Teaching ‘La Passione, Il Flirt, e Lo Shopping’ in Rome

6 Dec

Soloprenuer Laura Downey launched her new website for  SoItalian! yesterday, and she’s already got students scheduled! Laura is a good friend of mine who spends half of her time in Rome and the other half in Ohio, as the director of an international exchange program for American students studying in Italy. Not a bad life by any means, and I always imagine her sipping cappuccino in streets cafes and gazing wistfully into fountains, but it turns out she’s actually been working rather hard on starting her own business.

I asked her to share her experience launching SoItalian! and share her advice on living as a freelancer in Rome, which she is just getting a taste for. Here’s a brief interview!

Lorna: What made you decide to start your business?

Laura: The idea came from friends that have been able to support themselves by doing what they love. I felt behind the curve and initially saw SoItalian as a challenge to myself to do the same by drawing on my language skills. Well, the idea took off. Also, with the bad economy, I wanted a way to make sure I had a way to subsidize my income. Basically, I wanted to bring together the idea of teaching a language and introducing Italy to my clients – it’s part teaching, part tourism! My lessons are for people who want to learn about Italy as much as they want to learn the language.

Lorna: How do you plan on growing your business?

Laura: Believe it or not, SoItalian was conceived and founded in the same week. I would like to develop a following and build the brand. Then think about expanding staff and languages offered.

Lorna: What’s it like living and working in Rome? Tell us about your life!

Laura: I live 60% of the year in Italy and 40% in the US. While I’m in the states, I work in a basement office from 9 to 5. I wanted to start some fun work on the side that I could do from home in Ohio, especially during the freezing winters.

Ooh Italy! It’s wonderful if you’re the sort of person that can be flexible, patient, think on your toes and..it helps if you can drive as the Italians do as well.

Italy is wonderful and you can live well on a lean budget. However, its the small things that get you. Cable internet for example is costly and often very slow. You can find internet access for as low as 12 euros per month with a USB key along with the purchase of a new 48 euro key and a SIM card – the mobile phone companies offer internet with this system, but it’s very slow.

For renting an apartment, it depends on where you want to live. if you are looking for a one bedroom flat or studio in central rome, thats going to come at a price; at least 1200 euros per month, not including utilities.

A comparable place at one of the extreme ends of a main metro line would cost about 800 euros, which is not bad if you have a friend or mate to share with. To rent a room in a shared place, I’ve seen great setups for 300 euros per month.

Apartment hunting is competitive and landlords are reluctant to offer less than one year contracts. A good site for looking for roomates is casa.it. Another great site to hookup with all things English in Rome is www.wantedinrome.com.

My suggestion? set up a deal where you can provide a service in exchange for free rent. Almost everyone wnats to learn English here. Offer your landlord or his kids, nephews, etc, English lessons – favors are currency.

Lorna: Where’s a good spot for a writer or other freelancer to hide out and live cheaply for a while?

Laura: I recommend Ferrara in the North, or Scilla in the south! Both are incredibly beautiful spots where you can rent a small, cozy place for much less than in Rome. Scilla is especially beautiful – it’s a small town on the coast with white pebble stone beaches and crystal clear water, and it’s only 15 minutes away from Sicily by ferry. The seafood is delicious, and if you’re luck,y you’ll catch hot young men jumping off the rocks completely naked – paradise pretty much.

Laura is currently offering a free 50- minute Italian lesson, so if you’re hoping to actually talk to one of those hot young naked guys, you might want to take a lesson with her.


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