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!

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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

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.

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.

October Round-Up in Rome

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October is the best month to visit Rome as the weather is still summery and there are fewer tourists; don’t even think about coming here in August where it can get up to 40 degrees! This month I managed to sneak a few trips to the beach after work and got to know the teachers and students at my school better, with one of them inviting me to lunch with her family. I also got a little bit of independence and was able to plan some of my own lessons and handouts at school, which I really enjoyed.

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I experienced my first Italian strike (the first of many I’m told!) and got the day off school. Normally a strike (lo sciopero) will be planned in advance and everyone is given prior warning. It is almost always planned on a Friday, so as to give a 3-day weekend (called il ponte-the bridge) and buses will shut down, but metros will still be running.

A few days later, in San Giovanni I got to witness a protest where different groups were lobbying against different things; human rights, the poor treatment of refugees, taxes, the economic system.

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I got to do some more language exchanges but they have gotten far too infrequent. I’ve officially dropped my Italian lessons and decided to learn Italian only through language exchanges.

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I found the most incredible gelateria near my work and went there 5 times in 6 days. The first day I found it was magical! I went off of a recommendation from Revealed in Rome and chose two delicious flavours of gelato (chocolate and Sicilian almonds) and wandered over towards the river and caught the sunset by the Vatican next to the Corte de Cassazione, the grandest building in Rome!

IMG_3356The Justice Palace: definitely gives the Old Bailey a run for its money

I found my local fresh food market at Circo Massimo, part of the 0km “slow food” movement.IMG_3320

I had a crazy day at the beach where strangers just kept coming up to me and talking to me, I made a new friend and a woman took professional photos of me for her portfolio! I won’t put them up here but have included my own from the beach:

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I gave my first private English lesson and got to sample a lot of aperitivos. I also bought my first pair of real leather Italian shoes, bye-bye flip flops!

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This is me after work, hanging out at Piazza Navona:

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Until next week!

My First Month in Rome (September)

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Having visited Rome for four weeks last year, I had already seen all the tourist sites more than once, so I just set about exploring the city on foot, solo. I live just south of the Coliseum in San Giovanni. I love San Giovanni as its tranquilissimo; safe, pleasant and quiet, but the downside means that you have to travel further for all of the action.

1378328_10201195273657930_1012195736_nGROM: I love their gelato!

I paid homage to the traditions of gelato and pizza, making pilgrimages into central Rome everyday just to sample some sweet, sweet salvation. I was disappointed! The quality in the centre was poor and the prices weren’t cheap either. Because I can’t exactly live like a king (or queen) on my British Council salary in future I’m just going to go off of tried and tested recommendations, but the gelato above was my own find 🙂

The weather is incredible, much hotter than an English weather, with temperatures rising to 28 degrees some days. Coming from gray London, I couldn’t get enough of this. (Although to be fair to my native city, we had fantastic weather this summer, thank you London). Most of my time is spent walking around Rome and exploring. I love just looking at all the sunsets, ornate buildings, coffee rituals, Italian conversations, shoe shopping and lots more. I’ve been to the beach countless times…

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The hardest thing to cope with has probably been the language; I have a burning desire to communicate, but can’t transmute my thoughts into words. Its so frustrating, since I felt I’d gotten to a really good level in Spanish, only to have to start back again at square 1. In fact, just today I was speaking Spanish with a native Spanish speaker and once I heard their reply thought “man my Spanish is obviously shitter than I thought,” until I realised he was speaking Italian. Doh!

1383094_10201195279698081_489434106_nSan Giovanni: The melodramatic poses of the statues might even be my favourite thing about Rome

I’ve made a few Italian friends and am doing at least five language exchanges a week, which I feel is still not enough. I will be severely disappointed if I leave Italy not fluent in the language, so will have to step it up a notch. I spend a lot of my time reading and writing at Piazza Navona (the main photo) and my work is just a few minutes walk from there. It might be heaving with tourists, but its popular for a reason and I don’t think my mbile phone photos do it justice!

1378770_10201195276498001_192112001_nI also climbed this badboy made out of bamboo, fittingly called Big Bambu, in Testaccio. You had to sign a disclaimer waiving culpability for death or something like that, but walking up 25 metres on bamboo was scary! Its part of MACRO, the contemporary art museum. I’ve also made some lovely international friends here too.

1391966_10201195267377773_1837321592_nAnd finally here’s me on a vespa. Who’s Vespa? Who knows, but one of my goals is to drive one by the end of the year and maybe take a roadtrip. I don’t know if this will be somewhat impeded by the fact that I can’t drive a car…

Breakast at Guiliemo’s

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Italian’s are shocked at what us English eat for breakfast. Ham? Sausages? EGGS? These foods are far too heavy for early mornings and instead Italians prefer to indulge in un caffé and something sweet; biscotti or un cornetto. Due to early morning starts at the school, I have taken to this routine with gusto! Practicing my Italian with the staff at the café, nipping out of lessons for a quick caffeine fix and indulging my sweet tooth (which only gets sweeter with time) with un marrochino and un cornetto cioccolato for €2. This bar is a 10 second walk from the main doors of my school and can be found on the Corso Vittorio Emmanuele II. It’s nice to have a quick breakfast with other teachers before returning back to the chaos of the classroom, alas I fear I am becoming a coffee addict!