schools also tutor for the extra cash. The work schedules vary from school to school. Some will want to bring you on as the primary English teacher and others may only need someone to fill in the gaps. At most schools it will be a yearly position. It may be the case that your contract is renewed a few years in a row, but it is not as common to find a school that will sign you for a few years on a single contract.
The best time to look for teaching positions is April-June, though starting your search earlier is always better than later. Most people looking for jobs teaching English in Italy will probably have gone through a TEFL program, which is recommended on most teaching websites.
These programs train you for a number of weeks, and after you receive a certification, then some programs will help you send out letters and CVs to the schools. Florence is home to over 300,000 people, so it goes without saying how many schools there are in Florence.
Italy has very simple requirements to teach English in their schools. You will need to be a native English speaker, have a bachelor's degree, a TEFL certification, and a work visa. As far as the bachelor's degree, they are not very particular as to your major (though Arts & Letters is often preferred). You do not need to have any specific knowledge of Italian since they want you to speak as much English with your students as possible. In regards to your work visa, you will work with your employer to get all the necessary paperwork that you will need. Check the consulate website before you leave to find out what is required.
The city and school you work in, along with the number of hours you work will affect how much you earn per month, but the average is EU1000-1500 for Italy as a whole. In Florence, that is more than enough to cover your living costs and you will probably have a bit to save. If you have the time and want some extra money, consider tutoring. It pays well enough and there are plenty of people looking for tutors.
Housing costs are the biggest expense by far. Florence is one of the largest cities in Italy and was named #1 city in Europe by Conde Nast Traveler magazine this past fall. Higher demand means higher costs. Thankfully there are dozens of websites and/or offices in the city you can use to find a place. Some studios or rented rooms will go for as low as EU300 per month, but more often the low prices are around EU450-600 per month. For the city center in Florence, you will get your money's worth. The entire city looks like a movie set of a historical drama, with only some visual evidence of construction in the past three- or four-hundred years. Plus, no matter where you live in Florence, you're within walking distance of a dozen markets, pharmacies, and a bus line or two. It's rare, but you may find a teaching job that gives you a small apartment. However it will be reflected in a lower paycheck and it will be your average apartment, nothing grand.
As for food, it's Florence; you can't go wrong with anything you try. Groceries for the month can cost as little as EU150-200 per month (for every meal), especially if you stick to the Italian diet. Italians have a lot of produce and pasta in their diets, and very little meat. Meat may only be included in dinner once or twice a week for many Italians, since it is widely believed that eating it often is unhealthy. Pre-prepared foods, cereals, and meat will be your most expensive grocery items. Being in the middle of Chianti country, you can buy a bottle or two of the cheapest wine for the price of one package of sandwich meat.
Florence and its inhabitants have a definite sense of style that you will not find too hard to blend in with. No one looks high maintenance, but there is a distinct effort and thought into the way they present themselves to the world. Both men and women are always clean, smart and effortless in their looks. For working in an academic setting, business casual is perfect. You can even get away with denim in some cases as long as you dress it up with the rest of your attire.
Much of the work culture will be manners you use in the rest of your day-to-day life. When addressing a colleague, elder, superior, etc., use the formal terms until they invite you to use the informal. Say hello to everyone you come across, especially if you make eye contact. When you first meet someone, you should say 'Piacere' (it's the Italian 'Pleased to meet you', pronounced Pee-ah-chair-A). Every school is different, but some will encourage you to use as little Italian with your students as possible. However, that does not mean you shouldn't try to speak Italian with everyone else. Many people you meet will speak a little English, but some will not. Italians will respect you more if you at least attempt to speak Italian first. Plus, many of them actually enjoy helping you pronounce words correctly.
When it comes to interacting with students, most teachers are definitely in charge, but are also very open and friendly people. Even at work, it is difficult to separate the Italian habits of conversation from an easy-going tone. In the classroom, equal time is spent on individual work, group work, and class discussion.
Maria Martellaro is a graduate of the University of Notre Dame with a Bachelor of Arts in Medieval Studies and Greek & Roman Civilizations. Follow Maria on tumblr.
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