Friday, July 13, 2012

So You Want to Move to Italy After College?

Studying in Italy is a great experience. There are ups and downs, but the thought "I would love to move here after graduation!" has crossed nearly every study abroad student's mind at one time or another (including my own), pulling harder at some than others. For those who are serious enough to take the plunge and are ready to book that one-way ticket to Italia, this article is for you.

I mean, who wants to get tied behind a desk in a boring cubicle immediately after school? You are still young, you want to experience the world, live it up, do something different, and really Italy is just awesome. So, you say to yourself, where to start?

A job is a good place. Sure, maybe some of us can live off mommy and daddy for longer than others, but the majority have to have an income to support that wine-drinking habit that will inevitably develop. Problem is, you're going to run into a few brick walls here.

Firstly, your job prospects are severely limited. You basically get to choose between teaching English, working in a tourist pub, or being an illegal tour guide. For anything else, you have to (a) speak fluent Italian, (b) compete with all the other young unemployed Italians who are willing to work for less than you are, or (c) have some influential connections. If not, start looking for TEFL (Teach English as a Foreign Language) courses to throw a certification on your resume. There are lots of online guides on how to become an ESL teacher abroad.

Secondly, if you are American, Australian, South African, or just generally do not have a European passport, you will probably be working illegally. The English get all up in arms about this, but it's really just because getting the legal paperwork is near-impossible, something that they don't have to worry about. Now there are two possible responses to this assertion:

1. Living illegally in another country is unacceptable and I won't do it. I'll find a way to be legal. Well prepare for a battle that you will probably lose. The best way to go about this is becoming a student. You have to apply to a university, which means getting all your application materials translated, notarized and certified by the Italian consulate (you better learn what an Apostille is before even considering this), and then actually go to class and pay for a university, which kind of defeats the purpose of making money in the first place. If you want to throw a hail Mary and try and get an actual working visa, good luck. The Italian government issues a certain number of them every year, so you better have some serious connections or be working for a very influential company who really wants you and is able to go through all the legal loopholes to get you there. A typical English school will almost never do this for you.

2. Who cares? Italians love Americans, they need English teachers, so nobody will care if I just keep a low profile and fly under the radar. You, my friend, are in the majority. As uncomfortable of a truth as this may be, for all of Italy's illegal immigration crackdown, Americans (and Australians, etc etc) generally don't get included in that. Heck, many of the people I taught when I was in Rome illegally were judges, police officers and Carabinieri. As long as you don't give anyone a reason to arrest you and are very polite and and confident going through the airport, the majority of people don't have anything to worry about.

Now I am not recommending this, I'm just saying it how it is. If any weird situation happens while you are there illegally and you get Tommy-try-hard police officer on your case, you might be screwed. Generally, schools (and pubs, etc) will hire you. There are a lot of places that don't, but if you try for long enough, you will find a place to get hired. The fact is that English schools and tourism are big business in Italy and having native English-speaking staff is highly desired. Your paycheck will likely be an envelope filled with cash at the end of every week and that's that. There are other inconveniences involved in living illegally, like having a bank account (pretty much impossible) and getting health care (find the right doctor and you're set), but you'll generally get by.

So you still want to move to Italy after college? Go for it!

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Make sure to check out Italy vs. Spain today in Italy's first Euro 2012 game. The boys haven't done so well recently, but a lineup infused with some youth might make them a surprise contender. You could say that playing the best team in the world first might be a bad thing, but Italian teams have a tendency to play up to their competition and rise to the occasion of big games, so if you ask me it's a good thing. Hopefully if they can pull off a big win here it could propel them to great things later on.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Brindisi School Bombing

There's a few strange things about the bombing of an Italian school in Brindisi that many of you may have read about. First, let's be honest, things like this don't happen very often in Italy. It is a country with relatively little violence, few murders, and very rare terrorist attacks. Second, the school that was bombed was named after the wife of Giovanni Falcone, a policeman that is fondly remembered as perhaps the greatest anti-mafia crusader in Italian history. Falcone, like so many others of his kind, was murdered in 1991. Third, the bombing took place within days of the anniversary of his death. These facts add up to a pretty simple conclusion: the mafia did it.

But did they?

Well let's think about this for a second. In southern Italy the mafia (in this case, the Pugliese Sacra Corona Unita) is not some sort of shady organization of outsiders and lowlifes. The mafia is comprised of neighbors, friends and relatives and maintains a certain respect that has a lot to do with its reputation as men of honor. Yes, they engage in criminal activity, and no, they are usually not interested in what's best for you, but as long as they keep some sort of order and do not permit random or senseless acts of violence, the public is generally content to let them be. In fact, if you read the news when Falcone was actually alive (or just check out Roberto Saviano's book Vieni Via con Me), you will have seen that the population didn't love him until after he died. They just saw him as poking a bee's nest, creating violence unnecessarily.

Given this, bombing a school and killing a young girl makes very little sense for the mafia. Low and behold, it wasn't them. Money quote:

'“There is a very low possibility of a mafia-type bombing.” “Sacra Corona Unita, as we were told some arrepentidos, is trying to regain the territory after the last blows through arrests and convictions, and seeks a social consensus that will not achieve with such massacres,” said sources of research.'

 Turns out it was some guy who was mad at one of the girls in the school and murdered her, setting it up to look like an act of mafia terrorism. Aside from telling us that the mafia is not all that bad, this is just another reminder of in fact how bad the mafia really is. They are a fully functioning organization whose power not only in Italy, but globally, is hardly recognized by anyone outside of Italy. Even worse, they are so entrenched that the majority of Italians have become apathetic about it, just accepting their existence. That, at least to me, is terrifying.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Italy: Theory and Practice

When speaking with Italians, you might notice that they often tend to begin their sentences with the phrase, "allora, in teoria è così, però..." followed by a description of the gross malfunction of whatever you are discussing (which covers a good deal of life in Italy). They will tell you exactly the way something should be and exactly why that's not the way it actually is. Yet somehow society is unable to make the leap into practice. A country that produces some of the greatest intellectual minds in the world (both past and present) can't figure out how to make a functioning parking lot.

In no way am I trying to insult Italians or criticize their intelligence; on the contrary, I am constantly amazed how a country with so many intelligent people can function so poorly. It likely has something to do with their education system. When children go to school, they have to choose either liceo classico or liceo scientifico (classical or scientific high school). Liceo classico basically sets you on the path to becoming a professor of ancient literature. You study either French or English, ancient Greek (which is different from modern-day Greek), philosophy, literature, history etc etc. Liceo scientifico sounds more practical, but really the main difference is that they don't have to study ancient Greek, but maybe take an extra science course. So they are actually not very different.

Universities are not viewed in the same way as in the United States. In the US you go to college because that's the best way to get a job, not necessarily because you want to be a professor or researcher. College is supposed to give you skills that make you a valuable employee. In Italy this is much less so; Italian universities are usually very large (La Sapienza in Rome is the biggest in Europe) and typically feature an aging professor lecturing to a large group of students. Of course, students often don't go, but that's beside the point: students are not learning things that will help them in the workplace. The facilities in the public universities are dismal, laboratory sessions for science classes are virtually non-existent, and I have personally never even heard of a business school.

So, who is surprised that Italy produces the best academics and the worst organizers? Anyone who has been there, especially Rome and down, knows how many problems there are. Public transportation is a joke. The only highway that connects Naples with Sicily has been undergoing construction for about a thousand years. Tax evasion is so common there are middle-class students that receive government welfare checks and take it directly to via del Corso. This is perhaps the only place in the world where things worked better 2,000 years ago. Youth unemployment in Italy is at almost 30%. Where are all the problem-solvers?

Don't get me wrong, this is one of many problems that lead to the way Italy is (i.e. nepotism, corruption, mafia, I could go on...), yet it is unique because it is not as widely recognized as other problems. Politicians (heavily influenced by the Vatican) continue to limit young Italians, who graduate with an incredible knowledge of art, history and theory, but can't find a job because they don't have any practical skills.  Companies need people fluent in Microsoft Excel, not ancient Greek. Italy needs problems solved in practice, not in theory.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

How to Make Pasta all'Amatriciana

When I was about to come home from my first stay in Italy it dawned on me that when I come home, everyone is going to want to know if I can cook Italian. Since I didn't, and since I am not a very good cook in general, I decided to focus all my energy on learning just one dish. That way, when I got home I could show off and ideally fool people into being impressed that I was a good cook. I needed a typical Roman dish that was not too difficult but delicious. Ladies and gentlemen, pasta all'amatriciana.

Okay let's start off with some ingredients:

  • If you want to be fancy, the pasta should be bucatini (above), but spaghetti or linguine will work fine
  • Tomato puree - it is important that you do not get tomato sauce, in which they add basil and about a hundred preservatives. It comes in a can and has 1 ingredient: tomatoes. We Americans seem to have difficulty keeping things simple sometimes; in Italy, remember all the glass bottles of passata di pomodoro? Yeah, that's what you're looking for.  My personal go-to is a brand called TuttoRosso in a green can, but any will work as long as they don't add too much stuff that's not tomato.
  • Cubed Pancetta - this is the toughest one to find in the USA. It will look like this and can be found in the larger supermarkets or Italian grocers.
  • Grated pecorino cheese
  • Basil
  • Red pepper (the spicy kind)
  • Salt
  • Olive Oil
  • Onion
  • Optional (but better): red or white wine
1. Ok start off with a frying pan deep enough to hold all the sauce, coated with olive oil, cut up 1/4-1/2 of the onion very small and fry it for maybe a minute. 
2. Add the pancetta (half a package for 2-3 people, the whole package for 4-6), a splash of wine if you have it, and a little basil and red pepper to taste (be conservative, you can always add more later). 
3. Let all this simmer for a couple minutes - you should have a good aroma going here that will make your neighbors really jealous. Let the wine evaporate a little.
4. Now it's time to add the tomato puree. One normal-sized can should be enough for 2-3 people and a large can for 4-6. Add a spoonful or so of grated pecorino cheese. Stir it all together, adding salt until it tastes good (the pecorino will help with salt). 
5. Let this cook on a low flame for about 30-45 minutes.
6. Make the pasta, combine and add a little grated pecorino on top! 

(Just a note, the picture above is made differently, don't worry about making yours like it; it was just the best-looking picture I found).

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Fiat Struggles to Sell the 500 in North America

So Fiat has finally arrived in North America and it's doing... well... not as well as they wanted. There seems to be a couple of problems. First, it's smaller than most SUV-loving Americans would like. However, with gas prices through the roof Americans are increasingly opting for smaller, more efficient vehicles; the days of highways that look more like monster truck rallies have all but passed. Second, they are expensive; the average price hovers around $20K, which is pretty hefty considering its size and the fact that (third) they are not that well made. Fiats have never done very well outside of Italy, mainly because they couldn't compare to other solid European car makers. Italians love them because they are a point of pride, being typically Italian, and the service is much easier to find and cheaper within Italy.

It seems like they are trying to bounce back, introducing some different models and variations, not to mention an advertising blitz. But they can't even really get that right either. The first (in)famous commercial blew up in their face when Jenny from the Block was driving pretty far from the block. The second (above) is surely a fan-favorite among men, yet those diligent Italian students among us will surely notice her not-so-Italian accent. Her name is Catrinel Menghia and she is Romanian, which doesn't matter at all except for the fact that she is portrayed as being an Italian representative of this typically Italian car. It's actually kind of weird considering that Italy has no shortage of belle donne.

Honestly I hope these are just some minor hiccups for Fiat; it would be nice to see an Italian company doing well. The price needs to come down, but the trend seems to be heading towards the smaller, more efficient type of cars that dominate the European market. Plus, it seems like the "cool" factor is there (despite their advertising controversies), so people might actually want it. At the very least, they will always have a loyal market on the Jersey Shore.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Italian Book and Film Worth Checking Out

This is kind of old news, but for those interested in Italian current events, a powerful book was published a few years ago, which was subsequently made into a movie. Gomorrah is an incredible look into the Naples mafia (the Camorra) and the vast empire it controls. The author, Roberto Saviano, is from the city himself and witnessed most of what he writes about first-hand - this takes palle. In fact, after becoming famous for the book, he has spent his time in hiding, moving constantly to avoid being assassinated by the Camorra.

The film that they made is good (and on Netflix!), but I would highly recommend reading the book first. Yes, it is cliche to say that, but it's because the movie does not do a lot of explaining, whereas the book does, so it's kind of hard to follow if you don't know what they are talking about. It's still an awesome movie though and takes a pretty hard look into the ugly underbelly of the bel paese.