My experience working for a garment and fabric company in Prato, Italy!
At the first MEL meeting to discuss what we could do during our year abroad we were told we had three options; to study, work or be a British council languages assistant. I had always wanted to work on my year abroad, in order to gain work experience that I can add to my CV and to help me make decisions about what I want to do. However, with the Italian department, if you study for at least one semester, you are not required to write a 6,000 word dissertation in your target language in 4th year, but instead a 3,000 word long essay. This aided me in my decision to study for half the year and work the other half.
Finding an Internship
My first thought was to contact the Italian department and see if they had any companies they could put me in contact with. Unfortunately, they informed me that they are unable to help with finding an internship.
I made an appointment with the careers department at the University who helped mainly in informing me of the process to apply for Erasmus funding for your traineeship, but they also recommended me a few websites which proved useful in my search. Before I began my search I was told finding a job in Italy was pretty much impossible due to the economic crisis. I did find a few jobs advertised online, but I did not find any paid ones. Websites which I used to find placements included Indeed, Neuvoo and Erasmasu. Most of them wanted to set up a Skype interview but I found these to be quite casual. One thing to be aware of is that the only criteria that the University sets that it has to be academic and improve your Italian language. I have found that being a native English speaker is an advantage and most jobs would require you to use both.
Not through contacts, I was offered two positions, one in Sicily, which I declined as I decided I wanted to stay mainland, and the other was for a office position in a University. This however was not a normal University but a Universitá di popolare which they have in Italy. It was based in a very remote place in Italy and was more like a yoga retreat. It was quite a strange set-up and one thing I learnt was that websites, like Erasmusu, do not vet the placements and have had experiences in the past where companies have been untrustworthy so this is something to be aware of.
Ultimately, how I found my internship was through contacts. I was surprised at how many people my parents knew, knew of people who worked in Italy and were willing to help me find a placement. While going through contacts means there is often not a specific position you are applying to, it could be a favour and sometimes you are waiting longer to hear back, but I would recommend going through contacts because it means you are dealing with people you trust and who look out for you.
Commuting and public transport
One thing which made finding a placement so hard was that they seemed to be in the middle-of-nowhere, well not literally but in small industrial towns, far from major cities.
The internship I took was still in an industrial park, in between Prato and Montemurlo. However, I was able to stay in Florence, where I studied for first semester, and I commuted everyday. I had to take a train and then a bus, but as I only worked 10 weeks it was doable. In Florence, there are not many offices and the industry is mainly tourism so I found it hard to find an internship in the city itself. An example of an internship in Florence would be to work in the office of a language school or other people I know taught in schools nearby in Tuscany.
What surprised me was that it wasn’t just the interns that were commuting but at my work most people commuted, either from Florence, Bologna or other Tuscan towns. This is because of the lack of opportunities in Italy, you work wherever you can find something suitable and then travel in.
Working or Studying
My placement actually got finalised really late because I could not find one I was happy with. I had to cancel an application I had already made for Erasmus funding, and make a new one which got approved the day I was supposed to start work. While I was fairly panicked, the University recognised that I was in a stressful situation and it was not a problem.
For my language skills, I think working benefited me far more. I was lucky to work with some really nice women, who almost mothered me and even invited me to have dinner with their families. Conversing with Italians who did not speak any English improved my vocabulary and my confidence. I was in a position where I was having general conversations in Italian but I also learnt work phrases and even hearing my colleagues interact with each other and on the phone helped to improve my language.
While finding the placement was stressful, and working 40 hour weeks was a shock to the system, I was still able to go on trips and see my friends, in the evenings and at the weekends, and I am ultimately glad I worked. It helped me to improve my language in a way that studying did not and without the exam period it means I can now enjoy a longer summer. Working in Italy was a positive experience and it is definitely second semester that has helped me the most in improving my Italian and preparing for fourth year!