Updated: Mar 5
Tips for finding part-time employment and financial stability as a student
Broke! Broke! Perpetually broke! Sound familiar? I have been perpetually broke since I made the life altering decision to move to Italy at the age of twenty-nine to join the club of starving post-graduate students. This was a particularly difficult choice since I had become accustomed to my cushy Canadian lifestyle. The thought of giving up my comfort to return to a life of eating ramen noodles at every meal and sharing a bottle of wine with a group of five friends (wine is expensive in Canada) was intimidating. If I was going to uproot my life, I had to take stock of my finances, analyze my spending habits, and anticipate setbacks. This article recounts how developing healthy saving habits spared me the financial stress that has been a characteristic effect of the pandemic. Scattered within the paragraphs are tips on how students can leverage their skills to secure flexible work opportunities and grow their savings.
Moving to Italy permanently was a proposition I had toyed with for many years. Like tossing a ping pong back and forth, I occasionally dipped my feet into la dolce vita, spending three months each year exploring the Veneto region with generous locals that were fascinated by my eccentricity. During my 2018 visit, I chose to commit to this on-again off-again long distance relationship. I applied to the prestigious Human Rights and Multi-level Governance program and moved to Padova in September 2019. I had always made calculated risks as an adult - balancing between restraint and spontaneity. But here I was, typing up my two-weeks notice, listing my furniture on Facebook marketplace, and preparing to move into a monolocale in Centro Storico di Padova. Executing this plan required almost obsessive precision. For over a year and a half, I worked nearly sixty hours a week to sustain my current lifestyle and save 50% of my income. Not knowing about the free tuition scheme offered by the university eliminated the advantage of lowering my projected expenses.
Upon arrival in Europe, I had written a lengthy bucket list that demanded a breadth of resources to fulfill. So I created my “Italian Life Budget” in an excel spreadsheet that
tracked my actual monthly savings, income, and expenditures for comparison with the projected numbers. I developed this habit under the mentorship of my business savvy father. Even without a job, I predicted that I would be able to save a small percentage of my tax returns (kudos again to the Canadian government) after paying tuition, and rent. Two weeks after exploring and settling in, I began applying to as many English teaching schools as I could find. A quick google search popped up eight schools in the area which I rang to find out about openings and subsequently sent my resume. I had read about the notorious delayed responses on a blog so it was not surprising that my first lead contacted me three months after application. The end justified the wait since British Institutes Padova offered me a 12-hour per week contract teaching position. Their organizational environment was supportive with training, mentorship, even providing transportation to out of town schools. They also offered lessons in additional languages like Spanish, French and German so I advised my classmates to apply for positions as well.
Unfortunately, all hell ensued when coronavirus was officially detected in Italy, closing schools and landing me in the unemployed category. When it became apparent that the schools would not be reopening before the summer, I searched for other means of earning money. I contacted an Italian family in Cittadella I had previously au paired for that conveniently offered me a part time job with full room and board. Au pairing is a way to immerse oneself into the local language and culture, earn and save some extra cash, and combat loneliness for students that are away from home. There are countless opportunities on AupairWorld for youth that have childcare experience and can find a suitable match with the family. An exercise that helped me adapt to the changing economic environment was using the first few weeks of the lockdown to identify monetizable skills. I leveraged my status as a native English speaker from North America to not only receive a raise from the host family, but also to get referrals for online teaching opportunities.
Creating a personal calendar to optimize my free time helped me find space to fit freelancing opportunities like contracting with Study.com, Preply and Appen Projects. Living far away from the robust social scene in Padova helped me save even more money than I had before the lockdown. I maintained the budget I had created months earlier and even opened an investment account to offset the fluctuations in the Canadian dollar. I have managed to suppress the urge to impulse buy by deleting my Amazon Prime account and replacing Netflix with stimulating videos freely available on TEDx.
Preparing for financial hardships takes practice and a whole lot of patience that begins with making a commitment to holding oneself accountable. Remember that laying a concrete foundation early on will help you manage your finances better when you finally have that steady income.
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Christine Nanteza is in her 2nd year of the MA in Human Rights and Multilevel Governance at the University of Padua. She is the co-founder and project manager of the Student Engagement Team and is determined to establish a human rights leadership incubator within the degree program.
Cover photo by Tommaso Pitton (Vicenza 2020)
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