Somehow, with no interview or even a whiff of a TEFL qualification on my CV, I had been offered a job teaching Drama in English to Italian kids, IN ITALY. I booked myself onto a flight to Bologna and only the night before leaving did I begin to panic that this whole thing was an extremely bizarre and elaborate prank. I mean, I’d never actually spoken to these people…they could actually be the Mafia for all I knew. AND WHY DIDN’T THEY CARE ABOUT SEEING A DBS CHECK?? After umming and ahing for some time I decided to board the plane on the off chance that it would be a worthwhile experience, and oh Lordy am I glad I did.
Having travelled throughout the night to get there, I arrived at Bologna airport dazed and confused, and concerned that there would be no one else there; BUT there by the arrivals gate was a cluster of actors (the company only hires actors), all in very much the same dazed and confused state as me, questioning what the job actually was and who was in charge of the whole shebang. I have never been so grateful to see a cluster of dazed and confused actors in my life, and I’m pretty sure the others felt somewhat the same. I mean, this whole situation was weird, you guys! And I cannot stress the extent of the weirdness enough. But let’s not delve into the weirdness too much. I don’t want to bring the company down.
After a day’s very much ‘Bootcamp’ style training in Modena, we were split up into smaller groups and shipped out across the country to go forth and teach! Despite the fact that I didn’t have a clue what on earth was going on, I was fully loving life, mainly because of the glorious sunshine and lack of rain. I had been sent (with seven other teachers), to Marche- a region I had no knowledge of before, but I’m genuinely so surprised that more people don’t visit that area. It is BEAUTIFUL.
We were sent by minibus to the comune of Mondavio, still feeling very dazed and confused and with absolutely no idea where this Mondavio place was. I was bloody terrified. We tried to remain calm whilst planning our week’s worth of lessons and drama activities, attempting to fill out the exercise books we would soon be handing over to our classes. After a few hours the minibus pulled up at the side of a main road and we clambered out to be greeted by the host families that we would be staying with for a week.
WEEK ONE- LESSONS LEARNT
1. Language barriers can force you to overcome your fears out of sheer politeness.
Day one I went out on the sea in a pedalo in Fano with another teacher and our two host families. I was totally fine and excited and loving life until it became clear that after some time it was expected that everyone would jump off it into the swirling Adriatic waters below. (They weren’t swirling really, I just get incredibly panicky when you can’t touch or see the bottom.)
Don’t get me wrong- I can swim, I even got my 25m badge at school, but that was only because the instructor was dangling a massive pole in front of me the whole way that I could grab onto whenever I freaked out that I was in imminent danger of drowning.
Anyway with everyone calling to me from the sea in Italian, and having only just met, I decided that the polite thing to do would be just to jump/slide in anyway. In England I probably would have just said ‘I can’t’ and not done it. Language barriers mean you bloody well have to do anything, regardless.
2. The art of ‘winging it.’
On the first day of school, all of us teachers were dropped off by our host families and were greeted by approximately 140 rowdy Italian youngsters. We were then introduced to our classes by two (lovely) teachers from the school, who pointed us in the direction of our classrooms, and then made a swift exit away from the building. It was only at that moment that it dawned on us that not only did we have little to no idea of what was expected of us in terms of teaching and directing a show, but that we were the ONLY ADULTS IN THE BUILDING, IN SOLE CHARGE OF 140 CHILDREN WHOSE LANGUAGE WE DO NOT SHARE. The most terrible thing that could have happened at that moment would be for us to show on our faces the impending sense of doom that we were all feeling.
Caeley (my pedalo pal) and I began to take charge of the situation and all I’m saying is- thank god that the eight of us got through the week, and thank god that a few of us had taught before. I spent the first part of the week having mild internal meltdowns whilst remaining externally as cool as a cucumber, using all my acting skills to teach the entire school a song or not lose my rag with a particularly naughty child. The only time I’d say I failed at this was when an angel-faced boy decided to kill a lizard in front of my very eyes. It was disgusting, and I fully heaved.
My class was made up of eighteen 12 year olds, most of whom were extremely boisterous boys, who liked to fight, and shout, and throw things around the classroom, A LOT. After the first morning on day one I thought that I’d surely drawn the short straw in terms of student behaviour. But then I exited the classroom and was greeted with Fergus, whose classroom was opposite mine, sweating from head to toe and visibly in shock at his class. This is a greeting I got used to over the week,and came to look forward to! Poor Fergus 😂
Do you know what though? Over the course of the week, the art of winging it worked, and by the end we were still stressed but in more of a good way. We’d fully adapted to the challenges being thrown at us, and somehow managed to survive the week without being attacked by a child, and pulled off a show (in English), featuring an all-Italian cast of children.
3. If you can sing, dance, or have a party trick, children will love you.
Fact. This especially helps when you can’t speak the same language. All you need to do is bust a move in front of them and they’ll think you’re the best thing since sliced bread.
4. Italian families are awesome. And dinners are an awesome family occasion. They finish around 11pm.
The family I stayed with were amazing. So friendly, hospitable and kind. Matteo (the dad of my host family) and Sandra (the mum of Caeley’s) made sure we were included in everything, and tried so hard to make sure that we actually understood what was going on.
They took us to see so many things and meet so many people, and what amazed me most of all was how important family life is for them. One night we went for dinner at Matteo’s uncle’s house (who was hosting another teacher, Martha). We were met by lots and lots of dogs and a fully laid table featuring bottles of his homemade olive oil for dipping bread in. Best olive oil I’ve ever tasted. He sent us away with jars of his homemade honey- declaring ‘honey for everyone!’- and I’m pretty full on sad now as two months later I’m nearly all out. Sad times.
Another night we went to Lorenza (my host mum’s), parents for dinner. Her grandparents also live there, and awkward situations abound when I’m pretty sure the great-grandma confused me for Lorenza. I was stood in the kitchen playing with Dante (the three year old son of my family and new best pal), when great-grandma entered and began advancing toward me, arms outstretched crying ‘ah, Lorenza!’ The family saved me and all was well 😂
All of our families were just the most generous and lovely group of people I have ever met in one go, and I cannot believe how quickly I was made to feel like part of the family. Good one, Italians.
Lots of fresh, home-grown fruit every day, home cooked meals with fresh ingredients (I even got a spaghetti masterclass), and tonnes of water. I can’t believe how much energy I had considering how much I was doing.
6. The Italian fights (I witnessed) are not like English fights.
Day four I had to break up a fight at lunch between two boys in my class. I’ve never had to break up a fight before between anyone so I have no idea what to actually do in such a situation. I mean is there official fight protocol to follow? Especially when it’s a fight between kids, I mean what’s the deal!? When they were back together in class I thought I should probably get them to talk about it so asked them both to step outside for a bit and have a talk…at which point they voluntarily apologised to one another and gave each other a hug. My mind was blown. It’s sad that my mind was blown, but I never saw anything like that happen when I was at school and I actually had to hide the fact that I was getting all emotional.
The last evening at a strange and mysterious party in Senigallia (see point 7 for the full story), we had to leave the party because a fight broke out. But really all the fight involved was a dramatic slap over the back of the head to a friend of Matteo’s who told a guy that me and Caeley were with them. I hate fights but that was comedy gold I tell you.
8. Whoever says Italians don’t get drunk is a massive liar.
On the final evening our host families arranged for us all to have a meal together with them in a restaurant in Mondavio. It was lovely, the pizza was amazing, there was wine, we were generally loving life. By around 10.30pm the meal was drawing to a close and we were all feeling rather rosy and looking forward to climbing into bed after the longest week of our lives.
But oh no my friends! Our families had another idea. After a rum and dark chocolate (apparently that’s the only way to drink rum and I’m not gonna lie I highly recommend it), at the little bar at the top of the hill in Mondavio, me and Caeley were then informed at around 11pm that we were on our way to ‘the wedding.’ Neither of us knew whose wedding we were off to at eleven o’clock at night, but onwards we went nonetheless, hurtling down the steep narrow roads of Mondavio and eventually ended up outside a house with some serious banging tunes blaring out from within.
In we went to the garden…there were a few family members there who I’d met over the course of the week, plus many more children, grandparents, friends and relatives of the bride and groom. Before even being introduced to them me and Caeley were ushered front and centre- next to the bride- of a group photograph by the photographer. We worked out that the photographer was wanting everyone to jump at the same time for the picture so we just went and bloody well jumped didn’t we. I am now forever immortalised in an Italian woman’s wedding album, and I feel like an actual wedding crasher.
Homemade grappa and limoncello was on offer along with all the wines and beers, and everyone was downing it like there was no tomorrow…we’d had a selfie with the bride, joined in with the lighting of the lanterns and were definitely ready for bed by about 2am when it was declared, ‘now we’re going to a party!’
So off we went again, in the car (yes, in the car), with no clue where we were going other than that it was about 40 minutes away. It was somewhere between almost running over an owl and reversing up a winding lane to steer clear of a police car that I thought it probably necessary to start fearing for my life. Luckily we’d had so much grappa and limoncello that yes, we were terrified, but we were also joyful and loving life. It was one of those real laugh or cry moments, you know? We ended up in a car park in Senigallia where a stage had been set up for an Italian reggae group, and hundreds of people were dancing and drinking even more. We got in at about 6am when the sun was fully up.
Italians don’t get drunk? Yeah, right.