Popseeko, happy llama, and pachamama: What I’ve learned after a summer teaching English in Italy

It has taken me forever to get this posted, but I want to give everyone an update on how I was feeling after my first three weeks as an English tutor with ACLE, how my following weeks of camp went, and what I’ve learned along the way.

Here we are at the end of my initial three weeks with ACLE teaching English! I am now TEFL.TP certified which is pretty cool! ACLE is an organization throughout Italy that sends native English speakers throughout city camps each week or every two weeks to teach English to Italians through theater and emotion based learning. We start each day at camp with a warm up circle with English based games and songs and then have class time, while the afternoon is dedicated to activities, crafts, and working on the final show. My first week with ACLE was an orientation week in beautiful Sanremo. I met English natives from all over the world and we all became close in such a short week. Our days were long and hot but we made it through, learning songs and dances, how to pre-teach for foreign language learners and how to run final show and process dramas. The people I’ve worked with are amazing individuals, each with something unique about them that they contribute to their teaching with ACLE. A summer in Italy trying to keep up energy, dance and play active games in a land that does not frequently use air conditioning was exhausting. Despite the exhaustion, I wouldn’t trade my experience with ACLE for anything.

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My first week of camp was in Montecchio Emilia. It was pretty rough but I had the pleasure of teaching level one children who never learned English before or had a very limited vocabulary. Although most of the class time I was telling them to stop climbing on tables or playing a super fun game of Hiya! as a reward system…my little six and seven year olds learned so much in just one week. I think the most important thing for a teacher to be is patient, and I had to have a lot of it for my experience with ACLE. I’ve learned so much about how teaching works and how to reinforce learning. Every day I started my class with a “secret password” where the children could not enter my classroom without answering questions that we learned from the previous day. Watching them grow and learn in this way was incredible, and I was so proud of their progress in only one week! While I was teaching this summer I was also living with host families for the first time, and my first experience with a host family was incredible as well. They did everything to make me feel at home.

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The week after I was in the country side living in Caselle Landi with a camp in Maleo. My camp directors went above and beyond for the tutors and the kids. For this week, I taught the level 4 class. They amazed me each day with their abilities and their art work. If you don’t know already, Italian children are perfectionists in every sense of the word. Their school system is difficult, strict, based on memorization, and perfecting everything. When you ask a kid to draw something someone usually will search for a photo on a smart phone so they can be sure it is perfect. On my first day of this camp, we were in a circle doing introductions. Everyone was showing me their drawings saying “my name is…and I like…” We got to the one girl in the circle and she burst into tears. She was nervous and afraid to make mistakes. I felt so deeply for this poor girl because I have been there. And I have especially felt like wanting to cry when you don’t understand another language or fear of looking stupid amongst your peers who speak better than you. I tried being silly and playing some games so they wouldn’t think I was a serious teacher but they were extremely well behaved for the week. At the end of the day, I returned to my host family who lived in the middle of the countryside. My host sister Emma was beyond excited to have an American living in her home for the week and we bonded by speaking in a mix of Italian and English, painting our nails together, and learning songs like “down, down baby” and “petto ditto mano.”

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Despite my anger and ill-feelings toward being sent to a summer camp for my third week. I ended up having an amazing time and loving the experience. Summer camp is much different from city camp. Rather than a camp that starts in the morning and ends by 5pm, summer camp is a sleep-away camp at a hotel that has activities throughout the entire day into the night. There are also wake-up, shower, and bed-time duties that we have to be in charge of. You can imagine we spent a lot of time together. Within the first day the other tutors and I were all already close friends. It is intense and difficult but you make close relationships with all of the people around you, and especially with the kids. I was in the mountains of Folgaria where I was lucky to start a decent tan for the summer after getting sunburnt on our lake day (a rare occasion!) as well as some time for my legs to heal from all of the mosquito bites I received in Maleo. We had to cherish all of our resources, plan a lot, and handle teaching in an environment where there were no classrooms. I taught most of my lessons in the garage, but it was nice and cool and the perfect space to create an imaginary world of the university of magic for our level 6 process drama. After reflecting on this experience, it’s actually pretty difficult to put into words. And of course, I’m nearly detailing all of the good things that took place. I have not mentioned the bad. Like becoming ill while I was in my second week of camp in Folgaria, or moving to a two-week city camp near Brescia where the heat was so unbearable to teach in I was feeling discouraged for not being able to teach well enough. And one of the hardest things was meeting so many amazing people in such a short time from Canada, south africa, ireland, new zealand, australia and even parts of America i’ve never been to… and have to leave expecting to probably never see some of these people again.

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Not everything is what it seems, and I’ve realized that slowly over time, and it is something I hope my readers notice too. Between all of these amazing experiences and people met and places seen, there is a lot of hardship involved as well. Language barriers, miscommunication, stress, children who bite and don’t listen, people who are not looking out for your best interests, people who only care to gossip, heartbreak, crying, wanting to give up, wanting to fight for something but you feel that there is no fight left, things left unresolved, and so many more emotions and things that have happened. I try not to sugarcoat my experiences in Italy, but it is difficult when you’re surrounded by so much beauty that it’s the only thing you want to focus on. When all you want to put your attention to is the delicious food, the caring people, and the beauty of all the panoramic views in every city in Italy. The quiet stillness in some cities or the roaring chaos in other, I wouldn’t trade any of these experiences for anything in this world. However sometimes things happen that appear out of our control and we wish we could go back and change them. These last months were not easy for me, in fact, they were some of my most challenging. I’ve gone from feeling on top of the world to feeling like I want to bury myself in the ground. To plant my own seed, and watch myself regrow. Because despite the beauty of a rose, there are still always thorns that show when we least expect them to. I always wondered if people would still love me when my thorns would start to show. I guess it’s a matter of seeing who is going to continue to water you or who is going to pluck your petals instead. However, plants can be overwatered and petals can regrow, and all I am saying is that I’ve learned a lot from my experiences. About who I am and about how important it is to show all of your true emotions to the people you care about because life is short and our experience on this planet should be meaningful. We should show those we love how deeply we feel without caring about what other people say or what someone might think. It should be spent treating others how they want to be treated and realizing that it’s okay to make mistakes…but you have to be ready for the repercussions. You have to be ready to realize who you really are and how you can make yourself better each day. So that way one day, whether you are teaching, building a family, visiting an old friend, or spending time with your family – you treat those around you with the deepest care, patience, and love that you have. Patience is one of the most important things I have learned this summer. Patience and love. Despite language barriers, it is not difficult to show someone you care about them and laugh over a cup of coffee or a glass of wine. I hope I can continue to practice patience and love as I grow.

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