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Teaching English in Milan, Italy: Alumni Q&A with Kevin Nye
Written by: Kevin Nye
Last Updated: January 14, 2021
What is your citizenship?
What city and state are you from?
I'm from Cleveland, Ohio, but most recently lived in Chicago.
How old are you?
What is your education level and background?
Have you traveled abroad in the past?
Some international travel
If you have traveled abroad in the past, where have you been?
England when I was 12, then I did a 3-week jaunt around Europe in 2012 with a friend. He ended up moving to London, so I also did 10 days in London last year.
What sparked your interest in going to teach English abroad?
Several things: I’ve always kicked around the idea of teaching and I also was ready to leave Chicago. The perfect storm formed, and so it was that I looked into teaching abroad. I’d get to live somewhere new; I’d get to try out some teaching; and I’d get to do something completely new. It was an amalgam of the things that I wanted to do, all rolled into one.
What were some of your concerns before teaching abroad?
Just finding work in general was kind of scary. It’s hard to get in touch with people who are doing it, especially in Italy. We (my fiancée is here too) didn’t know how long it would take and we didn’t know what to *really* expect along the way.
What did your friends and family think about you moving and teaching abroad?
They were very supportive, which was nice. Everyone said, "This is the time to do it,” which was pretty nice. There were a few concerns but everyone agreed that I was adult enough to make these kinds of decisions, so everyone agreed it was a good idea.
Why did you decide to get TEFL certified and choose International TEFL Academy?
Getting TEFL certified looked to be the best option for finding a way to live abroad, which is how the whole process started. I began looking into the various courses in and around Chicago, trying to find something that balanced affordability and effectiveness. During the internal debate, I walked past the ITA offices and went in for a sit-down chat on more than one occasion. Eventually, I decided on ITA.
Which TEFL certification course did you take?
Online TEFL Class
How did you like the course?
I liked it. I was working full time at the time of taking the course, and it didn’t feel too demanding, which was sort of nice, I guess. It had its ups and downs, as any course would, but overall I thought it was pretty good. I think it could have used a little more focus on the technical aspects of English and a little less on the methods of teaching and such, but that’s just my opinion based on what I’m doing in Italy at the moment.
Jennifer Fong was the instructor and she was very accessible and helpful with anything we needed, so that was a plus.
The practicum (student teaching) ended up being really fun - I did a bit at a few different places in Chicago, and especially enjoyed doing EFL tutoring at Loyola University.
How has your TEFL training helped you in your current teaching position?
The number one way it has helped is because of the suggestion during the course that essentially said “if you don’t know the answer, just talk it out and you’ll re-learn it together.” I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve used that when a student asks me a tricky question. Beyond that it has helped with lesson-planning and things of that nature.
Which city and country did you decide to teach English in and why?
Milan, Italy. I chose Italy because it’s a beautiful country, centrally located to the rest of Europe, and I have some family in Austria, and northern Italy isn’t too far away from them.
How long have you been in this country and how long do you plan to stay?
I’ve been in Italy since the first week of September and plan to stay until roughly the end of May.
How did you secure your English teaching job?
From looking at the ITA list of schools in Milan, I contacted lots via email first, asking about availability. I also posted flyers for private lessons near universities and primary schools. These 3 combined to get me work.
What school, company, or program are you working for?
I am currently working for two companies under the table.
How did you get your work visa?
I do not have a work visa and it’s a point of some tension, admittedly. Numerous learning centers said they would absolutely not take a meeting with anyone who didn’t have a work visa but they would also not include or give any information about how to properly obtain a work visa. Even the people who’ve employed me are fairly unclear about how to go through the whole process – it’s kind of a mess in Italy, I guess. No one is willing to hire you full time without one, but you can’t seem to get one without having secured a job offer in Italy, then going home to the states for one month and receiving proper documentation and then coming back.
You basically have to get lucky, and it just so happened that I got lucky. Each of the two companies listed above are careful with how much work they can give me while maintaining accurate books, so it’s only a handful of hours per week from each.
*Editors note: ITA is very clear that Americans should not expect to get a work visa in Italy. Some schools will hire without a visa and some will not, it also varies on city (hence articles from alumni such as this one). It's nearly impossible for an American to obtain a work visa in Italy as an English teacher, that is why schools don't know how to do it, the government doesn't issue them.
Tell us about your English teaching job!
Hours: I typically work exclusively in the afternoon, Monday through Friday, between two and six hours per day. It was a slow build-up, as lessons came in on a weekly basis that would start the following week, so my schedule was always changing for the first 8 weeks I was here. A couple of those lessons are from each learning institute, and a few are from my own advertising.
Pay: Pay is anywhere from 15 to 30 euros per hour, depending on the lesson, where I got the lesson, and how many students are in each lesson. The learning centers often send multiple children for one lesson.
Type of school: The two companies I work with are both after-school lesson groups for children. All of my lessons through them are children between the ages of six and 13. Some are homework help; others are play-in-English lessons; and others are more structures teaching.
Students: In addition to the above, I have a few adult students – one in university, another a 40-year-old father of two. These are people who’ve seen my fliers and wanted lessons from a native speaker.
Holidays/vacation: If I decide that I will be out of town for a few days, my students must basically accept that I will be out of town for a few days. My scheduling is very lenient and I can effectively come and go as I please, although we’re careful not to take advantage of these things. We also travel nearly every weekend.
How did you find somewhere to live and what is it like?
I signed up for all of this alongside my then-girlfriend, now fiancée, so we live together in a 1 bedroom apartment toward the end of one of the public-transit lines. We did AirBnB for the first month and then looked for a place to live online and eventually landed on a really nice apartment with one of the worst landlords imaginable. The apartment is great, but it took six weeks to get them to turn on the internet, which is, you know, terrible.
Please explain the cultural aspects, public transportation, nightlife, social activities, food, expat community, dating scene, travel opportunities, etc...
a. Culture Shock
The biggest culture shock has been that people do not know how to use a sidewalk in Milan. If you’re walking briskly with a rolling suitcase, you will get stuck behind people walking 1 mph three abreast on a sidewalk. They’ll look back, acknowledge that you’re trying to get past, and then continue on as if you don’t exist. This type of thing happens virtually every day. Additionally, don’t be shocked at how much graffiti there is in Europe. It doesn’t mean dangerous, it’s just what stupid kids do over here whereas in the states they break windows in old buildings or…something. I don’t know what they do in the states, I guess, but graffiti is virtually everywhere here.
People eat dinner late and grocery stores are understaffed here. You can eat very cheap, but don’t expect a quick line at the grocery store. The people are all shockingly willing to talk to strangers, but if you don’t know the language it’s a little hard – I get asked for directions roughly 3x per week and rarely know the answer to get them where they’re going, but it’s nice that people don’t live in their bubbles the way everyone does in the States.
While I think that the people, as a group, are fairly rude and selfish, they are all overwhelmingly nice and generous in 1-on-1 settings. Parents of my students have given Christmas gifts, invited us on weekend getaways, and had us over for family dinners.
b. Public transportation
Milan’s public transit is actually quite good. There are occasional strikes on Fridays, but so far we’ve not had much trouble, even while strikes were going on. There’s almost always a train every five minutes and buses can be a bit unpredictable, but most of the bus stops have signs indicating when the next bus comes.
I admittedly don’t go out much, but there are a few areas of nightlife in the city which are quite far from where I live. Corso Navigli seems to be one of them, but it’s been under a lot of construction lately with the upcoming Expo, so I can’t say for sure.
d. Social activities
The biggest social thing in Milan seems to be that there are happy-hours with food all over the place. It’s called aperitivo and you pay for a drink and then eat finger food for quite some time. It’s a good idea, I guess, and everyone seems to enjoy it. Beyond that, there’s not a ton of social activities going on as I travel just about every weekend.
It’s Italian food, so it’s pretty good. I’m usually cooking at home, which means buying pasta at the grocery store for something like 30 cents per pound and then trying different sauces and such. It’s quite fun to make cheap meals and substitute new things in and out of them because their grocery options are different than back home.
f. Expat community
Not much. There are a couple of facebook groups but no one gets together and does anything from them. There’s one bar that shows NFL games on Sundays, but the only time I’ve been there were about 12 people in the place and I think half were American.
g. Dating scene
Couldn’t tell you. I’m recently engaged.
h. Travel opportunities
I have traveled virtually every weekend since I’ve been here, so the opportunities are plenty. There are cheap flights if you book in advance through Ryanair or EasyJet, and Milano Centrale offers trains to just about anywhere. This is a huge part of why we chose Milan.
How would you describe your standard of living?
We're comfortable, but we're also sharing rent. And we saved money before we came here.
In your opinion, how much does someone need to earn in order to live comfortably?
To live comfortably, 1250/month is doable for one person. Cheap apartments are aplenty if you go near universities.
What advice would you give someone planning or considering teaching abroad? Would you recommend teaching in your country?
I have a few pieces of advice: First, do it. Teaching abroad is wonderful. You escape any problems you had in the States and suddenly your life seems like it was impossibly easy. You challenge yourself in new and weird ways without even realizing it. Go teach abroad. Go live abroad. Do anything, but teaching is a good one.
A next piece of advice would be to put up fliers of your own and offer a first-class-free policy from students. Between the two of us, we’ve had one person fail to continue on after a first-lesson-free, and have had five sign on for courses with us. These courses alone pay for our monthly rent. “Prima Lezioni Gratuita,” in case you’re wondering. We also seemed to have much more success by writing them in Italian than in English.
Kevin grew up in the Cleveland suburbs before moving to Chicago where he worked for a software company and did standup comedy on the side for fun. When selling software became too daunting, he took the easy way out, got TEFL certified, and moved to Italy to teach English with his fiancé with no job lined up. He scored a job teaching after-school lessons to groups of children ages 6-13.
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