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!


How to embark on a gap year with little or no money

This article will hopefully aid the financially-challenged on the best ways to travel on the cheap, whether it be for 4 weeks or one year. Graduating from university with more than one overdraft is forcing me to be tactical and not really having the time or the will to work in Sainsburys for 6 months, I thought “there’s gotta be a better way…”

Dream of picking olives in the Tuscan sun whilst working on your tan or have a base in Brazil working in agriculture? Wwoof stands for “World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms” and allows you to work for a period of time on farm in a country of your choosing. Each country will have their own Wwoof memberships that you will have to sign up to and in exchange they send you a list of farms in each region of the country. A weekly newsletter is also sent out with S.O.S. farms that urgently need help. Wwoof membership covers insurance and as part of this scheme you will be required to work around 5 hours a day in exchange for accommodation and food. Note that membership has to be renewed each year.

Cost: Usually under £25, check your chosen country’s membership fee + flights

Teaching English
Potentially one of the more costly options but getting a teaching qualification could be one of the best ways of working abroad. I completed the Certificate of Teaching English Language to Adults (CELTA) accredited by the University of Cambridge which costs around £1000 but can be gotten free on Job Seekers Allowance at certain institutions. It’s an intensive four-week Monday-Friday course, 9am-5pm where you will be teaching your own class daily. There are cheaper TEFL courses available but some of them won’t have classroom experience included in the price and are not as reputable as the internationally-recognised CELTA so you may have a harder time finding a job. With this qualification you’re likely to make your money back in a month, depending on where you work. 

If you manage to secure a job in the middle east then praise to Allah, you will be rich! These jobs are notoriously difficult to come by with applicants usually needing a Masters degree and years of teaching experience. Japan is also one of the more lucrative countries and for those that want to do an extended stint here, the JET Scheme  is available to those with a Bachelors degree and lasts for one year. In South Korea it is normal to get a good salary, paid for flights and free accommodation, although you will only be reimbursed at the end of your contract. Its always recommended to bring savings with you for these schemes. 

Cost: £0-£1000 qualification + flights + accommodation (if not provided.)

Like Wwoofing, workaway can be done anywhere in the world. You volunteer with your host for a few hours a day in exchange for food and accommodation. The work on offer is varied (I’ve seen gardening, looking after kids, cooking) and you have to pay for flights. To keep costs as low as possible choose a neighbouring country.

Cost: approx. €20 membership + flights (€15 for membership if you sign up with a friend)

American Summer Camp

I did this last year and it was the best experience (see background picture), plus in the end I broke even financially. I’d recommend Camp Leaders  who offer you more money than Camp America and are a lot more personal. Initially, you pay the agency £500 and then the money for flights and other things are taken from your future salary, which, you will see VERY LITTLE of. But the whole point you’re doing this is for the experience, not the dollar bills. Counsellor’s usually make £500 ($800) per summer, more if they return the following year. After camp, I went travelling to Washington, New York and Boston, managing to keep it cheap by staying at the houses of friends I made at Camp.

Cost: £500 which you make back…eventually. Hidden costs include visa/American embassy fees ($160 as of January 2013) and medicals (mine was £60)

International Citizen Service
Fantastic government-funded trips abroad for up to three months in developing countries. You will be required to fundraise a small amount of the total cost of the trip (£800) but the charity will take care of flights, vaccinations, food, accommodation and spending money. With this scheme you will actually be making a difference (hence no exorbitant “administration” fees!) and can work in central America, east Africa and south east Asia just to name a few. From January 2013, I will be volunteering for ten weeks in El Salvador and will write more about my experiences here. I was lucky enough to be awarded £280 from the Jack Petchey Individual Grant for Volunteering; to be eligible you have to live in London or Essex, be under 25 and apply at least three months in advance. Its also better if your trip doesn’t have any additional activities, i.e. a safari, which would detract from the volunteering element.

Cost: Fundraising £800

European Voluntary Service

EVS aims to promote transnational mobility and funds lots of different types of projects all across Europe. All expenses are paid. Its aimed at 18-30 year olds who want the opportunity to volunteer abroad full-time with a specialist organisation, read this account of Tom Payne who spent one year working with a humanitarian aid organisation in Sweden. This is a fantastic opportunity for job-seekers to build their skills and travel at the same time.

Cost: FREE (Flights + shared accommodation with other volunteers covered + medicals and yo’re given a monthly allowance)

British Council Language Assistantships

Can take you to Europe or as far-flung as South America. The general scheme lasts for a full academic year with 12-16 hours of teaching and a small grant which goes towards living costs. The Comenius Assisantship can last between 13-45 weeks and the same rules as the general scheme apply, but the grant is slightly higher and every single country in the EU is included, even overseas territories. The general scheme requires you to have studied languages at A-Level and are geared towards Language undergraduates, but Comenius is open to anyone who is thinking of pursuing a teaching career. Note that from July 2013, the Comenius scheme is being revised and may not run for the following academic year. 

Costs: NONE. Grant may not be enough to cover living costs so a second job may be necessary, but even living in Rome with this scheme, I’m able to get by on the money. 16 hours of work a week is hardly anything and I will be tutoring and taking another job in my spare time.