My Year Abroad in photos

Here are some of my favourite photos from my year abroad in Italy

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Polignano Beach, Puglia.

 

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Il Duomo di Milano

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Beyonce Concert in Milano

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The school where I spent 8 months teaching English

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Lecce, Puglia.

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Venezia

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Alberobello

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Torino

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Martina Franca

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Message from one of my classes before leaving

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One of the many amazing pizzas.

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First of May dip in the sea

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28 Things I have learned on my Year Abroad so far

So the other day I realised that in a weeks time I will be halfway through my YA. In light of this news, this is a post of just some of the things I have learned and noticed whilst in Italy.

1. Your YA might not be what you expected, or what you wanted – but you can still make it the best year of your life – I got my last choice of region (in the south rather than the north), a smaller town than I wanted and a secondary school rather than primary. Although I didn’t get the things I wanted, I have learned that you have to make the best what you do have and not dwell on the things you don’t have. After all, your YA is what you make it.

2. It takes time to settle in somewhere new and everyone has different times of adjusting to new environments – It took me a good few weeks to settle into Italy, which for me was a shock as I thought I would find it easy to settle in my new life. But although it’s taken me a while longer, I have finally got there.

3. Being English is like gold here- If anyone finds out that you are fluent in English, they want you immediately to teach  them, their kids and friends. Being able to speech English is a quality which is very sought after here in Italy, everyone wants to learn English.

4. The food is just amazing- I know I have mentioned this a few times before, but I can’t leave it out! The food will always be one of the best things here. Doesn’t matter where in Italy you go, the food will always be amazing.

5. Disorganisation– This is the one things I hate about Italy. It’s very laid back and lacks any kind of organisation. It’s just how they are and it has made me appreciate England a lot more.

6. Working as an English Language assistant – no day is ever the same – This is something I really like about my job, you could definitely never get bored teaching children.

7. Italian Chinese food- I am yet to find a good Chinese takeaway in Italy! They’re just not the same as English Chinese takeaways. Definitely opt for another kind of takeaway unless you fancy soggy crispy chicken.

8. Jetting off to a new city at the weekend is perfectly acceptable – Last week it was Venice, before that Riccione. It’s just part of being on your YA.

9. There are siesta’s in Italy in the winter as well as in the summer- This is something I don’t understand, I thought the whole point of siesta’s was to avoid the afternoon heat, but how does this apply in the winter?! Hey I’m not complaining though, any excuse to nap!

10. Strange opening times – Because of the siesta’s most shops shut in the afternoon from about 1 until 6pm. If you walk around during that time, you will find a ghost town.

11. Strikes are a regular occurrence – whether they are with transport or at work, there is some sort of strike every month. Be prepared to have to change your travel plans like I had to in Rome.

12. Public transport isn’t the most reliable– I haven’t heard as many complaints about the North of Italy, so this might apply mainly in the South, but transport here is not always on time and in some towns, public transport doesn’t even exist. To get to the nearest airport which is Brindisi, I have to get 2 trains and a bus, which as you can imagine is rather annoying when in reality the airport is only an hour in the car.

13. If you don’t ask, you don’t get – Exactly what it says.

14. You can’t say no to people offering you food – Italian people get really offended if you do not take up on their offer of food, whether this is at their house or even at a bar or café, you just can’t say no. This means that you always leave an Italian’s person’s house feeling like you can’t eat for about a week.

15. Panzerotti – these things are a little piece of heaven. If anyone is planning on visiting the south of Italy, it’s definitely something to try.

16. Driving in Italy has fewer rules – Think of GTA. Okay without the guns and stealing cars, that’s what it reminds me of. There aren’t many rules on the road in Italy and everyone does what they want. Special attention is required when walking as well as driving.

17. You can travel in Italy  fairly cheaply – now this applies mostly when using trains and if you book way in advance. Treniitalia.com allows you to choose from 3 different price ranges from first class to super economy so you choose just how much you want to spend. Be careful though, the cheapest train tickets always sell out pretty quick so if you are planning a trip make sure you book in advance! It is also worth looking at EasyJet and Ryanair too!

18. Crisps in Italy just aren’t as good – I am a crisp lover. Everyone who knows me will know this. I will absolutely choose crisps over chocolate any day, and in Italy they don’t seem to share this passion with me. They don’t have the variety but they also don’t taste as good. I miss Walkers. However, Italian dolci make up for this fact in every way.

19. Goodbye ready meals/easy to cook foods- Italy prides itself with their homemade food, however, making food from scratch just for one person every day is very time consuming and sometimes I just can’t be bothered and want something easy. Here it’s not at all easy to find ready made/ partially made foods. Everything is fresh. Which isn’t a bad thing, but there are those times where the student in me just wants to have beans on toast or a pot noodle.

20. Dog poo – Now this is something that really annoys me. More often than not people aren’t willing to pick up their dog poo, which I just think is terrible. If you own a dog then you should look after it and everything it leaves behind! I have to say I have yet to see a dog waste bin in Italy too. This means when walking you always have to keep your eyes on the ground; it’s only a matter of time until you end up walking in some.

21. Italy can be cold too – I think this was just me being naïve, but I was convinced that Italy would never be as cold as England. Oh how wrong could I have been! Although snow isn’t that common here in the South, in the North it is. I have noticed that sometimes Italy has been colder than England too – I was glad to bring back my winter coat from home after Christmas.

22. Post offices – Be prepared to be waiting a long time in those places. Whenever I go to the post office (which is a place I like to avoid) I usually have to wait a good half an hour before I can post some letters or pay my bills.

23. Italians take pride in how they look – Although it may not be my kind of fashion, Italians do take what they wear and how they look very seriously. Everyone always looks presentable and like they made an effort which I like. It is very rare that you see Italians dressed scruffily.

24. Cheap alcohol– 1 euro wine anyone?

25. You can’t drink water from the tap – Now this isn’t always the case, but where I live the water isn’t drinkable which means I have to buy bottled water. It wouldn’t be a problem if I had a car, but I can only buy two/three bottles at a time which is annoying.

26. More than half of Italian TV is dubbed – There are advantages to this, in the fact that of TV programs that they do show are American, English and from other places in the world, however, I do not understand their need to dub absolutely everything that they air on TV. This might be just me, but I find it very irritating watching a film and noticing the actors/actresses voice is very different than what I am used to. Subtitles will do just fine! However, it does help you learn Italian.

27. Meal times – So here you eat at 2 pm and then again at 9 pm.  I still find it difficult to get my head round and when I am eating alone I often cheat and keep to my English meal times.

28. Smiling – It is not very common for people to smile at you when you are walking down the street. Actually it’s viewed as almost strange if you do! I miss random smiles from strangers; sometimes all you need is a smile to cheer you up for the rest of the day.

The north, 21st birthdays and the ‘best’ nightclub in Italy.

So last weekend I finally got the opportunity to visit the north of Italy which is something I have wanted to since I arrived in Italy in September. This trip has been planned since we went to Rome, and I have been so excited for it, and I gotta say it did not disappoint. It was one of my friend’s (and fellow ELA’s) 21st birthday so a few of us travelled from all over Italy to make her 21st birthday a birthday to remember. She lives in Riccione a beautiful northern town in the region of Emilia-Romagna near the seaside, close to Bologna. Unfortunately, because I work on Saturdays I had to arrive a day later than everyone else and at that I had to arrive late Saturday as my train journey took a good 7 and a half hours. (Yes, I know you’re probably asking why I didn’t get a flight, but that’s because of the time I finished school made it impossible to be in time for the possible flights, otherwise I think I would have flown). Thankfully, I quite enjoy train journeys… iPod in and looking out the window.

View from the train

View from the train

Anyway, the journey quickly passed and before I knew it, it was time for me to change my train in Ancona, for a short hour train to Riccione. Now, before I go any further I need mention the train I got to and from Riccione, I don’t know if it’s a northern thing but I’ve never seen them down south, and I do take the train a lot. They have individual carriages which somewhat resemble the Hogwarts train; I can’t describe my excitement when I found this out! All I needed was some chocolate frogs to top off my amazing train discovery. Once I stepped off the train I immediately saw a difference, it felt as if I was almost in a different country or on holiday. Riccione has a completely different feel from the towns I’ve visited down south, I don’t know if it was being so close to the sea or the fact that it was so modern or maybe both. But I was definitely taken aback by the sheer beauty of the town. It was so different from what I am used to seeing in Puglia even different from what I saw in Rome. I felt the north and south divide even more, in the way the two parts of Italy are different….Riccione seemed a completely different Italy, from the Italy I have grown to know.

Oh and my loyal suitcase of 9 years decided to conveniently break on the way to my friend’s house. Such a tragedy.

Teamwork with the broken suitcase

Teamwork with the broken suitcase

Our expectations were raised when we found out that the club were going to that night was meant to be the ‘best nightclub in the whole of Italy’. After a few hours pre-drinking (we might be in Italy, but we are still keeping to our British drinking traditions) we got the taxi to the club. So after thinking that the club in Lecce was pretty good, I was excited to see in what ways the nightclub in Riccione could be even better. Now let’s just say that this club did not meet our expectations or lived up to the title ‘best nightclub in the whole of Italy’. For one the music was terrible, it was all instrumental music nothing that you could sing along to which was really disappointing. Especially when alcohol makes you believe that you could be the next Beyonce or Rihanna. But we didn’t let the lack of sing-able music bring us down, we still did pull some embarrassing (amazing at the time) dance moves which the Italians must have found hilarious/bizarre. The other thing which I personally found annoying was that people tended to smoke inside the nightclub even on the dance floor when there was a perfectly adequate smoking area outside. Let’s not forget the loos. I really didn’t and still don’t understand why they had such odd toilets in there. The toilets in the girl’s bathroom consisted of a hole on the ground where you had to awkwardly hover over. They’re the sort of toilets that makes the task of having a pee seem like an achievement, especially after a drink or two.

The loo deserved a photo

The loo deserved a photo

Anyway, enough about Italian nightclub toilets! I don’t think we would have found the club as terrible if it hadn’t been given the name of the ‘best’ nightclub in Italy. Maybe the most ‘interesting’ or peculiar nightclub in Italy, but they were definitely exaggerating when they said the best. ‘Living’ in Lecce was definitely better. But I guess the Italian way of partying is different from ours.

On the Sunday, we went to explore Riccione a bit whilst accompanying those who were setting off on their journeys back to their Italian towns. I also had the opportunity to try out a piadina which is a sort of ‘sandwich’ well known in Emilia-Romagna. I liked it so much that not only did I have it after our night out Saturday night, but I ordered it for my dinner on Sunday!  Sunday quickly passed and we ended our day with a girly night watching Bridget Jones with the girls that were left.

So I finally got to see what the north of Italy is like, I can definitely say that I am impressed. It has made me even keener than before to explore the whole of Italy in the year that I am here. It was such a good weekend but passed so quickly considering that Saturday and Monday were spent travelling to and from Riccione. But watch out Riccione, I’ll be back!

SAM_1727

Happy 21st Franchi!

Things always get better

Source: facebook.com via Yolande on Pinterest

 

This was something that I had been telling myself over and over for the first two months, it’s only now that I truly believe it. I feel that I have neglected my blog a bit, but that’s not because I didn’t have anything to say, it was quite the opposite. I had a lot of things to say, but a lot of these things weren’t positive. I hadn’t had the best start to my year abroad that I had hoped for and I found living alone a lot harder than I thought. But these were things I really didn’t want to share with the world, I wanted to talk about all the good times I had been having and in reality the good were very few in comparison to the bad.

Now that I look back on it though, I believe that it is important not to ignore the fact that my time here hasn’t always been easy. I’m only human and the time it takes for people to settle in a new country varies from person to person and situation to situation. So it might have taken me a bit longer to find my feet in Italy and feel comfortable in my new environment but I can now say that I feel happy. Of course homesickness comes and goes, but I have found that I am starting to enjoy my time here instead of just wanting it to wish it away. Don’t get me wrong I am SO excited to go home for Christmas (22 days!) but I feel now time is passing quicker because I am keeping myself as busy as possible and enjoying myself whilst I’m at it. The past few weekends I have spent meeting up with other ELA’s in Puglia, and it has been so much fun. Not only it has been a good opportunity to get out of Martina and travel, but also to be around other English people has made me feel at home. Having plans and things to look forward to every week really helped time pass quicker and I have gotten to go, and do things I probably wouldn’t have done if I was alone.

Last weekend was my first nightclub experience. Living in a small town like Martina Franca, there isn’t much opportunity to go out and it is something I really miss about my uni life in England. But a group of us went to Lecce to see what nights out in Italy were like, and let me tell you there are pretty different than the nights out I am used to at uni and home. Firstly, the club was very smart and stylish; I almost felt that we had walked into the wrong place when we arrived. Being used to student nights and student prices, I was shocked to hear that drinks were 10 Euros each, how can people afford nights out here? And I have no even mentioned the entry fee. Luckily, that night we were put on a guest list which meant we got free entry, and to our surprise we even got to meet the manager who gave us free drinks, being impressed that we had come to Italy to study/work. So our night out ended up being a lot cheaper than anticipated. The music wasn’t bad also; they played a lot of cheesy and old school music, which we weren’t ashamed to admit we knew all the words too. All in all it was a brilliant night a nice change from what I am used to back in England, we definitely showed the Italians how to party 😉

I can’t end this post without talking about crepes with nutella. Now just imagine that feeling when you have had just a little bit too much to drink and you start craving fast food, I am sure I am not alone in this. This was me too weeks ago, and I could go on to moan how Italy lack streets full of greasy takeaways (which in your drunken state of mind finds appealing) but I have found and Italian alternative. Whilst we were walking home after going to a few cocktail bars in Lecce, I found a man who sold all types of crepes you could ever wish for. I got a crepe with nutella, it was probably the best drunk food I have ever ordered. AMAZING.

So, these first two months have taught me that I may not always get things the way I wanted them, and to be grateful for what I do have because after all having the chance to go abroad for a year is an opportunity many people would give their right arm for. It has also taught me to have faith that things will get better even if it might take a little time.

Saying yes

Having been in Italy over a month, the most important lesson I have learned is the importance of saying yes.  This means accepting all invites, even though they might seem scary or not your kind of thing. At first I was a bit apprehensive about doing this but I knew that if I didn’t I would be spending my year abroad pretty much alone. So I decided to really make the most of my year abroad because after all

So that is exactly what I did. By just accepting the offers that teachers were giving me I found that I have got lot of opportunities such as:

Meeting new people and makeing new friends

Meeting relatives andthe son’s and daughters of the teachers at school, is definitely a way make new friendships.

Travelling

Last weekend I visited Lecce, a city in Puglia about an hour and 40 minutes by train from Martina, there was so much to see, a nice change from my small town. I also visited Locorotondo, which is a town very close to Martina and believe it or not even smaller, but ithad beautiful views and buildings and churches definitely worth the visit.

Food, so much food

I tried out some amazing Puglian cusine: Puglia is known for its orechiette which is a type of pasta, I tried some of it homemade and it was delicious! All pasta in Italy is amazing. I also fell in love with Italian dolci– so many to choose from with chocolate, cream, fruit, nuts you name it they have it! And finally tried Italian ‘hot chocolate’ – which is basically melted chocolate in a cup…wasn’t expecting that!

I did all this in a space of a long weekend, just by accepting the invites and offers from teachers and people I have met. I’m excited to see what other opportunities and new experiences I will encounter in the next 7 months.

A typical week as an English Language Assistant

I have been working as an English Language Assistant for about a month now, and I think that I am starting to finally get into a routine.  I am contracted to work 12 hours a week Tuesday to Saturday. For the moment I have been place in 4 first year classes (ages 13-15), the classes divided in two schools. The first school focuses on more general subjects and tourism whereas the other school is more specialized teaching subjects such as geometry, architecture and law. Luckily the schools aren’t too far from each other by car, but walking would take 15 minutes which means I would be late for class when I have both schools one after another.

Mondays

Monday is my day off. I class it as part of my weekend as I work on Saturdays. I usually use this day to prepare myself for the next working week, like making some lesson plans or marking some work. I know that it’s not in my job description to mark student’s work, but I actually quite enjoy reading my student’s work! Monday’s is the day I also do my weekly shop at the local supermarket, things I take for granted at uni with ASDA deliveries!

Tuesday

Tuesdays I have a full day which for me is great, least I don’t have to wait around for my classes to start. I find that the day goes much quicker when I have a busy day. Class starts at 8 where I am in the specialized school, a class of 30 students all boys apart from 3 girls. Although they might be a bit livelier than the other classes I like that. At least I can always rely on someone to talk, rather than it being painful experience forcing someone to talk to me! In this class I am used mostly for pronunciation and dialogue so I correct the student’s pronunciation and make them repeat after me. I’m not used to this much responsibility. For those who know me, I don’t have the most ‘posh’ Southern English accent, and it’s more Northern or ‘common’, thankfully my students or teachers don’t know this. By the end of the year, I’ll have my classes speaking in a broad Northern accent, just joking! After this hour I am straight in the other school for three straight hours in the hour first year classes. The first class I have is so cute, they always seem so pleased to see me and always want to talk, so that makes my job much easier. In this class I am more involved with the work they are doing and me and the teacher share the teaching duties. The next class, is a Tourism one and it’s guaranteed that the first thing they’ll ask me when they see me is if the other English teacher here. Since, this particular English teacher had been in England for the first of month of school, they had gotten used to taking the class alone. Challenging but fun at the same time. Now that the teacher has arrived from England, I have had to take a step back, as on the grammar side of things there’s a bit of catching up to do, since I focused on dialogue, vocab, reading and writing the first few weeks. The last class is different from the rest, although the students have the same ages as the other students in the other classes I teach they seem a little older, and I have to think more when I am making lesson plans, as something that the other classes might find fun this one might not. I think it depends on the kind of people in the classes. I finish 12, with the afternoons to do whatever I want! This is a perfect day at work.

Wednesday

Wednesdays I only work 2 hours. However, I start at 11 and finish at 1. So the day is a bit of a drag if I get a lift into work at 8 and have to wait 3 hours for my classes to begin. I usually pass the time in the staff room, doing some marking, I know that later in the year I will probably be busy doing uni work, just trying to ignore this fact for now though with the excuse that ‘I’m still settling in’ haha.

Thursday

Again 2 hours of work today, but this time in both schools. This means I have to find a way of getting to from one to school to the other, which sometimes proves difficult! I start later again at 10 but finish at 12 again with plenty of time to do what I want in the afternoon.

Friday

Easy day. Just an hour at 11, then I go home. Just wish it was at 8 so I wouldn’t spend all day waiting for that one class!

Saturday

Usually excited by Saturday as the weekend is here! I have 3 hours from 8-12 which one hour free. I can handle the one hour gap because I can usually keep myself busy with something; it’s the gaps of longer than one hour that I don’t like! Sometimes I feel like I live in the staff room, but since transport to and from school is difficult I can’t complain.

So 5 days a week I have at least on class a day, although it would have been easier and better for me if the hours were placed in 3 consecutive days, I can’t complain at least I get Mondays off, which is something that some teachers don’t get. There are always long discussions in the staff rooms, of teachers who are unhappy with their timetables. Although this might not be what I want to do as a future career I am glad I am getting to experience this, I love how everyday is different and how you can have fun with the students. It is true what they say, it is really rewarding when you realise that you are helping students learn something new everyday.

“Are you a student or a colleague?”

“Are you a student..No?” “But you look so young!”

I have had this conversation so many times now, that I’ve lost count. I know this won’t be the last time either. Okay, I should have expected being just over 5 ft that most of the first years I teach are taller than me. No wonder I have been mistaken for a student so many times! I even heard one girl in my class say to another that she felt really tall when I was around. Great.

So as if trying to distinguish myself as member of staff rather than a student wasn’t difficult enough, my first two days at school were pretty scary. I decided to go into school the week before I was officially meant to start so that I could have a look around and get to meet the teachers… basically get my head round what I was going to be doing the next 8 months of my life.

Day 1

I was picked up outside the piazza where I live by the deputy head teacher. The school is out of town in the middle of the countryside therefore it is easier to travel by car as it would take around 40 minutes to walk. School here starts at 8 am, and its times like this when I miss rolling out of bed 10 minutes before lectures at uni. The deputy head teacher was glad to know that I could actually speak some Italian as he didn’t know a word of English. The first day was spent filling out essential forms and admin things, so nothing very exciting. I also got to meet some of other subject teachers of the first classes and quickly observed a few first year classes which I would be assisting in.

Day 2

The second day quickly came around and I thought that today I would be getting shown round the school maybe meet a few teachers that I would be working with. This was not the case. I was immediately thrown in the deep end being asked to teach a first year class alone since the English teacher had taken a few days off. Having absolutely no teaching experience I was horrified. Teaching a class by myself? I haven’t even assisted in a class with a teacher. This was not at all how I was expecting to spend the second day; I mean I hadn’t even officially started teaching!

I was very glad to find that the first class I had been given was well behaved and they were all very interested in everything I had to say, this made my job a lot easier. However, having not planned any lessons apart from having made an introductory PowerPoint (then finding out they only had chalk boards) I was left to think on the spot of activities to keep the class entertained. Thankfully they were fascinated by the differences between English and Italian schools and my life back in England. Then they were more than happy to introduce and tell me things about themselves. I found that the lesson passed quickly as the class was enthusiastic and keen to learn. I couldn’t have asked for a better class to teach for the first time. At first, I was annoyed at how they expected me to take a class alone, but looking back I think it did me the world of good, making the nerves and fear of taking a class alone disappear.

So this is how I spend the first 2 days as a Language Assistant. I had done more in the first 2 days than I thought I would be doing the whole year.

Ivy x