Second Thoughts on Italy

For the past 10 years or so the Italian economy has been getting worse and worse. Italians have been cutting back on secondary expenses, especially learning English as a foreign language. On top of that is the long-standing envy that Italians feel for American political, economic and military power, the recent rise of the Internet which many Italians use but resent because 99% of the information on the web is not in their language, and since most Italian businesses can’t compete with the web they blame the web for Italy’s economic decline.

This anti-American hostility is also exacerbated by periodic international incidents: the scandalous murder trial of American student Amanda Knox in Perugia, the conviction in absentia of eight U.S. citizens accused of being C.I.A. agents who kidnapped a suspected Muslim terrorist on Italian soil, and the activism of actress Asia Argento who accused American film producer Harvey Weinstein of soliciting sex for film roles, while at the same time she was paying off former child actor Jimmy Bennett for giving him alcohol to have sex with him just after his 17th birthday (she was 37 at the time). Typically, the Italian news media falsely reported that the crime occurred when the minor was just before his 18th birthday.

Far from criticizing Asia Argento, many Italians defend her simply because she’s Italian while her accuser is American. My own recent arrest and conviction in Palermo on the ridiculous charge of producing “child pornography” is probably only one of many lesser known cases of the Italian state persecuting American citizens. The fact that my father was an Italian citizen and my mother was entitled to dual citizenship (as the daughter of Italian citizens) doesn’t impress anybody in this country, since despite the official “law of blood” in Italy’s legal code, a “real” Italian speaks Italian without a foreign accent, dresses like an Italian, eats like an Italian, and otherwise acts like an Italian. There is no room for nonconformity in this country.

So after many years of helping Americans find work as teachers in Italy, I’m no longer advising American citizens to try to work in Italy, and I would even warn American tourists or international students to be aware that they may become the targets of discourtesy, scams, theft, or even personal violence here.

Teach Abroad Frauds

I’ve taught English as a foreign language in three countries for nearly 30 years, and I’m going to tell you about a widespread fraud that targets young people, even university graduates.

A lot of people would like to spend a year or more working in an exotic foreign country, and some unscrupulous companies exploit that dream by trying to sell brief but expensive courses that claim to “qualify” and “certify” you to teach abroad. Worse, there are web sites that publish fictitious job ads from non-existent schools to promote the myth that if you’re naïve enough to spend a thousand dollars or more for a brief course you’ll be “qualified” to get those non-existent jobs.

The courses are called by various names, such as TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language), and the web sites are even linked to by some universities!

Well, here’s the real story: First of all, you don’t need to spend hundreds of dollars to learn how to play a few classroom games that are passed off as effective teaching methodology. You can get the same information by reading one of various books that cost less than fifty dollars. By investing less than a hundred dollars you can read several books on the scholarly research about second language learning and find out the claims that scammers make about their teaching methods have no verifiable basis.

Second, getting a certificate from scammers is not going to increase your chances of getting a job. Any experienced and honest school administrator knows that such brief courses can’t turn somebody into a good teacher, and having such a certificate doesn’t verify anything except that you spent a lot of money for nothing.

The scammers selling those courses are on all the blogs and in discussions on the online bookseller sites, pretending to be a satisfied customer and your good buddy, in order to steer you to buy a course. They point you to web sites where there are lots of jobs posted, nearly all of which say “TEFL required.” So you think: “Well, I’d better buy one of those courses advertised on the bottom of the page.”

Or there are fictitious job ads that invite you to apply and don’t mention any requirements, but when you send them your application they reply: “Oh well, since you don’t have a certificate you’ll have to get one!” But by the time you take a course and get a certificate the imaginary job is no longer available. So you apply for others and there is never any response.

The scammers are also active on the online encyclopedias, feeding biased information into articles on teaching abroad, and quickly deleting any criticism of teacher training frauds. A few scammers are even official editors who delete the accounts of persistent critics and whistle-blowers like the present author when we try to add some balance to the blatant commercial promotion.

There are a few international language school chains that really do hire teachers, and incredibly they require that all teachers who want to work for them must buy their company’s brief course. Even if you’re an experienced state-qualified teacher with six years of professional training and a master’s degree, you have to pay the chain a thousand dollars just for the opportunity to work for them – with no guarantee that you’ll get a job, and no guarantee that if you do get a job there will be enough income for you to live decently in the exotic country.

The reality is that honest employers who advertise in mainstream media like The New York Times and the Manchester Guardian don’t look for TEFL or other short course certificates.

In sum, nobody should patronize any web sites or companies that try to sell brief teacher training courses. And no honest university should link to such scammers. There are some honest web sites with genuine job openings that don’t accept advertising from scam TEFL sellers.