Teaching English in Bologna: Interview with Michael Maguire
Tell us about yourself! We’d love to know about your background, what drew you to teaching English in Bologna, and more…
Hi everyone, my name is Michael Maguire. I’m from Cavan but I’ve been living and teaching English in Bologna, Italy since September 2019. Before moving to Italy, I had moved back home to Cavan and worked in a local hotel. I was looking to do something different with my life and had always wanted to live abroad for a while.
Some of my friends had already done different teaching jobs abroad, mostly in Asia, and they had all really enjoyed the experience. So, I decided to give teaching a go.
My friend recommended TEFL Institute of Ireland because you can do the course online and in your own time. This allowed me to keep working full time and complete the TEFL course. I found the course really interesting and learned a lot about different teaching methods and English grammar. I signed up for the Italy internship because I wanted to stay in Europe and, although I had never been to Italy before, I had heard so many good things about it.
Have you worked at the same school for your entire time teaching English in Bologna?
Yes, since moving over here, I’ve always been in the same school. When I moved here, the school had just opened and I was the first teacher hired, which was a little daunting at first! But I’m really glad that I came to this school as I’ve been able to see it grow and become a busy, fully functioning school. I really feel like part of the team here and I feel invested in the school.
What was the beginning like? With a new job and location, was it hard to get used to the new culture and being an English teacher?
Being the first teacher in the school meant that I got a lot of training at the start, which all new teachers get. Coming over here I had no teaching experience at all, so that was probably my biggest fear. The DoS (Director of Studies) was super nice and understood where I was coming from. All the staff in the school were welcoming and made me feel right at home.
The Italian culture was pretty easy to get used to, to be honest. It’s not a million miles away from our own. They like drinking, going out and eating good food. I’ve also found Italian people to be really nice and welcoming. The biggest change was probably food and the mealtimes. There’s a lot less spuds and a lot more pasta! They also have dinner a lot later than we do in Ireland, usually at around 8pm.
Life teaching English in Bologna is pretty relaxed really. The lessons are always fun and, because the students can be any age (I’ve taught students from 12 to 90!), you get to meet such a variety of people and personalities. I really enjoy the job! You can see your students develop over a few months and you get plenty of positive feedback from students and managers.
You were in Italy during the pandemic and when it was badly hit by coronavirus. How did you adjust to the online classroom?
The pandemic was a shock to the system at first, as I’m sure it was to everybody. We went from teaching in school to doing all lessons online in the space of a week or so. Teaching online is different to the classroom, but not really any more difficult.
All my colleagues were in the same boat, so we used to do lots of video calls together to help each other out and share tips for teaching online. After a couple of weeks, I felt pretty comfortable teaching online. We tried a couple of different platforms but settled on Zoom in the end, as it seemed to cause the least number of problems.
Now we’re back full time in the school doing in-person lessons. While I definitely still prefer teaching in school, I’m kind of glad I got the experience of teaching online too.
What is life in Bologna like? Is the cost of living expensive or are you able to live a good life with the internship wage?
I really like Bologna. I think everywhere in Italy is fantastic, but I do feel like I got lucky with Bologna. It’s a small enough city, about 350,000 people or so. It has one of the biggest universities in Italy, and the oldest in Europe! So, there are almost 100,000 students here. This means there are plenty of young people, and lots of international people if your Italian isn’t great.
It’s a really vibrant and cultural city with a great variety in nightlife – there’s always something going on for everyone here. It’s also small enough that you can reach everywhere in 15 minutes on a bike.
In general, the cost of living is similar to Ireland, if a bit cheaper. Supermarkets are roughly the same price and bars are priced like bars in Ireland (outside of Dublin). Restaurants tend to be cheaper though, and you definitely get more value for money.
Rent isn’t the worst, but it’s not the best either! Depending on what you are looking for it’s probably going to be between €350-450 a month for a room. There are cheaper cities in Italy but it’s also not as expensive as Milan or Rome. I have found the wage to be more than enough to enjoy living over here. I’m able to cover my rent, enjoy myself and even save a little bit for travel.
Before the pandemic hit, were you able to travel much? If yes, where? And is it expensive to travel throughout Italy?
Before the pandemic, and since, I’ve done a bit of travelling in Italy. Bologna is fairly central, so it’s pretty easy to visit a lot of other cities. So far, I’ve visited Florence, Rome, Palermo, Milan and Venice. As well as a few smaller cities nearer to Bologna, like Parma, Modena, Ferrara and Ravenna. The train is by far the best way to travel around Italy and it’s relatively cheap. There’s a really good rail system that connects all the major cities. There are high-speed trains that are a little bit more expensive but can be worth it if you’re travelling far. Absolutely everywhere I’ve visited in Italy has been beautiful.
Tell us 3 tips for future teachers that are looking to move to Italy. What would you recommend to first-time teachers arriving in the country?
- Sort out long-term accommodation beforehand
When I came here, I didn’t have any long-term accommodation sorted. I spent the first three weeks in an Airbnb while looking for a place. If possible, I would recommend trying to find a place before coming over. It was difficult to find a place, I didn’t speak any Italian and I came over in September so there were a lot of students also looking for rooms. In the end, I got a great room, where I’m still living. I found my room on Idealista but Subito, Bakeca and Stanzazoo are also meant to be good.
- Learn some Italian
This may seem like an obvious thing to say, but when I came over I didn’t know a word of Italian. Most Italians, especially younger people, know some English, but not a lot. If you can make some small attempt to speak Italian, they always appreciate it and are instantly friendlier!
- Don’t worry about being new
One of my biggest worries before coming over was that I had never worked in a classroom before and felt nervous about speaking in front of people. My advice to anyone who feels like this is, don’t worry! Everyone knows you’re new and mistakes are expected. The school provides training in classroom management, grammar lessons and how to deal with different students and situations. I was able to observe a few lessons before I taught any and after a couple of lessons, I started to feel more comfortable.
Now you’re back teaching in the classroom, how many students do you teach daily? What’s your favourite class?
Classes range in size from individual lessons to a maximum of seven students. The students are divided by their level of English and every day you will teach a variety of levels and students. There are two main types of lessons: grammar lessons and conversation lessons.
At the start, I much preferred the conversational lessons but as I’ve got to know more about grammar, I look forward to both now.
I like teaching all the different levels. The lower level students learn basic things quite fast, so you get a sense of satisfaction when you see after the hour lesson how they’ve improved. With the higher level students, you get to have real conversations on interesting topics and there’s always a good range of different ideas.
Would you recommend the Italy internship to other teachers?
I would definitely recommend this internship to anyone who wants to teach English in Italy. Life in Italy and teaching English in Bologna has been really good for me. I’ve found the lifestyle more relaxing, and the weather isn’t too bad either! My experience in my school has been positive. I feel I’ve become a much better and confident teacher and found a job that I genuinely enjoy.
Inspired by Michael and his TEFL story? Find out more about our paid Italy internship and how to apply today.