Interview with an expat: A language school adventure - Part 1
About Manuela Talana
› 34 years old Italian
› Holland Director of Studiolingua,
Italian Language and Culture School
Hi Manuela, tell me a bit about your first time in the Netherlands
I came in 1996 to visit my grandparents. My mother is Dutch and lives in Italy since 1971. During that trip I decided to stay in Holland in order to learn Dutch.
Did you speak Dutch when you arrived?
Not at that moment cause my mother has been always speaking to me in Italian. I immediately followed a Dutch course, and once I was speaking fluently, I found a job in Alkmaar as a secretary for a cosmetic company.
After that very first job, I passed the selection procedure for an administrative job position at the Italian Cultural Institute.
That was in 1999. I worked there for 11 years. I started as an administrative employee and I ended up being a "factotum." But I learned everything I know. Everything, really!
I started realising I could have stayed there forever. It was funny and at the same time scary to think about it, cause people do not always imagine themselves doing the same job for the rest of their life! At least I do not.
I was sometimes bumping into some documents to add my signature, official papers where it was stated I was entitled to cover that position until 2041, when I would have turned 65 and entitled to retirement…
So, you left and established your own business in the Netherlands?
It was not that easy. In the beginning, when I first quit the job, I had to recover from a long hard working period, therefore, I decided to take some sort of "sabbatical period." A break with a number: 44, like my vacation days.
And a world full of ideas in front of me. After a while I came back, to be myself again. I visited my parents in Sardinia, went back to my hometown, "the nest,” and rested. During my break number 44, many teachers and collaborators in Amsterdam did not know I quit the job and started calling me on my private number, asking for the usual feedback about the coming year at the Institute.
Many of them were upset hearing I left the job and started brainstorming on how it would have been nice to have a school.
And then it happened: I got my energy and my bravery back, fold it in my suitcase, and flew back to Amsterdam. I went to the KvK and asked about the possibilities and discussed my idea.
I figured out the easiest way was to build an Eenmanszaak; I could be the director and president, while teachers are "direct" employees.
Then, it was time for a name and we decided for Studiolingua. Later, we found a perfect location, an old school in De Pijp! We thought maybe it was destiny! From that moment, the adventure began!
Why a school project?
We started focusing on what we wanted to offer and to whom. We realised we wanted to reach a Dutch "Italofilo" audience, the Dutch who loves Italy, and that we wanted to provide a full immersion on Italian culture and language.
Apart from language courses, we wanted to have fun and give an overview of our peculiar bizarre country: Italy, with all its contradictions, beauty, poetry and art. We started designing and structuring courses, alternative kind of lessons like: Dutch to Italian translation course, The divine comedy: Dante Alighieri’s readings lessons, The Reading Club: discussion about Italian books, Mystery in Italy with movie and documentaries and a see & discuss session about the dark side of Italian history, Italian Pop music, a lesson DJ set about music in the 20th century..
And the language courses?
The courses are tailored made for a small group of people (max. 10) depending on their level.
We focus on improving the learning process in a direct, fun and immediate way, like we do for the Italian class for children where they learn to speak through games and theatre acts… always according to the EU learning guidelines.
Of course, we give enough attention to the grammar basis, but we also want it fast and fun so students can say something already in the beginning.
Furthermore, we have also created flexible packages, adaptable to our audience needs: you can choose to attend only one lesson, or buy the whole course. Studiolingua combines Dutch efficiency with a warm Italian heart!
Any survival tips for the expats?
No one will help you if you do not try to make it yourself first. You always have to find out things by yourself.
Here you can keep your values, but at the same time adapt to a more structured and focused country, where people learn to make it by themselves. In the beginning they can look like closed people but that is misleading. They are open to (almost) everything international; they like to share this passion for what is different and allow you to be different in their country. But you have to show you can make it for yourself.
Upcoming projects or events?
We are part of the Italia al Dente event on March 19-20. On March 26, we have a try out lesson evening where people can come to see the new courses for the springtime and have a chat with the teachers.
› Interview with an expat: A language school adventure - Part 2