How did you end up in Italy?
I first came here in 2004, when I was 21, to study at New York University’s campus in Florence as part of their ‘study abroad’ programme. I’d already studied Spanish and wanted to pick up another foreign language to add to my communications degree. I also wanted to eat really good food!
What made you stay?
I had to move back to the States to complete my last year at NYU, but after that I moved back to Florence mostly to be with my Italian boyfriend, whom I’d met while studying there. New York is a lot of fun but it weighs you down – and I was ready for a change.
What’s your job?
I work as a web marketing manager at an Italian publishing company, where I head up marketing campaigns and initiatives.
Do you need to speak Italian to work in Italy?
Obviously it depends on which sector you want to work in. Unless you’re working for some big international corporation, where English is the common language, knowing Italian puts you at an advantage.
Speaking Italian is also important if you want to integrate – otherwise you tend to stick around with just American or British expats. It took me about five months to be able to get to speaking level, but being fully comfortable speaking only Italian for work took about a year.
What are the advantages of working in Italy?
The vacations! In America, they just don’t understand the importance of vacations at all. Whereas in the US you’d be lucky to get eight or nine days, in Italy you nearly always get at least three to four weeks of paid vacation a year.
Are there any negatives?
It’s very hard to progress to more senior roles or better-paid positions, especially if you’re a woman. I work in a predominantly masculine field, and I’m often the only woman in my meetings.
Was it difficult to find your current job?
I’ve been very lucky. It was difficult in the sense that anyone who’s not an EU citizen has to apply for a work visa – and in order to do that, you already need a contract with a company in Italy. Plus, as a non-EU foreigner, you need to be able prove that you’re the only person who can do that job. So it’s really important to do your research.
It took me a year and a half to get my work papers sorted. Once I had my foot in the door, I worked in a bunch of different jobs – including that of shop assistant in Intimissimi, an underwear shop, for ten months.
Of course, selling underwear after a four-year degree at NYU was a bit of a hit to my ego, and there were days where I wanted to just say forget it and return to the States. But it helped me pick up the language faster and get to the next level. This kind of experience isn’t uncommon in Italy. I know a lot of graduate engineers here who had to work as waiters for three years before landing the right job.
I found my current job by asking literally everyone I met in Florence about what they did for a living and if they knew of any job openings. Eventually, a friend of a friend asked at the office where she was teaching English if they had any vacancies, and they said they did. They weren’t even advertising them!
Was it difficult to get your degree recognized?
Well, technically, my degree is recognized as a mini laurea, or a mini degree. In Italy, it’s normal to do a Master’s degree – which is composed of a three-year Bachelor course and two years of specialization. So my Bachelor’s degree is not considered a full degree – but this has never been much of a problem for me. In web marketing, if you know what you’re doing, they don’t tend to mind.
Have you noticed any differences between the working cultures in Italy and the US?
In the Italian workplace, you’re expected to do everything – even the things that have nothing to do with your role. In the US, on the other hand, your role is often very specific.
My days here range from setting up newsletters and updating the database – which, quite honestly, an intern could do – to analyzing data from the last campaign, making campaign decisions based on the conclusions and creating social media campaigns.
Italians are hard workers, by the way, but they also know how to play hard. In my office, everyone works like a dog and often stays late. I know a lot of friends in the United States that are always out of the door at five o’clock.
Do you have any advice for expats looking for a job in Italy?
Although I found my job through a friend of a friend, that was six years ago – and now the web has changed everything. LinkedIn is a great resource. Also, going to networking events and business clubs is a great way to meet people within your sector.
I also strongly recommend reading up on all the bureaucratic issues. I was very naïve when I came here at 21. If you’re from outside the EU, you’re technically only allowed to stay for 90 days if you don’t have a work permit. And getting a work permit is very tricky if you don’t already have a connection with a company here.
Finally, I’d say you have to be incredibly flexible. Whether you’re moving to Malta or Japan, the culture will be very different. So if little things peeve you – like not being able to do grocery shopping at 3pm – then you just have to get over it!