"My son attends a private bilingual Italian/English nursery, which he enjoys and I am happy with at his age. However, my impression is that children are treated in quite a different way to the Uk; the expectations of them are much lower, they are mollycoddled and cosseted. They are not expected to learn anything formalised, even writing their own name, until they are at least 6. Italian childcare has presented some issues for us. For example, when there were some behaviour issues developing in my sons class amongst a number of children, I suggested a star or reward chart of some kind. I was told by the staff that Italian parents would not support this approach and would complain if their child did not receive a star! I also encourage the staff to get the children playing outside in the fresh air, but often it is deemed too windy or cold (when it really isnt!) and am told that the Italian parents would complain about their children catching a chill!" (March 2014)
How long have you lived in Italy?
We moved to Italy from the UK just over 8 months ago. We are used to moving as my husband is in the British Army; my daughter was 5 when we moved here and this is her 4th home! We will hopefully be here for a little while though.
Whereabouts do you live and what is the area like?
We live in Varese, north west of Milan. It is a lovely small city with great shops, cafés, eateries and parks. The surrounding area is stunning with snowy mountain views never far away, and easy access to the beautiful lake region. It really is a place for all seasons, from skiing, to lake swimming to sightseeing and more; we really hadnt appreciated just how much this area had to offer until we had the fortune of moving here. Its also quite a cosmopolitan area as there are many large global companies based here, as well as a large research centre of the European Commission, so you hear many languages being spoken and there is the opportunity for the whole family to meet friends from all over the world.
Why did you decide to move there?
We were posted here by the British Army, finding out about the move in November 2013, so we had 6 months or so to plan!
How many children do you have and when were they born?
I have two children born in 2007 & 2010.
How well integrated would you say you and your children are?
I think we have integrated really well into the community. As we move more frequently than most, usually to places where we know almost nobody, I have little cues that tell me we are starting to make a new place home. One of those is when we start bumping into people we know or recognise in town. This has started to happen and that feels great. We know our Italian neighbours well, we are all learning the language and are starting to adjust to Italian bureaucracy (& driving)!!!
What language do you speak with your children?
I speak English with my children, although increasingly am asked what things are in Italian or French by them!
Do you think it essential to speak Italian where you live?
Yes. You can just about get by if you want to rely on the locals being able to speak English. However I think it is only right that, as foreigners, we take an interest and immerse ourselves in the culture and language of Italy. You can only achieve this by learning the language to the best of your ability. I think it shows respect to our new community and also means we can integrate and make the most of life here.
What is your impression of childcare and education where you live?
My son attends a private bilingual Italian/English nursery, which he enjoys and I am happy with at his age. However, my impression is that children are treated in quite a different way to the Uk; the expectations of them are much lower, they are mollycoddled and cosseted. They are not expected to learn anything formalised, even writing their own name, until they are at least 6. Italian childcare has presented some issues for us. For example, when there were some behaviour issues developing in my sons class amongst a number of children, I suggested a star or reward chart of some kind. I was told by the staff that Italian parents would not support this approach and would complain if their child did not receive a star! I also encourage the staff to get the children playing outside in the fresh air, but often it is deemed too windy or cold (when it really isnt!) and am told that the Italian parents would complain about their children catching a chill! My daughter attends a European School which is not within the Italian Education System. In general it is a great school, with many different languages and cultures existing in harmony together and learning from each other. I believe there are close to 15 different nationalities in my daughters class of 21! I think it is great that my daughter is developing an open mind and attitude of acceptance through her school at such a young age.
What do you think are the main advantages and disadvantages of being a parent from the International Community living in the region?
Advantages: opportunities for travel, to meet new people from all over the world, to find like-minded, worldly-wise friends, the ability to give my children an interesting and stimulating childhood that builds self-confidence and resilience.
Disadvantages: some issues with language barriers, lack of knowledge about the education system, its standards and expectations.
Can you tell us a bit about your professional background?
After completing my first degree in Leeds, I started a career in Social Work in London; over the next 14 years I worked in various positions in adoption and fostering, child protection and latterly family court work and also completed a further Degree and Masters. However as I climbed the ladder into regional management and with a significant commute, it became increasingly difficult to maintain a work/life balance that suited our family. I realised that I needed a new direction that would enable me to feel challenged, whilst also working flexibly from home and being around for my family.
You have your own health and nutrition business . Can you tell us what that is exactly?
My business is based on aloe Vera and bee products, under the umbrella company Forever Living. We have a range of products from skincare, weight management, nutrition, sports and even animal care. It was heaven-sent for me; the right opportunity, at the right time. I love the challenge and combination of building my now global business, coaching my fabulous team, recommending products that provide real benefits and also being a Mum at home, totally involved in my childrens lives.
How has your previous professional experience helped you in this new venture?
My first degree was in Pharmacology so that gave me a really good grounding on the science side. However it was the team management in my previous social work career that really helped; it gives me great satisfaction to help and support people to grow and develop in their own ways. I suppose theres probably something as well in the resilience and sticking power I developed when working closely with troubled families; it helps me to persist and consistently work on my business even when things dont always go to plan.
How have you found the whole experience of starting up your business? Were people receptive from the beginning?
Starting up my business in the way I have, under an umbrella company, has been perfect for me. Im not sure I would have had the guts to start something entirely on my own! In what I do now, I know I have support and help, which is invaluable. As it was quite a significant change in career for me, I think a lot of people were surprised and intrigued as to why I had done it. Some were also sceptical of the type of business I am in. But as people have started to understand my why and can see how much happier and more relaxed I am, they are fully supportive. What I do and the lifestyle I am creating generates a lot of interest!
What advice would you give to other mums wanting to start up their own business?
Go for it! Be open-minded about the opportunities available to you. Network. Have faith in yourself. Children grow up so quickly and you never get that time back so if you get the chance to take a leap of faith like I did, and be at home with them, whilst also growing a successful business.....what have you got to lose?!