Teaching in Rome Abroad as a British Council Assistant

 Sorry for the hiatus! Finally back from Italy and my year abroad and will be posting more regularly.

This post originally appeared on the well-travelled postcard run, run by Virginia, a modern languages graduate. Check out her blog for all things related to Spain, using your languages and living abroad!

My biggest regret of university was never having studied abroad and so after graduation I looked for ways to travel and live abroad for extended periods of time. During summer I took the Certificate of English Language Teaching to Adults (CELTA) as a means to work abroad, but was a bit hesitant to jump into a full-time job teaching English without a lot of experience. The British Council language assistant job appealed to me, but having not studied languages formally I was ineligible to apply for certain countries.

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By chance, I met someone in Rome doing the British Council’s Comenius Assistantship, where you can spend between three and ten months working abroad as a language assistant anywhere in Europe and some European territories further afield for French. No specific degree is required, only the interest in becoming a teacher and gaining teaching experience and you are given a grant to cover the cost of flights, apartments and daily expenses.

In January 2013, I sent in my application and was placed in a public school in Rome by April 2013. The assistantship requires you to work 12-16 hours per week and to spend some time teaching your native language. At my school, half of my lessons are spent teaching English, with the other half teaching English through other subjects such as mechanics, history, engineering and mathematics. Comenius would be a a great option for undergraduates who study more than one language and want to divide their year abroad, as you can choose to spend between three months or one whole academic year abroad, whilst the British Council Language Assistantship, on the other hand is compulsory for the whole school year. The best part of Comenius is the fact that you’re working, earning money and independent, but you’re still learning in an assistant language teaching role, so it could be the best of both worlds for those who want to study and work during their year abroad.

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Onto the job itself, I’ve got to say it’s a lot of fun! The teachers are supportive and friendly, the staff room is always full of Italian desserts and the students are lovely. I work in a boys’ technical college teaching 17-21 year olds and aiding with science and engineering subjects. Having studied English Literature at University, I thought I’d be out of my depth, but I’ve been lucky to find such a welcoming school and great staff. From the beginning it’s important to establish your exact role in the school, as you will always be teaching alongside qualified teachers, but being the language assistant means you can make the lessons more fun, interactive and relevant to the students.

The British Council provide you with a grant to study the language of your country, and for me, learning Italian has been one of the best bits of living here! Languages have always fascinated me and last year I spent 10 weeks volunteering in El Salvador learning Spanish, which gave me a good base for Italian. It’s taken me a while, but I can now translate virtually all of what my students are saying (even the rude things!) and working in a school has been excellent listening practice for my Italian. I also do a lot of language exchanges with Italians, read Italian books, listen to music and spend a lot of time with Italian friends. I haven’t signed up yet for language lessons, but all of the above activities I’ve found to be more than sufficient to reach a B1-B2 level. I started off as a beginner and have found that through determination and immersion I’ve been able to pull my level up, without studying Italian formally above A1 level. Even though I teach English for over 12 hours a week, I’ve found that this hasn’t been a hindrance to picking up Italian and it won’t be for you either as you’ll have around 100 hours left over per week to dedicate to your foreign language!

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Working 12-16 hours a week means I have plenty of free time and so I give private English lessons to Italian students, spend a lot of time learning Italian, volunteering and doing other things. I also have Fridays off so have been able to use these to visit Venice during Carnival, Padova, Verona, Assisi, Naples and lots of other beautiful Italian cities. This weekend I’m off to Florence to enjoy the gelato festival and throughout the year there are also a lot of feste which will give you more time off to travel. I’ve tried to find a downside to this job to give a balanced view… but I can’t think of one! I was placed in Rome as I specifically requested it, but obviously some will be placed in smaller towns and villages. The loneliness and lack of young people have been a negative for some assistants placed in rural towns, so this is a possible downside. Technically you can be placed anywhere in your chosen countries, though you can specifiy whether you would prefer to be placed in a big city.

My Comenius Assistantship is coming to a close now and after this I will be working for ACLE at their English summer camps in Italy, where I will be staying with Italian families and travelling around the country gaining more teaching experience and improving my Italian. I have had the most incredible year as a Comenius Assistant in Rome and would heavily recommend it to all of you lovely third year abroaders!

Good Morning Rome, IMPREINT

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IMPREINT is a London-based artist whom I was introduced to recently. He works on several projects, usually involving the public in his art and his art is currently being showcased in the Original Gallery in London. Described as “enigmatic” he feels that his work is more important than his persona.

I was excited to take part in his latest project, Portraits, in Rome and chose the Trevi Fountain, an international symbol of the Eternal City. The artist says “I started [the project] on 16 December 2013 as a natural consequence of the 1000 balloons I had painted a year before. Balloons are like people: they’re all different and imperfect in different ways. I experimented with different ideas – first, I made a series of stop motion videos with pictures of people holding balloons. Then I collected photos sent from all over the world. These two approaches led me think that a scene could be looked at from various perspectives, so I decided to run Portraits for one year. In a way this is like a conversation with the public, based on a concept – a dream to evolve in a natural and spontaneous way.”

Portraits has already seen photos of smiling individuals from all corners of the globe posing with balloons. It’s a fantastically understated concept and I encourage everyone to colloborate with the artist by sending in a photo of themselves.

Below is a soundbite from the artist about his work:

– What is your project Portraits about in five words?
– Sharing, equality, unification, happiness, hope.

– What made you want to start your project?
– The idea to create a common dialogue. The 1000 balloons that I was painting inspired me.

– Where would you like to go with Portraits?
– I prefer not to plan, I dream.

Portraits is a global project and you can see the photos and follow IMPREINT on his facebook page. To find out what others have been saying about his work click herehere and here. Below are some photos from his exhibitions:
IMPREINT I'm a temporary exhibition IMPREINT London IMPREINT Portraits London

I ate, I prayed, I loved

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On my last trip to Naples, I mentioned how I was disappointed by the quality of the pizza at i decumani.

After reading Eat, Pray Love, I became intrigued about the pizza place Elizabeth Gilbert visited and described so incredibly. I did a quick online search and found that, actually, Pizzeria da Michele (mik-yel-eh) was popular before Julia Roberts!

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We arrived at 7pm and there was already a big queue and took tickets to wait for a table, essentially a very unItalian, but organised system of queueing. Once we got in I was shocked by the place. The decor was stark and it looked like one large bathroom on the inside and from the outside it looked like a kebab shop that dabbled in pizza, burgers and a bit of everything! The menu was simple and only listed pizza margherita and pizza marinara (without cheese) and drinks were limited to soft drinks, water and beer. The prices were CHEAP and I’m talking Bolivia-cheap, with a standard Marg costing €4. The place was filled mostly with locals, which was  a good sign and there was a discreet picture of Julia Roberts displayed by the cooking area.

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The wait for the food was quite long, but it was a busy night (Saturday night) and O M G it was incredible. I’m not really very discerning when it comes to food and in general I wouldn’t describe myself as a ‘foodie’ but this was the best pizza I’ve ever eaten. The dough was fresh and crispy, the tomato sauce was rich and sweet and the cheese was great. The best thing was definitely the dough, which you could see being made right in front of you, before the whole pizza was put into the wood-burning oven. It was really nice to see that Michele wasn’t cashing in on the fame of Eat, Pray, Love and had kept their prices and decor the same; the only thing they ask at the end is for a tip, which, considering the outstanding quality of the pizza, is merited!

I’m so glad I tried this place and I’d recommend it to all who are visiting Naples! I can’t wait to return again next spring, when I’ll be working up an appetite after climbing Mount Vesuvius 😉 Michele, I’m coming for you!

Pizzeria da Michele, Via Cesare Sersale, 1-3, 80139 Naples, Italy, it is very close to the main train station, Napoli Centrale.

Learning Italiano Part II (E come puoi imparare italiano)

 

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Sorry for the huuuuge absence; I’ve been travelling, celebrating my birthday and just getting on with life here in Rome! This is the complementary post to the previous one about learning Italian.

As you all know, I’m very passionate about languages and chose to come to Italy primarily for the culture (which I knew I would LOVE) and the language. Having a background in Spanish helped me learn Italian and now it’s been over six months since I’ve been in Italy and I can now say that I have a very good level of Italian 😀 I can understand almost everything everyone says, but talking is harder. It often feels like the more I learn, the more exasperated I become what I have yet to learn, but someone told me that feeling frustrated like this is normal as it means you’re breaking through to the next stage! 😀 so I will just choose to believe this! I’ve jumped from A1 to B1 in the past six months and I hope to leave B2!

For anyone interested in learning Italian, this is what I’m doing right now:

  • Watching films like La Grande Belleza, La Vita è Bella, Il postino. I try and watch without subtitles as I’d not be able to concentrate on the language properly otherwise
  • Watch the TV series, Gli Occhi Del Cuore. It is HILARIOUS and more like English comedy
  • Listen to Jovanetti and other Italian artists. I’m less interested in music and more in TV, film and books, though
  • I’m currently reading Io E Te by Niccolò Ammaniti
  • Exchanging languages in person and online through TheMixxer.org
  • Using a flashcard software programme like Anki on my phone which I normally flick through waiting for the bus or any other free minute
  • Old school eavesdropping has worked a treat; whenever I see anyone on the phone in Italy (basically all the time, they are always on the phone) I listen in to see if I can understand

I think it’s important to try and immerse yourself as much as possible in the language. I have yet to take official language lessons, as I don’t think they’re very helpful, but the Comenius Assistantship allows me to spend €300 on language learning, so why the hell not!

Learning Italiano

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From a young age I have been enamoured with languages; when I was 12 years old I spent my pocket money on Italian language books (sad I know) which I still own now and after being forced to drop Spanish at school (Italian wasn’t an options) decided to take “twilight” Spanish lessons at my school and do a class outside of school with ADULTS for the Duke of Edinburgh Award. I say ADULTS because at the time I was a dithering 16-year old shell of a girl who didn’t even have the confidence to ask questions and felt embarrassed about my age in a class where everyone was in their 30s.

Learning languages for me, was an uphill struggle and if I didn’t have the passion for them that I do, I would have been monolingual for my entire life. Unfortunately, Britain is besieged with an inefficient, moronic school system that fails to teach more than merci beacoup and mi casa es grande, after half a decade of lessons. This was the stage I found myself in and I was forced to try and learn languages in my free time and take on additional classes. Even at university, there wasn’t much freedom to learn a foreign language outside of your degree, unless of course you had £140 spare and fancied an extra exam or two at the end of the year! No thanks.

After high school I couldn’t even conjugate in the present tense and I’m embarrassed to admit I didn’t even know the pattern, but yet still got an A! A-Levels (age 17+) is where the Spanish learning really got underway and I learnt so much more in this one intense year of lessons, which again, I was forced to take outside of my timetable. Language degrees in the UK recognise this and so have a mandatory year abroad as part of the degree, which of course ends up being the highlight of most students’ time at university.

In my first year though, I was able to take a beginners Italian course that provided me with a great foundation for learning now, even if I am only using it 5 years later. After reading language-learning blogs online, you start to learn fast that the current methodology for teaching foreign languages is effete and after six years of “learning” Spanish, I could say very little and I’m sure it wasn’t just me. It was only when I spent 10 weeks in El Salvador that I built my level of Spanish and got to speak it confidently and with ease. 10 weeks of practicing for hours a day, living with a host family and interacting with Salvadorian friends was superior to six whole school years of classroom teaching. It was only then that I realised that language is a living thing. You can’t read about it and study it and expect to be able to use it well; you need to practice. Day and night!

I’ve tried to keep this in mind with learning Italian and I dropped out of traditional Italian classes which I found incredibly dull and far too focused on grammar. The mistake with teaching languages that most countries make, is obsessing over grammar over and above conversation and practice. I hear people mentioning transitive verbs, auxiliaries and all of this other crap that you shouldn’t be bothering with at the beginning of learning a language. Hell, I don’t know any of this stuff in English, but you can bet I’m fluent! At the beginning, you should start simple; work on building vocabulary and improving confidence, occasionally dipping into grammar to brush up what you’ve already got.

So how do I get around learning Italian now? Through language-exchanges! For a few hours a week, I meet Italians who want to practice their English with me and we take it in turns to correct each other’s mistakes and improve our skills. I also hang out and live with Italians and work in an Italian public school, where I eavesdrop on everything the students are saying! This has helped me lots with my speaking. I’ve also used online games and other fun, interactive activities to boost my vocabulary and knowledge. It’s definitely not easy-going; some days I really think I’m getting the hang of this language and other days like today I just think “oh god I’m never going to be fluent!” After 4 months I think I’ve gotten a solid intermediate level. I have 5 or more months left  so hopefully I will leave fluent 😀

Here’s a link to me in the Guardian talking about languages.

Christmas In Rome

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Sorry for the absence guys! I’ve been back in London for about two weeks enjoying family, friends and food (the three F’s!)

I love living in Rome. So much. And I was so excited to be around during the Christmas holidays to see what would be happening in the city. In terms of decorations, there weren’t as many in London, but the rainbow lights on Via Del Corso, the main shopping high street from Piazza Venezia, were beautiful, extending for about 3km, making for a lovely passegiata.

1465413_10201607777130259_1235828344_nNativity scenes are BIG here and they can be found all over the city, even ‘live’ nativity scenes with actors in the middle of the city’s main piazza. Some of the besyt open-air ones are at the Spanish Steps, the Vatican and Piazza del Popolo, which is by the end of the colourful rainbow lights down Via del Corso.

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Italians (and apparently a lot of other Europeans besides us Brits) celebrate Christmas on the 24th!! They have a big meal on the evening of the 24th, where they are only allowed to eat fish and open their presents at midnight. Who knows what they do on the 25th. My family usually prepares international food for the Christmas dinner-none of this turkey malarky.

The Christmas period ends on the Epiphany on the 6th January, which is a national holiday. On this day, La Befana, a friendly witch of Italian lore, is said to visit children and deliver sweets if you’ve been a good or coal if you’ve been bad. The event takes place on Piazza Navona and is full of children! La Befana arrived on a motorbike with a gang of Harley Davidson bikers. I tried getting a picture, but one of the motorheads had no idea how to use a camera and we tried twice, c’est la vie.

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See Naples…and die?

999727_10201378141589514_2054586014_n ..Is how the saying goes. I don’t know who said it or why. Is Naples so sublime a city that upon seeing it you are free to end your days there…because of course, you have seen Naples. Or does the presence of the Mafia mean that your days are numbered and you’re lucky if you make it out of the city with your purse and your life?

A friend and I decided to find out and took a day trip there on All Saints Day (Ognissanti), a public holiday in Italy, which meant that everyone got Friday 1st November off. Yay. For €22 return, we were able to head to Naples, land of pizza and Pompeii to discover the true meaning of the above saying….

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And I still don’t get it. Whilst I enjoyed Naples, I think that there are a lot of other more beautiful cities in Italy to visit. If I ended my days having only seen Naples in Italy, I’d have thought I drew the short straw. On the other hand, the lack of tourists and “must-see” sites made it nicer to explore the city itself. To me, it felt like a slightly more decrepit, less beautiful version of Rome and I didn’t find the tourist centre to be run-down or any more dirty than other cities. It had all the scooters, cobble stones, washing hanging from lines.

Here are some of the best things we enjoyed in Naples:

The MAN (Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli)

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I loved this museum! €4 entry for Europeans and the MAN has 3 or 4 floors filled with ancient Roman mosaics, artefacts, sculptures, paintings and items pilfered from Pompeii and Herculaneum. There’s a hilarious ancient porn room and the basement is filled with Egyptian artefacts.

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Pizza

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We ate at I Decumani, right in the middle of the centre of Naples at Via Dei Tribunali. Our pizzas were served very quickly and they were good, but not quite Eat Pray Love good. The price was incredibly cheap and I got this margherita for €3.50!

Sfogliatelle

I found this an odd pastry, I still don’t know what was inside, but I had to try it as it is a Neapolitan delicacy!

Observing the infamous trash problem

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Which really isn’t as bad as people make out. Naples was a lot cleaner than I expected, but I’ve included this photo for shock value!

Piazza del Plebiscito

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Pronounced “pleb-eh-sheet-o” this was a lovely piazza, where there is a military parade at sunset. It is also close to the sea where there are beautiful views.

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I enjoyed observing the differences between Romans and Neapolitans. I can definitely say that the streets of Naples are nowhere near as chaotic as those of Rome, but what did make me laugh was seeing a family of three or sometimes four on a scooter in Naples. It’s a great city with fantastic history and is close to other incredible places like Pompeii and the Amalfi Coast, so it is worth a visit on the way to these other places.