Teaching To Pursue Writing Dreams — Alexandra Turney

Bryn Bonino
11 min readSep 21, 2020


After we collaborated on this blog post, Alexandra and I jumped on this call. She chatted more about her role as a teacher and what works best for her so that this is an enjoyable profession for her.


I’m Alexandra. I moved to Rome in 2013 (when I was 22), and have lived here ever since. I work at a private language school and I’m also a freelance writer. I’m the author of a novel, In Exile, and I’m currently working on my next book. I live in Testaccio with my Italian boyfriend of 5 years.

Tell us a bit of your backstory. Why did you move to Rome and start teaching English?

I’m originally from London. While I was at university (studying English Literature at Oxford) I didn’t have any particular career plans, though I thought I might go into academia at one point.

One summer I spent a few weeks in Rome doing an internship at Keats-Shelley House in Piazza di Spagna. I expected it to be an amazing experience — and it was — but I didn’t expect to fall in love with Rome. I’d been to Rome a few times before, but it was completely different coming back as an adult, and really getting to know the city.

I needed a job that would a) allow me to live in Rome and b) give me time to write. Teaching English seemed like the obvious choice.

I had a new life plan — move to Rome and write. But I needed a job that would a) allow me to live in Rome and b) give me time to write. Teaching English seemed like the obvious choice.

After I graduated I spent a year working in London and living with my parents to save up. I did the CELTA at International House because I knew it was a good qualification that would give me opportunities at reputable schools. I had no idea if I’d actually like teaching English — at that point in my life it was just a means to an end — but luckily I discovered that I really enjoyed it. I loved the social element, and working with language.

I finished my CELTA in August 2013. By that point I’d already booked my flight and found a flat in Rome for September. August/September is a good time to look for work as a teacher, as that’s the start of the academic year and there tends to be a lot of turnover. I sent off some CVs, did a Skype interview with the Director of Studies at a private language school, and was offered an 8 month contract.

I’m so impressed that you had an end-goal early on. A lot of people don’t plan out that way. So what do you do now for work?

I still work at the same school. I have a part-time contract now, and all my lessons are at the school. I teach teenagers and adults and specialise in teaching higher levels (B2+). I’m also a Cambridge speaking examiner — the training is provided by the school.

I do some freelance work too, which has grown over the years. I occasionally do some translation when it comes up, but my focus is content writing. I used to write almost exclusively about tourist attractions in Rome and Italy, but now my main work is for a German content company (writing about everything from gardening to glue), and a US sleep podcast and app.

That’s really interesting how you were able to find a freelance position that fit well with your teaching and allows you to do what you really love to do.

You’ve also written a novel titled In Exile . The title alone draws me in. Can you tell us about how that came to be?

In Exile is the story of Dionysus, god of wine and ritual madness — he’s re-born in modern Rome, a city where he has no believers.

The concept is something I’d been thinking about for a while. I wrote an article about the inspiration and literary influences, if you’d like to know more. But basically, I was fascinated by the idea of a pagan god reluctantly coming to terms with his existence (and lack of followers) in a modern, Catholic city. Where would he live? What kind of people would become his worshippers? How would he regain his power?

It took me about a year to write the novel, mostly at home in Testaccio or sitting on a bench in the nearby Protestant Cemetery (also the setting for the first chapter of the novel).

My teaching schedule gave me plenty of time to write in the mornings, which is when I’m most in the mood for creative writing.

My teaching schedule gave me plenty of time to write in the mornings, which is when I’m most in the mood for creative writing. I love the fact that my teaching job isn’t 9–5.

When I was ready to look for a publisher, I initially tried to go down the traditional route (literary agent and traditional publisher), but as any author will tell you, there’s a lot of competition. Also, agents and publishers don’t want to take a risk on debut authors unless they’re absolutely convinced it’s commercial. In the end I was published by the independent publisher Unbound. My book was crowdfunded — 150 people bought the book before it was actually a physical book.

In Exile was published in early 2019, and I did a launch party/book reading with fellow Rome author Tiffany Parks at the Otherwise bookshop near Piazza Navona. It was a wonderful moment — it felt like the culmination of so many of my hopes, dreams and ambitions.

Oh, wow that sounds like a dream come true to have gotten that validation for your creative work! You also work as a content writer, which I personally have found to be a competitive industry. How do you find work for that?

I spent about a year working for a Rome-based tour company, where my main task was writing blog posts and website content. I saw it as a fun opportunity to develop my writing skills, and to get experience in an area of work that fits around my teaching work at the school. There are no conflicts of interest or timetabling issues. I’m not interested in the administrative side of language schools — no desire to become a Director of Studies — so for my long-term career, I think it’s necessary to have an additional source of income. Besides, I simply enjoy writing. I’ve always written, and writing blogs or website content seemed like an ideal work opportunity.

Working at the tour company was a really valuable experience. Apart from getting lots of writing practice, I also got contacts (essential anywhere, but even more so in Italy). I learned about SEO, which is really important for just about any content writing job nowadays. And I got writing credits on websites like The Huffington Post, The Times of India, Panoram Italia, L’Italo-Americano, and various travel sites.

After I left the tour company I was naturally able to find similar writing work for other Rome-based tour companies. And from that point on, it was easier to market myself as a content writer because I had the experience and the SEO knowledge.

But I’ve been lucky — my main content writing work fell into my lap…A friend working at the German company recommended me, while another friend spotted the position at the US company on a website and sent me the link.

My advice to anyone who wants to get into content writing: look for any opportunities to get writing experience and credits.

My advice to anyone who wants to get into content writing: look for any opportunities to get writing experience and credits (maybe unpaid at first). Make sure everyone you know is aware that you’re looking for work. You never know which of your friends and acquaintances might message you out of the blue: “I know a person who knows a person who needs a writer”. Also, look for postings on websites like https://contentwritingjobs.com/ or https://allfreelancewriting.com/.

Once you’ve got some experience and are getting paid work, know your worth. Content writing pays well. Unless it’s a tiny start-up, the company should be able to pay you a decent rate for your time.

That’s really helpful to know. Thanks for those tips. I’ve found that with any digital product too. The first buyers are harder to get. But once you have those under your belt, then can be more confident that your idea is validated. Now that you’ve been following your hopes and dreams for a number of years in Rome, looking back, is there anything that you wish you’d known about earlier?

Not really, because I feel like things have gone pretty smoothly on the whole. But if I have to choose one thing that really helps, it’s knowledge of the Italian language and culture. Obviously this makes a huge difference to your daily life in Rome, but it also helps in the classroom.

Daily life — you need Italian. For everything. Without a good knowledge of Italian, you’re living in an expat bubble.

Daily life — you need Italian. For everything. Without a good knowledge of Italian, you’re living in an expat bubble. You’re basically just a tourist who has to deal with additional bureaucratic stress. When I moved to Rome my Italian was very basic, and it was a struggle not just in practical terms, but also for socialising and integrating. I’ve never really studied Italian, but I improved through conversation exchanges (something I’d strongly recommend), and then after 2 years in Rome, met my Italian boyfriend. We communicate almost exclusively in Italian, and that’s really helped.

Living in Rome can be challenging for Romans (traffic, public transport, bureaucracy and general lack of organisation), so don’t make it harder for yourself. Learn some Italian before you move, ideally, and make it a priority when you get here. Actually, in hindsight, I probably should have done an Italian course either just before moving, or immediately after arriving…It would have made the integration process quicker and easier.

Teaching — your students will speak to each other in Italian all the time. Even if they’re studying for Proficiency. No matter how many times you say, “In ENGLISH please!” It’s inevitable. So you’ll just have to accept it, and listen to their conversations. It really helps you to understand the classroom dynamic and understand when they don’t understand!

If you have a good knowledge of Italian, you’re more likely to anticipate problems and give students extra help with topics they find difficult.

Also, if you have a good knowledge of Italian, you’re more likely to anticipate problems and give students extra help with topics they find difficult. For example, 1st conditional — easy, basically the same in Italian. Present perfect — very difficult for Italians.

Finally, don’t underestimate the importance of understanding Italian culture when it comes to rapport. The longer I spend in Italy, the more I know about the language and the culture, and the easier it is to relate to my students (and vice versa). A mistake I made when I first started teaching was the assumption that most students would be interested in British culture. You’re studying English at a British school! You want to learn about London, British slang, music, right? Wrong… I’ve had a few anglophile students, but in general, whenever I try to introduce British themes I’m met with a distinct lack of enthusiasm. Get them to discuss the best carbonara in Rome, on the other hand….

If you want to get people talking and learning in another language, they need to be interested in the topic. So as a teacher, your role is to find out what they’re interested in, and use those topics in the lesson so they’re engaged. I used to think my enthusiasm for a topic would be enough, but it’s not. For example, I used to use songs for listening activities with adults, and I realised that they just weren’t into it. I gradually abandoned using music altogether. This year, though, I discovered that an initially difficult group of teenage boys (who came to the lesson half asleep), were really into karaoke and would happily sing along to “Bohemian Rhapsody”. Whatever works!

I couldn’t agree with you more. When you understand Italian language and some of the culture, everything is so much easier. A whole other world is opened up to you.

Is there anything else that you’d like to share?

Advice I would give to any teachers looking for work at language schools in Rome:

-> Look for a language school that will offer you a proper contract and salary.

Ideally a legitimate Italian contract and a minimum of 1,000 euros a month if you’re working full-time. If the school is offering less than 1,000 euros a month, make sure they’re giving you a contract that offers you job security, at least. If you can’t get a high salary, get the security at least!

-> If your plan is to stay in Rome for a year or two, you can probably enjoy the experience even with a so-so contract and low salary.

If you want to build a life in Rome, you’ll need security. Without an Italian contract you’ll struggle to get residency, a tessera sanitaria (card that gives you access to the public health system) or even a legal rental contract. So if your aim is to stay in Rome for the long-term, finding a job that gives you that security and an official status in Italy should be a priority.

-> Work out what you’re going to do in the summer.

With my current contract (a permanent contract — contratto a tempo indeterminato), I get paid all year round, even when the school is closed in August. With my previous short-term contracts, I didn’t get paid in the summer. I couldn’t survive 2–3 months without an income, as I still had rent to pay, so I had to work at summer schools in London and Cambridge every summer for a few years. This can be a good option for English teachers — the work tends to be well-paid, and it can be fun. But it’s also hard work in the summer when you might prefer to have time off, and it can be stressful knowing that summer work is essential if you want to pay the bills. Basically, you need to think carefully about how you want to spend the summer and how to survive financially, depending on your contract.

-> Know that language schools will expect you to work evenings and Saturday mornings.

It might seem inconvenient at first, but you’ll get used to it. Many of your friends will be other English teachers who are in the same boat, so your social life will adjust accordingly. Also, people tend to eat late and stay out late in Rome, so it’s not a big deal. The upside is that you’ll probably be able to enjoy weekday morning lie-ins!

-> Keep in mind that some schools/contracts will expect you to travel around Rome, teaching at different sites.

It can be fun and varied, but it can also be a nightmare. If you don’t have your own scooter or car and you’re reliant on Rome’s notoriously terrible public transport, you’re better off looking for teaching work that’s all based at the same location. Most of the teachers I know are much happier being based at a school. Also, it’s more social — you see your colleagues all the time.

-> A good relationship with my Director of Studies and colleagues is one of the main reasons why I’ve chosen to stay at the same school for all these years.

I feel at home there. Creating a life for yourself in a foreign country can be tough, so look for a workplace where you feel comfortable. This is especially important if you’re newly arrived in Rome and trying to get to grips with the basics. Look for a school that will look after you!

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

Website: https://gothoutorome.wordpress.com/

Email: alexandraturney [ at ] hotmail [ dot ] co [ dot ] uk

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/alexandraturneyauthor

Twitter: https://twitter.com/ALJTurney

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/gothoutorome/

Check out Alexandra’s novel In Exile on Amazon and in a bookshop near you.

Originally published at https://makealeap.co/ on September 21, 2020.



Bryn Bonino

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