Italy vs. America: Embracing the Differences

What are the cultural differences between Italy and America? International TEFL Academy graduate Madelyn Harrick draws upon her experience teaching English in Italy and discusses some of the differences between living in Italy and in the U.S.

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Living and teaching English in Italy has been a fantastic experience so far. I love the culture and way of life. The differences between my Italian and American lifestyles can be challenging but I try to embrace new things. Here are just a few of the things that I notice on a daily basis and stick out to me.

Sense of Time & Punctuality

Before coming to Italy, I heard that Italians are often late. This isn’t a lie! I am still trying to get used to this. It is difficult because punctuality was so important to me before and still is. An Italian said he will pick you up at 7? He really means that at 7:15 he will show up. Do you have a hair appointment at 2pm? Don’t be surprised if the hairdresser isn’t ready for you until 2:45. If your train is scheduled to arrive at 5:30, it will probably actually be 10 minutes late. This is something that I am still trying to learn how to stay relaxed about, but if you are a naturally late person, Italy is perfect! Overall it’s nice to try a slower way of life where everything isn’t rushed.

Life in Italy for English Teachers

Italian Culture vs American Culture: Food

Italians take food seriously. Most shops close for two hours in the middle of the day for a lunch break. This can be inconvenient, but I appreciate that people take the time to make food and sit down at the table for lunch. Instead of grabbing Jimmy John’s, Subway, or Wendy’s, they will make something like pasta, which is very common for lunch. Pasta for lunch and meat for dinner is a typical pattern. I’m sure almost everyone has heard that people eat a ton of pasta here. I expected this, but I didn’t know that there would be whole aisles in the store designated just for pasta…

italian gelato

When going out to eat, there are three courses, dessert, and then coffee. I don’t suggest going out to eat if you have somewhere to be in an hour! The food in north Italy and south Italy are so different. Before arriving in Italy, I was thinking that I’d be having the usual “Italian restaurant” food like garlic bread and spaghetti with some kind of pasta sauce made with tomatoes. I was completely wrong. I found out that what we typically think of as Italian food is more similar to the food from the south. In the north, they have their own specialties like risotto Milanese. One of my favorite things is trying a region’s typical food while traveling. All of the regions are so diverse. Also I can’t forget to mention the gelato (Italian ice cream)... Amazing! If you come to Italy let me know and I will tell you all about the best gelateria!

Cultural Differences in Italy: Traveling

Northern Italy is one of the best places to teach abroad because it is a great location for traveling. It is so easy to take a day trip to the sea, mountains, or Switzerland. There are many lakes to visit and cute little towns in the mountains. Plane tickets from Milan are very inexpensive; for example, I bought tickets to London for 30 Euros ($32 USD), and tickets to Budapest, Hungary for 15 Euros ($16 USD). I feel so lucky to be able to travel so much. Even if you just travel in Italy, the different regions all have so much to offer. The trains are very useful because you can go almost anywhere with them, and if the train doesn’t go to an exact place, a bus can take you! I use public transportation a lot to get around because I travel far to study Italian and also to the schools I teach at. So, I have a monthly pass that works for the whole region. I can use the trains, metro, buses, and tram for 107 Euros ($120 USD) per month. It is a pretty good deal!

Because I got my TEFL certification with International TEFL Academy, it has helped me enjoy life in a new country, teaching, and also learning to embrace the culture. I have made great friends at the school where I study Italian and also a few other English teachers. I am happy with what I am doing, and I am enjoying this adventure here in Italy. I think everyone can benefit from teaching abroad!

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