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EDUCATION

Life’s better in Italy, say expat mums

Almost half of expat mothers don’t ever plan to return to live in their home country, believing that the quality of life in their adopted nation is far better.

A recent survey by MumAbroad.com has revealed that 49 per cent of expat mothers living in Italy, Spain, France and Italy never plan to return to their home country to live.

And nearly two-thirds believe that the quality of life in their adopted nation is better than that in their native country, even though they think the schooling is not as good.

“I’m happy I’m raising my daughter in Italy instead of the US,” Erica Firpo, who lives in Rome, told The Local.

“In America, I feel there is ‘kids’ versus ‘adults', where you’re treated like a child until aged 18, whereas here, I feel like kids are kids, there is no unnecessary infantilization. Children, from birth, are encouraged to have their own personalities and to talk and have their voices heard.”

The questionnaire asked 650 mothers from the international expat community living in the four countries covered by MumAbroad.com, the majority of whose children were under 16 years old.

Significantly, education was perceived as worse (32.23 percent) in their adopted nation than at home, as were children’s activities (38 percent) and children’s services (35 percent).

That said, in schools in Italy there is less of a “social hierarchy” than in the US, according to Firpo.

“There is more emphasis on the class working together, whether or not they like the teacher,” she said.

“In Italy, they don’t fully foster the need to be the best and there is a lot of rote memorization, but on the flip side, the academics don't just touch the surface and go much deeper than American schools – philosophically and theoretically."

Meanwhile, exactly half of the number of women surveyed said that they had given birth in their adopted country and 85 percent said that the experience was a positive one.

But the lack of natural birth options and few midwives was cited as a negative, particularly for mothers living in Spain.

Most children living with either one or two foreign parents attended a local school (61 percent), just under a third went to an international school (31percent) and the remainder to state subsidized schools or were home-schooled.

"This is the first survey of its kind in Europe, solely focusing on mothers from the international community”Carrie Frais, co-founder of MumAbroad.com, told The Local.

"I think it is significant that such a high percentage of those interviewed are opting to stay in their chosen country for the long-term, despite some concerns over local education systems. It seems that a good health system and excellent quality of life are overriding factors and enough to deter many of us from returning home".

Frais believes that more and more women are choosing to start a family abroad.

"We believe that we will see increasing numbers of ‘lifestyle migrants’ choosing to live in European countries which offer these benefits as travelling between different cities becomes easier and working remotely becomes more popular."

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EDUCATION

Back to school in Italy: how much will it cost, and how can you save money?

With Italy’s schools reopening in September, parents are beginning the annual rush to stock up on essential supplies. New figures reveal families will have to shell out more this year.

Back to school in Italy: how much will it cost, and how can you save money?

As the last families return to their homes at the tail-end of the so-called grande rientro, Italian pupils are preparing to file back into the classroom for the start of the 2022/2023 school year. 

For those who aren’t too familiar with the Italian education system, all public schools are managed by regional authorities, meaning return dates generally vary by region.

READ ALSO: Explained: What are Italy’s Covid rules for schools in September?

For instance, this time around, back-to-school dates will range from September 5th to September 19th, with children from Trentino-Alto Adige being the first back in front of the blackboard. (See all the dates here).

Regardless of the dates pupils are expected back at their desks, the purchase of school supplies and textbooks is going to deal many Italian families a harder economic blow this year.

According to estimates from Italian consumer association Codacons, the prices of regular school supplies (backpacks, notebooks, pencil cases, stationery, etc.) have increased by as much as seven percent compared to last year. 

Prices, Codacons explains, have been mainly driven up by “greater energy costs for manufacturers” and “higher transportation fees” associated with the European fuel crisis. 

Students outside the Italo Calvino Institute in Turin, Italy.

Backpacks are the most expensive item in the back-to-school shopping list, with some branded articles going for as much as 200 euros. Photo by Marco BERTORELLO / AFP

So how much should Italian families prepare to shell out?

According to Codacons, expenses for school supplies alone might add up to a whopping 588 euros per student

As usual, the most expensive item on the back-to-school list is the backpack, with some brand-name articles currently going for as much as 200 euros.

READ ALSO: Why Italians have a hard time learning English – and how things could improve

Significant expenses are also required for pencil cases or pouches (branded items may go for as much as 60 euros) and school diaries (around 30 euros for the most sought-after brands). 

On top of the above-mentioned school supplies (corredo scolastico in Italian), families will also have to pay for textbooks. 

While elementary school textbooks are supplied free of charge across the entire country, costs for middle school (scuola media) or high school (scuola superiore) textbooks generally fall between 300 and 600 euros, with prices largely varying according to the year and school children happen to be in. 

All in all then, Codacons estimates that the purchase of school supplies, textbooks and technical items (set triangles, compasses, goniometers, etc.) might set Italian families back as much as 1,300 euros per student this time around. 

However, as the prospect of this year’s back-to-school stangata (financial blow) gives rise to some much-justified concern among parents, Codacons and other consumer groups such as Altroconsumo and Tuttoscuola have already provided families with some useful advice on how to save up on both supplies and textbooks.

How to save money on school supplies

  • Avoid branded items. Children are easily influenced by TV and/or online ads and might push to get the most popular and fashionable articles on the market. However, off-brand items generally have the same features and durability as their more well-known counterparts and might go for 40 percent less.
  • Buy from a local supermarket rather than a stationery shop. At this time of the year, many supermarket chains offer very favourable deals on school kits, with prices being sometimes 30 percent lower than in specialist shops.
  • Don’t buy everything at once. Any item that is not immediately necessary can be bought at a later stage.
  • Wait for teachers’ guidelines, especially when it comes to buying material for art or geometry classes. Knowing exactly what items are required will save you from spending money on wrong or unnecessary articles.

A student completing a written test.

Italian consumer groups have advised families to avoid branded items when it comes to purchasing school supplies. Photo by Olivier CHASSIGNOLE / AFP

How to save money on textbooks

  • Buy second-hand textbooks. Purchasing libri usati might allow you to save up to 50 percent on school books. However, it’s usually best to check the state of the items – especially their exercise pages – prior to buying. Also, keep in mind that past editions might no longer be accepted.
  • Loan textbooks directly from the school. Not all institutes do this but some allow for various forms of comodato d’uso whereby families can loan textbooks for the entire length of the school year and then return them when classes end in June.
  • Look out for financial incentives. All schools set aside a budget to help low-income families with the purchase of textbooks. Incentives usually come in the forms of vouchers partly covering the price of the required items. Vouchers are allocated on the basis of a household’s economic situation, which in Italy is calculated as ISEE (Equivalent Financial Position Indicator or Indicatore della Situazione Economica Equivalente).
  • Shop online or in supermarkets. Some supermarkets and online marketplaces sell textbooks at favourable prices, with discounts usually ranging between 10 and 20 percent.
  • Buy digital textbooks. Again, not all schools allow this but in some institutes families have the option to buy the required set of textbooks in digital form. Students can then access the books via a pc, tablet or e-reader.
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