Living In The City You Love — Carol Markino

Bryn Bonino
10 min readMay 18, 2020

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*After Carol collaborated with me on this blog post, she did a highly attended Facebook Live with me. I’ve now put that on Youtube so you can visit specific times stamps to get exactly what you want to know about.

Hi Carol! I’m so excited to talk with you. From your bio, it seems like we have a lot in common. I love to travel too and I also have a degree in international education. So, can we start this interview by learning a bit about why you first moved to Rome and how long you’ve been there for?

Buongiorno Bryn! My first trip to Italy was in the mid 1980s. After that virgin excursion, my twin sister and I would come back as often as possible. Basically, we would work during the academic year and then come to Italy in the summer on vacation. Sometimes we stayed longer, studied Italian or got jobs as babysitters. My dad said that his daughters went back and forth to Italy like most Midwest kids went to the mall!

I am sure you understand, Bryn.

Italy, (yes! the whole country) captivates visitors. It is the beauty and history as well as the food and the lifestyle. Really, there are so many things about this country that attract and often keep tourists!

Really, there are so many things about this country that attract and often keep tourists!

After a lot of back and forth, I decided to move to the “Bel Paese” in 1991. My sister came too. We had a very meager budget and gave ourselves 6 months to settle in and find jobs. She returned to the U.S. after 3 or 4 years and now I am coming up on 30. It hasn’t always been easy but things have worked out rather well.

I’m so impressed with how long you’ve stayed in Rome. From my own personal experience, a lot of people move to Rome. But not a lot of people stay. It’s a beautiful city, but it’s not for everyone.

Exactly! For a vacation, Rome is for everyone. For living and working, it is a tough city and even more so for foreigners.

Can you elaborate on that point more? I know my own personal experiences. But why do you say it’s a tough city, especially for foreigners?

First of all, Rome isn’t an easy city for the Romans. So, for those coming from a different mindset or culture, it is tough. There are a lot of obstacles which are tiresome and time consuming and they often come one right after another. It can wear you down.

A classic example is any kind of bureaucratic procedure which is compounded because offices are open only on certain days and at certain times. When you arrive, you inevitably find a long line and then you find out you need another form. Then, oops, you now need a specific stamp/mark/signature. Wait a minute, now, you have to pay the fee online or at the post office, not in person because blah blah blah.

Have you ever seen the video by Bruno Bozzetto comparing Italy and the EU? He nails the bureaucracy part!

Fortunately, this aspect of Roman life has improved dramatically in the last couple of years. As I write these lines, I realize the reader could think it doesn’t sound that hard.

Oh, that Italian bureaucracy. I have many stories of that as well. I agree with you that things have gotten better in recent years. But still, a healthy sense of humor definitely will help anyone deal with the regular challenges of living in Rome. Where did you first start working as an English teacher, and where do you work now?

I got a teaching job rather quickly. My first job was with a language school in Pomezia, which is about 30 minutes from Rome. I had evening classes 3 times a week. I had to take public transportation to get there and then I’d get a lift back to Rome after class. I had other jobs at the same time — babysitting, housecleaning, translating — since a few evenings a week wasn’t bringing in enough to live on.

Over the years, I have taught in many places, so many that I can’t remember them all. Some were my own clients. Other times, I worked for somebody else. Anyway, my experience includes work in public and private universities and institutions, professional associations such as the Italian Bar Association, the Italian Air Force base outside of Rome, a large city hospital, large corporations and small family run businesses. Each job was valuable in its own way.

Each job was valuable in its own way.

Nowadays, I work exclusively for myself. In the mornings I am a language consultant at the NATO Defence College and in the afternoons I do 1:1 lessons with my own clients.

I’m so impressed with all of the different jobs that you’ve had. It seems like you’ve been very creative in order to make it work. It also seems like you have a lot of resilience to pivot so much in your career.

Thank you, Bryn. Resilience yes . . . but necessity played a big part.

That’s a good point. As mentioned earlier, it’s not always easy to live in Rome. But I’m so impressed with all that you’ve been able to do. How did you get the work in the universities, for the Bar Association, and for the larger companies? Did you apply for those jobs? Or were you at the right place at the right time? I ask because I know that working in another country, there are often different cultural practices with finding a job.

I found out about those jobs through other people. In some cases, I had to formally apply. But in others, a colleague’s recommendation was enough to get the job. It wasn’t about timing. It was more about proving myself to others. I mean, colleagues will only recommend you if you are going to make them look good, if you are easy to work with.

It wasn’t about timing. It was more about proving myself to others.

It was also my availability that made a difference. Some well-established colleagues repeatedly recommended me for jobs because they knew I was willing to work evenings, weekends and in different parts of the city.

Thanks so much for explaining that. That’s so helpful for those who want to make a successful go of teaching English in Rome. It sounds like your hard work and versatility really worked in your favor. What would you say is the most profitable way to work as an independent English teacher? Do you have any secrets to success?

I have relied mostly on word of mouth to build my business. Current or previous clients have passed my name on to their friends, colleagues and families. It means they were happy with my teaching and with their results. That is the best form of advertising.

Current or previous clients have passed my name on to their friends, colleagues and families. That is the best form of advertising.

I don’t think there are secrets per se but I chalk my success up to various factors. First of all, I have a genuine interest in my students. I like getting to know them and helping them achieve their goals. Until recently, I was meeting my students in their homes or offices which is different from a school environment. Plus, I tend to do just 1 on 1 lessons, which leads to a closer bond between teacher and student.

Over the years, my students have ranged from beginners to advanced, from 5 years old to 75 years old. So, I often start with them on their language path and then stay with them… for years!

That sounds so beautiful! Having worked as a teacher myself for 10 years, the personal bond with students is invaluable. And honestly, my own time working in Rome with private students was one of my most favorite jobs ever. And what you said about word of mouth advertising being the best kind, that is so true! The fact that that’s all you do is such a testament to how good you are at what you do.

Thanks!

Sure thing! So, what is the most successful way to find new clients for your private teaching business?

Without a doubt, word of mouth is the most effective way in Rome. When Romans are looking for a plumber or mechanic or a private teacher or anyone, they ask around. They ask not only friends and family but also the local barista, their doorman or colleagues. Being recommended by another teacher is also helpful.

This is a really good point. In the U.S. a lot of people search online for recommendations. Yelp is a valuable resource for local businesses here. It’s so helpful to know what works well in Rome. So, do you try to work with a certain type of student? Or do you generally see what people refer to you?

When I started out, I accepted everyone and in every part of town! Now, I am more selective — not about the students but about where they live. I won’t go to neighborhoods that are just too far for me. I have stopped criss-crossing the city. I found it stressful, especially on rainy days. I always give the option to come to me for lessons and those living nearby usually do so.

I don’t seek out a certain type of student but it has happened naturally. I work a lot with teenagers and young adults, who in turn, pass along my name to their friends. I definitely like working with that age group.

I really like working with that group too. I’ve found that you can teach them in a myriad of different ways. And they are also young enough to remember how to have fun.

Exactly!

If you could go back in time, is there anything you would change about your English teaching career? Why?

Yes, I would. Actually, there are a few things.

I wish I had become a speaking examiner for Cambridge Assessment exams earlier on. I have been doing it for 7 years and really enjoy the work. Becoming an examiner has made me more confident in evaluating student levels and has helped me to specialize in exam prep.

I wish I had become a speaking examiner for Cambridge Assessment exams earlier on.

I also wish I had done the “euipollenza” or “equivalenza” of my American university degrees. At this point in my work life, I am no longer interested. However, I think it could have helped when I was doing “concorsi” in the public sector.

I can see how in working as an independent teacher you can really benefit from being able to evaluate student language levels. This would allow you to get students achieving higher much more quickly. Thanks for mentioning the Cambridge Assessment Examiner as a possibility. Can you explain what concorsi are? How would getting your degrees transferred over have helped you?

Concorsi are competitions which are mandatory for jobs in the public sector — universities included. Applicants get a certain number of points for each criterion met. My U.S. university degrees are not recognized in Italy. There is a (long) procedure to get them validated. If I had done so, I could have, at least, applied for a ‘tempo indeterminato’ contract. My work at universities has always been short-term contracts, often repeated on a regular basis, but short term nonetheless.

Ah thanks for explaining that. Now that you described concorsi to me, I remember my cousin in Palermo was preparing for a concorso the last time I visited. What’s your favorite thing about living and working in Rome?

Rome is a gorgeous city. Beauty abounds. Then, add a blue sky as the backdrop… it is stunning. I love passing by monuments or Renaissance buildings on my way to work. I love having a cappuccino at my local bar in the morning or stopping at a pizza taglio in between lessons to grab a suppli.

Romans have a good work-life balance and they definitely appreciate la dolce vita. As a consequence, living here has given me a greater appreciation and recognition of what is really important in life.

Romans have a good work-life balance and they definitely appreciate la dolce vita.

The work-life balance is EXACTLY why I personally am so in love with Italy. And I completely agree with you, Rome is absolutely beautiful! The entire city is like walking through an open-air museum. I seriously walk around looking up, marveling at the beauty. And I’ve been there many times. I don’t know if I’ll ever get tired of it. Is there anything else that you’d like to share about yourself?

My next step is to increase my online business. Because of COVID-19 and the lockdown, many teachers have had to rethink their way of working.

Eventually, classroom teachers will return to school but I wonder what will happen for independent teachers like me and for language schools. How quickly will those lessons bounce back? They will eventually but it is something your readers should take into consideration.

That’s an excellent point. So, I actually worked in educational technology for a few years between when I worked as a teacher and my current work as branding strategist. I made a personal branding guide for anyone who wants to grow their own teacher entrepreneurship. Maybe that can help you or anyone else who is interested.

Thank you!

Of course! I hope it can help you.

Okay Carol, so if others want to connect with you online, how can they do that?

Email: carolmarkino [ at ] gmail [ dot ] com

LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/carolmarkino

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Carols.Classroom.Online.English.Lessons

Thank you, Bryn! I have enjoyed this process immensely. I had a good feeling from our initial call and that feeling has stayed with me.

Thank you so much Carol! I’m so glad that we’ve connected. And I’ve really enjoyed this conversation. I definitely look forward to chatting more in the future.

Originally published at https://makealeap.co/ on May 18, 2020.

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Bryn Bonino

Educator, marketer, and photographer. Learn more at https://brynbonino.com