Hi! My name is Emily and I’m a senior from the Outer Banks of North Carolina and an intern for UNC’s social media team. I am majoring in journalism in the Hussman School of Journalism and Media.
Since 2019 in my freshman year at Carolina, I remember promising myself that I was going to travel abroad. Whether that was studying abroad, having an international internship, or any other experience I could find – I was going to find a way. Flash forward to 2021, my junior year fall semester, and the prospect of going abroad during college was becoming more difficult given the COVID-19 pandemic.
Because of this, I spoke with my mom about this goal, and she suggested I look into a service-oriented program where I could teach English abroad. (Quick disclaimer: my mother is a high school math teacher; and I am not an education major but a journalism student – so at first, I was confused about how I would be accepted into such a program, if one even existed.)
I began researching different programs, and luckily, I found “The English Camp Company.” It had great reviews, did not require TEFL certification, and overall seemed like a great opportunity. I applied in January 2022, interviewed in February and was hired in April. I had been accepted to spend a month traveling across Italy while teaching English to elementary and middle school students in a summer camp setting.
To be honest, I was not exactly sure what to expect going into this experience. I hardly knew any Italian, I had spent maybe a week on Duolingo, and I didn’t know anyone else in the program. It’s safe to say that I was unsure about how I was going to teach a foreign language to Italian children. Despite this, I was determined to make the most of this opportunity as I flew solo into Rome in early June.
Orientation was in Assisi, a small city in the Umbria region. During those three days, we learned camp songs and games and learned how to plan lessons. The best part was that I met so many incredible people. There were about 50 tutors, and they were from all over the U.S., England, Canada, Scotland, Ireland and Wales. During our free time, we explored the city, which is famously known for as being the birthplace of St. Francis. I shared a room with a girl my age from England, and she was so shocked that I was from the Outer Banks of North Carolina. “Oh my god, like the Netflix show? It’s a real place?” This really was the only time the tutors were together as a group since each camp had about five to eight tutors in camps all over Italy.
For the first two-week camp, I was placed in Apricena, a small town close to the beach in the Puglia region. I had a class of 11 and 12 year olds, who were semi-proficient English writers but had trouble speaking the language. Because of this, I had to get creative when designing activities for my class. For example, we made advertisements for various products, created an Italian travel guide and designed postcards of their favorite places. Every activity gave them a chance to improve their English and practice speaking with their classmates.
I also had a wonderful host family who welcomed me into their home. They always made sure I was well caffeinated (at least three shots of espresso, including one before bed), well fed with delicious homemade meals, and was able to see as much of their small town as I could. The other tutors and I started to feel like celebrities in the town. For example, I was walking on the cobblestone city streets by myself after camp and a friend of my host dad drove by and stopped to say hi. My favorite experience with this host family was on a Saturday when they took me and a few other tutors on a boat tour of the coast and we explored sea caves all afternoon.
For the second two-week camp, I was placed in Foligno, a city in the Umbria region, about two hours east of Rome. At this camp, I had a class of about seven 7 and 8 year olds. It was rewarding to hear their English skills grow, especially since the first few days they struggled to ask, “Can I go to the bathroom?” With this class, I quickly mastered two Italian words, “Basta!” (stop/enough) and “Aspettare” (wait). Anytime I would tell the boys in my class “Basta! Basta!” they would jokingly respond by saying “Pasta! Pasta!”
My host family at this camp was not associated with The English Camp Company. They were just a local family who wanted their 17-year-old son to practice English. The son spoke great English. For example, one night I was cooking an American dish for a family dinner and while I was cutting the ingredients, he asked: “Have you ever seen the video of Kendall Jenner cutting a cucumber? That is how you look. You have terrible form!” Talk about a humbling moment! My favorite experience with this host family was being able to celebrate 4th of July together and picking out their outfits so they all were wearing red, white and blue.
The first takeaway I had from this experience was that I quickly learned I do not think I could be a teacher. As much as I loved being with the children, I came home every night exhausted from camp. I already had a lot of respect for teachers, after seeing the long hours my mom puts in, but after this experience I have so much more respect for them. The second takeaway was how I gained a more global perspective and appreciation for Italian culture. And the most important takeaway was gaining more confidence as an individual. I had never traveled abroad alone before or been an English teacher; but it was such a rewarding experience that I was able to backpack over Italy and be able to watch as my students learned English.
One of my host mothers shared with me her thought that that generally Americans are not very relaxed – they even plan to do things in their free time. I will be carrying the mindset of “Dolce far Niente” with me, which is an Italian saying for “the sweetness of doing nothing”.
Also, a big thank you to Apples Service Learning at UNC, as I received the 2022 Summer Stipend that allowed me to do this experience.