Alumni Spotlight: Anna Gill


Anna sought out a Teaching Abroad program after working a post-grad job that didn't bring her the joy she wanted to get out of her career. She packed up her things and took off on a journey that would bring more personal growth and knowledge than she could imagine.

Why did you choose this program?

Many others in the Business field back in college were eager to jump into a career path that has a pretty clear and quickly-ascending ladder to climb. But behind the upscale city apartments, corporate vacations, and happy hours were tired eyes, drained from 60 hour work weeks in a gray work environment. I knew for sure that money was not my motivator; I figured out that corporate life wasn't for me.

I started thinking about where I really want to go. I love adventures, and I love meeting new people. I also fell in love with the Italian language in college, but started so late that I felt hopeless to ever become conversational. I thought back on two Study Abroad programs that I did in college and how much I loved meeting new people and exploring new cultures.

So I looked into programs abroad, and the information felt both overwhelming and underwhelming at the same time. Some programs had a lot of information, others had very little. Some programs cost a lot of money, others cost very little. I had doubts for many, but one program stood out to me – Greenheart Travel.

I had too many hesitations. I started a job, but after a year and a half, I couldn't stop coming back to the idea of traveling especially through the Greenheart program. Three months felt perfect for me – not too short that I feel I can't adjust and learn the culture, but not too long that I felt nervous to take the leap. Greenheart was also one of the only programs I could find in Italy that fit my needs.

What really did it for me though was Greenheart's Facebook page. I could see other teachers chatting on the page. That gave me comfort that the program was legit. I felt good knowing I could get more details than just what a webpage can show – there is so much value in peoples' personal experiences.

I was looking for a program that was social and where I could meet other young people. Seeing the photos from the orientation in Turin, I knew that this was it for me.

What did your program provider assist you with and what did you have to organize on your own?

Greenheart provides you with all of the pre-departure information. Savannah was great, and was there to answer any questions. She also did a pre-departure webinar to give more information on our life in the program.

Greenheart pairs up with WEP to get you a host school and a host family. They send you the school name, location, what grades you will be teaching, your School Coordinator, and their contact information. They also send you your host family’s address, the names of the family members, their ages, their occupations, their hobbies, and their contact information. Having a host family means your accommodation and meals are taken care of.

WEP and Greenheart organize a 3-day orientation when you arrive in Turin so you can learn the city and meet other people on the program. This includes accommodation and meals, as well as some programming like a city tour.

You are responsible for your flights, as well as for reaching out to your host school and family for more specific information (not required but highly recommended!) Any travel that you want to do is on your own.

What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?

One piece of advice I'd give to someone going on this program is to leave all expectations at home. You may think you know how this program will go for you, or have an idea of what you want to get out of it, but coming in with expectations means you may miss out on having an amazing experience that you did not expect.

You may find out you're more of a country-side dweller than you thought, or that living with kids isn't as loud and crazy as you expected, or that teaching elementary school has its unique rewards as well.

Allow yourself to go into it with an open mind, and accept all the surprises that come with it – the positive and the negative. That is how you grow and learn.

What does an average day/week look like as a participant of this program?

An average day/week really depends on your placement and on you as a person. However, for most people, the average day/week includes waking up and having breakfast with your host family, going to school and teaching a half day, coming home to some free time, having dinner with your family, and having some free time after dinner.

What you choose to do in your free time is really up to you. For some in smaller towns, it means exercising and reading. For others in larger towns or the city, it means exploring museums and street festivals.

However, it is important to keep in mind that your host family is probably doing this program to spend time with you! If you do wish to travel (which was high up on my list of priorities), make sure you communicate that with your family ahead of time and keep them updated on your schedule.

Going into your experience abroad, what was your biggest fear, and how did you overcome it? How did your views on the issue change?

When I got my placement, I was feeling a bit uneasy. I wanted to be in the city of Turin, but I was instead placed in a small mountain town. I was afraid that with no train nearby and an hour car ride away, I would have trouble when I wanted to travel. I was afraid I wouldn't get to see the other teachers and be social like I had planned. I was afraid of feeling isolated.

However, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed country-side living. Waking up every day to a picturesque view of the snow-covered mountains was breathtaking at points. I loved that I could walk everywhere in my town, and that I had a short 7-minute walk to school. Most placements involve some form of public transportation.

I also found out when I arrived, that there was a bus direct from my town to Turin. The bus times weren't great, but I was able to make it work. There wasn't a time that I wanted to get to Turin to see my friends but I couldn't because of where I lived.

Also, during Orientation, I asked Savannah if I could have information on where the other teachers were placed. She created an interactive map with names and locations. I ended up connecting with three other teachers in nearby towns, who I became close friends with and did most of my travel with.

What was the most challenging part of living in Italy?

When I first came to Italy, I have been told many times that I will have a love-hate relationship with this country. And boy, was that true! Italy is an incredible country full of delicious food, a beautiful culture, and stunning and diverse landscapes. However, there are parts of living in Italy that are normal for natives yet frustrating for outsiders.

For example, the trains. Whenever you travel in this country, you have to have a plan B. Trains are usually late, and occasionally they are cancelled altogether. One time, we showed up to catch our train from Salerno to Naples, just to find out that the station was having electrical problems, and no regional trains were running until the next day. We had to quickly come up with a plan to get to our hostel in Naples that night.

Another time, we went to catch our train in Genova, and the trains were on strike; they announce strikes ahead of time but for some reason this one came a day early. No trains were running in or out of Piedmont (the region of Turin) except high speed. We ended up having to take a train from Genova to Milan, then a high speed train from Milan to Turin. The cost was high, and the train got us in later than my last bus to my town, so I had to find a place to stay overnight.

But don't let this deter you from coming altogether. It is all part of the adventure! And if you are flexible and can learn to go with the flow, you'll fit in right next to all the native Italians.