For the past month, I have been living in the small village of Monte San Pietrangeli in the Marche region of Italy, and I do not think I will ever want to leave. Any anxiety about meeting my host family members dissolved as soon as they greeted me with warm smiles and hugs, and I have settled into my new life quickly thanks to their hospitality. While it is still difficult for us to have full conversations with each other, we have mastered chit-chat and jokes with the use of hand gestures and Google Translate.
I spend most of my time during the week teaching English and, of course, eating. I am fortunate to have been placed with a host family that owns a hotel/restaurant in the city center. This means that I have been spoiled by eating every meal in their restaurant and meeting several new townspeople each day. I have introduced myself through mouthfuls of pasta more times than I'd like to admit, and it has been a pleasure to share many meals with curious strangers. The hotel is close to each of the three schools I teach at, so I begin each day with a morning walk through the sleepy town with gorgeous landscape on each side of me.
The most challenging aspect of my time teaching in the Italian schools has been the need to quickly adapt to the circumstances of each class. I am teaching 11 different ages (pre-school through eighth grade), and each class has students that represent a large spectrum of English comprehension and skill. Some of my students are recent immigrants and can speak only a little Italian in addition to their native languages, while other students have received private English lessons for years. In some classes, I am more of a supplement to the English teacher with an established lesson plan, while in others I lead an hourlong lesson myself. Because I must switch gears and teaching styles several times a day, sometimes I worry that I am not teaching in the most efficient manner. Thankfully, the Italian teachers have been extremely helpful, and I am encouraged and inspired daily by the small improvements I see in my students. This program is my first experience teaching an entire class of students, and I am grateful that it allows me to develop skills that I will use when I begin teaching in America. The children in my classes are the highlight of my day, and my job is made easier by their genuine desire to learn.
My first month in Italy has been filled to the brim with new experiences. I have travelled to Venice, Florence, Pisa and Bologna, and this weekend I will visit Rome. I have made several new friends from different countries, and I have enjoyed being exposed to their cultures. I did not realize that I would form relationships with so many different kinds of people during my time in Italy, and it has been humbling to realize how little I know about the customs and traditions of countries besides the U.S. Even my new friendships with other InterExchange Working Abroad participants have been eye opening as we compare notes about our home states. I learn more about Italy, Italians and the Italian language every day, and I can only imagine how much more I will absorb about this culture during the remainder of my stay. This process has also caused me to analyze my language in new ways, and I often end my day with research into the origins of phrases or terms that I never before realized would be counterintuitive to a non-native English speaker. By this point, I recognize that each day will bring new challenges and realizations, and I am excited to see what other lessons this experience will offer.
I will be in Italy for two more months, and I am already sad at the thought of leaving. My time abroad so far has reaffirmed my desire to teach and travel, and I plan to take full advantage of this opportunity to do so. I am looking forward to sharing more of my experiences as I explore this vibrant country, and I hope to give another update soon! Ciao!