Roberta Boschi: From Nonprofit Executive to English School Owner
Why did you step back from full-time employment (or make your latest transition)?
I left London 2 years ago. I had been there since 2004 and in New York before that, in each case working for nonprofits. During my years in London, I did a masters in corporate social responsibility, focusing on the importance of brokering corporate community involvement programs. Essentially, corporations paid me to engage their employees as volunteers.
What are you doing now?
I run my own private English Language School in the town I grew up in, Caserta, Italy.
How did you decide to pursue these opportunities?
In London, I was getting expensive to the companies I worked for and a bit bored as well. Then Brexit happened. I have US and Italian passports, so I wasn’t sure what the status of my EU citizenship would be for me in London.
Around that time, my mother dropped a statistic that gave me the idea to start my own English school in Italy. She told me there were 500,000 Italians in London. It’s the fifth largest Italian city in the world. Unfortunately, many of the Italians in London were not prepared by their school in Italy to speak, read and write English well. Sure, the wealthier kids might have learned English privately and they can get jobs in law firms and banks, but everyone else works in hotels and fast food chains. My mother told me that in Italy they were opening many private bilingual schools to take on the problem and prepare the kids. I started researching what it would mean to go back to Italy. My idea was always to have a fall-back career for the third part of my life. I wanted to work smarter, not harder, and I didn’t want a boss anymore.
I started to teach Italians in London at night after work. I took the TEFL, but I felt it was not enough, so I took the infamous CELTA (a Cambridge certificate to teach English as a foreign language), a very difficult examination. My early training was as an interpreter and translator in Italy when I was 19, so I had a lot of knowledge regarding grammar.
What surprised you most about the transition?
I’m doing really well and doing it exactly the way I envisioned. I live with my mother and my expenses are low. I learned a lot about how to run my own school from online software, more than just teacher training, but how to structure the business. I was amazed that I got my first 10 students almost immediately by word of mouth. I got business cards and a Facebook page and started to teach in a bilingual primary school to get my feet wet. My mother suffered a heart attack, so I didn’t put too much into growing in the first year. But by the end of the first academic year I had 17-18 private students plus the children at the school.
Last October, I pushed to get many more students once things stabilized. Now I have 27 private students and switched from elementary school to an after school extra-curricular program preparing middle school kids to do that infamous Cambridge exam that I took so they can get their Cambridge qualification by studying over a number of years. I also teach former students from London online.
What advice would you give to someone in the same circumstances?
Be ready for change, because a lot of people say they want to change but they really want everything the same. I knew I’d miss cosmopolitan flourishes in London; things like hummus and fast wifi. And I do. But I had to let go of it. When I want it, I travel. I am a very flexible person with a strong core.
Given your vast experience both professionally and personally, do you have a top 5 or 10 list of things that you would tell people if they would like to follow in your footsteps or follow a similar path?
-Expect the unexpected (like my mother’s heart attack).
-Have more than one Plan B.
-Be respectful of whatever culture you’re interacting with.
-Try to adapt quickly.
-Ask for help.
-Be more afraid to become a person you don’t want to be than to try something new.
-Find a way to sustain yourself and you’ll probably have fun!
Roberta Boschi is a citizen of the world and has friends everywhere. Born in Caserta, Italy, she has lived in Bologna, New York, London, and now is back where she started sharing her love of the English language with her lucky students. Check out Roby’s English School here.