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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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.

Cafe culture in Italy (Starbucks where art thou?)

1003527_10201378143309557_110463338_nA lot of people are surprised to find out that no, Italy doesn’t have a Starbucks or any kind of take-away coffee culture. And it’s easy to see why. Not to be all snobby (OK maybe I’m being a snob) but that double bubble mocha frappe latte chino crap on the Starbucks menu is not the kind of thing you would ever see here, because that’s not really coffee is it? Its more of a liquefied Victoria sponge cake blended to within an inch of its life, with cream on top and served in a Styrofoam cup with a mermaid on it. Who is she?

Having said that, I love the feel of American coffee shops; being able to linger over a coffee (or a mocha-OK I’m a hypocrite!!) and work on the laptop/read a book or hang out with friends is so enjoyable when it’s cold outside and Costa are offering double points. in Italy,  however, the coffee culture is completely different and you need a whole new vocabulary to navigate the murky, caffeinated waters of Italian coffee.

Firstly, SIZES. OK America, we get it, you like large, but forget the sizes of grande, venti or whatever, this is one size fits all. Here, they only have one size and its baby-sized, the coffees are tiny cups filed with one shot of coffee that you can take at the bar or at the table (tavolo), which is a little more expensive. A café is called a bar and a coffee is called un caffé. It’s normal for most Italians to start the day with breakfast (colazione) at a bar and eat a cornetto (sweet pastry dusted with sugar sometimes with chocolate) or biscotti with a cappuccino and a packet of sugar (zucchero). Dentists in Italy must be making a killing!

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Prices vary, but even in Rome if you’re not getting ripped off, you can get a coffee for €0.80-1.00 at the bar, more if you’re sitting down. This is in very stark contrast to the prices your normally pay in Starbucks and other coffee chains, where you can pay around €2.50 for take-away coffee, which will be watered down and filled with sugar. Another thing is that here, they don’t do take-away Styrofoam cups. The coffees are so small you can normally finish them in one gulp and people normally come to the bar between work hours to get their fix, not to shoot the breeze or take their Cake In A Cup to their stressful workplace, whilst yapping away on their BlackBerry.

Latte in Italy just means milk, so don’t bother ordering this at the bar. A macchiato is a shot of espresso “stained” with milk, a cappuccino is half milk and half coffee and a caffé normale is just a shot of espresso. My favourite drink is un marochino, which is a smaller shot of espresso with cream (panna) and chocolate sprinkles on top. It is definitely the prettiest coffee I’ve ordered (see main picture) and at the café near my house normally comes with complimentary biscuits. The calling card of a tourist is ordering a cappuccino after 11am, which most Italians would never do, because apparently milk hinders digestion. It seems only Italy got this memo and whilst there are stories of Italians recoiling in horror whenever an afternoon cappuccino is requested, they’re used to tourists by now.

You’re normally served a glass of water with your coffee, but if not you can ask for one. In some places you order first and then pay and in others you pay first at the cash register and then bring your receipt to the barrista. Try and ask for the coffees in Italian and you’re less likely to get ripped off in the tourist centre. The coffee culture is one of my favourite things about Italy and whilst I barely drink any in England, I have become addicted to them here!

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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!

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!

Rome’s Most Underrated Attraction: The Tiber River

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Maybe its because I’m a Pisces. Maybe it’s because I can’t swim and like to taunt myself by staring at bodies of water and hanging out at Santa Marinella beach pretending to swim :p. Either way, one of my favourite places in Rome on a sunny day is the Tiber River. Walking down the riverside and descending down away from the chaotic Roman traffic (the sound is at least partially blocked out) and strolling along the Tiber is just incredible. The river bank is completely empty, though the odd cyclist/jogger/illegal vendor cycles/jogs/saunters past, you pretty much get the river to yourself. The reflection of the bridge on the water is bella! On warm days you can usually take part in watersports here or take a cruise downriver. Here are some of my photos, enjoy!

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And just today after work, walking around the maze that is Rome, I happened upon the river and saw this gorgeous sunset over the Vatican:

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Beautiful sights like these are why I always carry my digital camera around in Rome. Its also why I was really angry that I forgot it today so the sunset photo is from my phone..

Arrivederci!

Want a beach holiday? Come to Rome…

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Growing up in London means I’m a city girl at heart, but one of the harder things about adjusting to Rome is the lack of parks and greenery (which yes! London actually has a lot of) and with the 24/7 traffic, it just seems so…urban. Living in Nottingham for three years meant that I’d grown accustomed to forests, greenery and gardens aplenty so every once in a while my heart pangs for trees…leaves…verdure…!

One way of avoiding the traffic and getting my nature fix has been heading down to Termini and hopping on a 50 minute train to the beach of Santa Marinella. This beach is incredibly beautiful, clean and peaceful even when its really hot in September, one Italian even asked me “How did you find out about this beach?!” so the lack of tourists is very refreshing! This is because 26 degrees is “autumn” for Italians, but is tropical weather for a northern European lass such as myself, so the relative cold probably explains the lack of people. Getting there is cheap and costs €4.60 each way and there are a few trains an hour from Termini, Trastevere, Ostiense and San Pietro. There’s not much to see here besides the beach and the town itself is very small, but has a supermarket and a few seafood restaurants. I’ve come here 3 times already in two weeks! I’ll leave you some more pictures of the stunning beach and the sea:

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