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Emma's Story

Emmas_story_t_2I never expected to end up in Italy. It just wasn't in my life plan. I always considered myself to be an ambitious urbanite. I started interning on my local newspaper in my home town of Poole, in the UK, when I was 15. My obsession with becoming a journalist was so great I spent every school holiday working in the newsroom. I even managed to persuage my teachers to let me skip sports every Wednesday afternoon to spend it reporting. By the time I was 18, I had interned on four different newspapers in three different towns in the UK and I was the editor of the University of Bath award-winning student magazine.

At university I studied European Studies with French and Italian. I would spend each summer trying to cram in my internship on my local paper, serving fish and chips for 10 hours a day to pay off my student loans and living and working abroad.

When I was 19, I aupaired in Naples and Rivisondoli, a tiny mountain town in the region of Abruzzo. When I was 20, I aupaired in Paris and in Corisca for two Parisian families. Straight after that I flew to Bologna to start my study year abroad and write a 12,000 dissertation in Italian on the links between the media and politics in Italy. As soon as the summer semester had ended, I flew to Paris where I worked at Disneyland Paris for the next four months.

After I had graduated, I won a bursary to study for my post-grad in newspaper journalism. The Scott Trust, owners of the UK national newspaper The Guardian, paid my tuition fees and accommodation. I became a junior journalist when I was 23 and a senior when I was 24.

I loved my job but my turning point came a few days after 9/11. I eventually clocked off at 4am the following day having pulled off an interview with the family of one of the victims.

I realised I wanted more from life. I wanted to be back in Italy and I wanted to live life. On my 25th birthday, I handed in my resignation to take up my new expat assignment in Milan. I was the Italian correspondent for a series of fashion and textile magazines in the UK. Initially it was great. But I soon found myself zooming around Italy, living out of suitcases and working 24/seven. I was too busy to network or make friends and was back in the rat race I had sought to leave. Before I could resign, the company had severe financial difficulties and job cuts were made.

I was unemployed in Milan and had to make some tough decisions – and fast. I decided I wanted to stay in the city and when jobs in PR and journalism weren’t forthcoming, I spent one month retraining as a TEFL teacher. I immediately found work teaching business English at Michelin, Unilever, Accenture, Unicredit Banca and Sephora. I have also worked in a private language school and taught English in six Italian schools across all ages and abilities. That first year was hard work as I started at 8.30am and finished at 10pm in order to gain as much teaching experience as possible.

In May 2003, I traded in Milan for Sardinia and haven’t looked back. After living in Cagliari, I moved to the northern Gallura region where Mario and I have now bought a house. It's such a beautiful location and summer lasts from April to November. I'll never want to leave.

As well as running How to Italy, I am the founder of www.weaveaweb.it, the network for Italian-speaking professional women in Italy. It now has groups throughout Sardinia.

I am also a freelance journalist specialising in expat and work-related issues. I am the co-author of Starting a Business in Italy: how to set up and run a successful business in the BeI Paese (How to Books October 2006). I contribute to the Eurograduate annual career guide, Guardian, Transitions Abroad, Living Abroad and I write the monthly business page for Italy magazine. I have also been interviewed for Hobsons Careers in Europe Casebook (2006 edition), The Expat Telegraph, Woman, the book Expat Entreprenuers, The Living Abroad Report, the 2006 Lonely Planet guide to Sardinia and Expertise in Labour Mobility's Living in Italy guide.

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Emma Bird

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