‘Don’t wait for work to fall from the sky’

As the great-granddaughter of Italian immigrants, Tina Ferrari, 35, returned to the home of her ancestors four years ago. She tells The Local how she’s juggled three careers as a DJ, tango dancer and translator.

'Don't wait for work to fall from the sky'
Photo (left): Tina Ferrari. Photo (right): Simona Gioppato

How did you end up in Italy?

Although I’m from the US, I’m actually Italian-American – my great grandparents on my father's side of the family come from Tuscany and Piemonte. I grew up with Italian culture and later applied for dual citizenship.

Before I moved to Lecce in the southern region of Puglia, I’d been working in the US as a translator of Italian into English – mainly technical – and all my clients were in Italy. So my decision to move here was partly for cultural reasons and partly for work purposes. Later, I moved to Bologna in the northern region of Emilia-Romagna, where I live now.

Was it difficult to get your dual citizenship?

In all, it took about four or five years to get all the documentation together. Although it was a very long process, it’s ultimately been worth it because I don’t have to worry about renewing visas or registering for residency with the police.

What else do you do apart from translations?

I DJ for tango events and, although I stopped teaching tango a couple of years ago, I still give private lessons.

I began learning tango ten years ago in the States. Then, before moving to Italy, I spent a year and a half teaching alongside a tango teacher in Buenos Aires.

After moving to Puglia, I found the translation work slow at first and needed to earn a bit of extra money. Fortunately, I didn’t have to search for work. At that time, I was practising tango with the head of a tango school – and he asked me if I’d like to teach a couple of classes at his school.

Did you have any difficulty integrating?

Yes and no. On the one hand, I love living here because the culture suits me so well. Having been raised by an Italian family, I’ve noticed that many little things – like the way people lead their daily lives and their attitude towards food – have already been instilled in me.

But the more I live here, the more I discover that certain things are harder to get around. The biggest hurdle for me was the fact that Italians don’t tend to move around and tend to keep their childhood friends for life. Although I had relatives in Pistoia and Lucca in Tuscany, I didn’t know anyone in Puglia so there were no readymade friends to fall back on.

Is tango popular in Italy?

Tango is huge in Italy and a strong part of the culture here, especially in the north where there are lots of tango schools.

The good thing is that the tango community in Italy is so dense and well-connected that it’s really helped me make friends and not feel so alone in my adopted country. By participating in social tango, such as Milonga, I became part of local life in a very special way and have forged some good and interesting friendships as a result.

Is it difficult to earn a living in Italy as a freelancer?

Just like any freelance career, it can be difficult to begin with because you need to build up experience and a client base. But if you’re patient enough, work hard and spend a lot of time seeking out work instead of waiting for it to fall from the sky, you can earn a decent living.

On the plus side, I never have to worry about contracts and I often get to work in my pyjamas!

Do you have any advice for people looking for work in Italy?

Right now, the work situation in Italy is quite precarious, so unless somebody has a very Italy-specific career, for example in the fashion industry, then I wouldn’t recommend coming here.

You also have to be willing to work hard, you need a lot of patience, and naturally you need to be able to speak Italian.

Will you ever leave Italy?

I don’t think so. Considering the type of work I do, it’s much easier for me to find work here.

Food is also very important to me, so I find the availability of fresh high-quality ingredients at reasonable prices very attractive. And of course there’s healthcare. Here, I can afford to go to the doctor, whereas in the US insurance is very expensive for freelancers.

But ask me again in five years!

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