A gap year in Italy? Why not? After all, the gap year did begin in Italy, with the hordes of young men who headed to this part of the world on the Grand Tour. It’s a land of so many stereotypes and the great news is that some of them are true. There’s also so much more to Italy than the food but do make the most of it – each region has its own specialities.
Italy is a country of many cities and provinces, each jealous of their own independent traditions and culture. Once it consisted of many small states until it was united by the Romans and again, in the 19th Century, by Giuseppe Garibaldi (after whom the biscuit is named). Two of those estates still remain, the Vatican City and San Marino; they are in Italy but not part of Italy.
In modern day Italy, Milan, Venice and Florence each have a unique identity that reaches far beyond their own boundaries. Milan prides itself on its sophistication as the fashion capital of Italy and, some would argue, of the world. Venice is a city where the streets are paved with water and dark history lies behind every wall. Florence (Firenze) is the haven for artists and art lovers. To the south we find Naples, the isle of Capri and the Amalfi coast – the remote heel of Italy where Hannibal roamed – and Sicily, where Archimedes cried “Eureka”! And, in the centre, is Rome, the Eternal City.
Many people go to study in Italy on courses lasting a week, a month or more, with Florence a magnet for painters with many schools, plenty of inspiration and a fine climate. Italy’s place in history is unique and there is much to see and do for the history buff. Great sites such as Herculaneum and Pompeii give a picture of Roman life but the whole country is awash with ancient ruins. Some of them are not even ruined and still in use, like the Pantheon in Rome. Messina still bears some scars from the Second World War while the beaches of Salerno and Anzio now host a more playful invasion. In Italy, there is plenty to keep you occupied for the whole year and longer.
Working in Italy
The cost of living is quite high, especially in the North, and finding work can be a problem. Speaking Italian is an advantage. Youth unemployment is high although seasonal work in agriculture is available at harvest time. There is some demand for English language tutors and au pairs for those wanting a longer term stay. You might also find volunteer work where you can get “all-found” accommodation in return for work through Woofing (willing workers on organic farms) and on archaeological sites. You will need some savings if you want to sample the wine and have a social life, though.
Italy’s neighbours provide some exciting options for wandering on. The French Riviera, Switzerland and Austria are to the north and the delightful and largely unspoiled country of Slovenia is to the north east. Here the Julian Alps, the fabulous Postojna caves and the Lipica stud (home of Lippizaners) can be seen. A ferry from Venice can take you to Croatia in an hour, while Albania, Montenegro and Greece can all be reached across the Adriatic from ports on the east coast. Will you be able to tear yourself away from Italy though, once you’ve experienced all of its charms first hand?