I’m currently about 2 months into my 3 month Teach in Italy experience and I’m having a wonderful time. I’ll try to give you a thorough breakdown of the program and ease some concerns you may have.
I’m 23 years old and I just graduated from college in May. I did not study education or Italian (same with many other volunteers in my group) - don’t let those things dissuade you from partaking in this program!
I believe that there are several factors more critical to your success as a teacher assistant here than formal training in education, such as having an enthusiastic, optimistic, and very flexible attitude.
The high school that I teach at is in the city of Turin and I live about 20 minutes away in the suburb of Collegno. My host parents both teach in the area so I either ride in with them or take Turin's fantastic public transportation.
I’ve worked with over 30 different classes in a variety of subjects (usually English, but I’ve also taught some art history, science, and physical education) and I usually run the hour-long lesson by myself, with the lead teacher there for support and translation help. I’ve always worked less than 18 hours a week, and the school day actually ends at 2 p.m. here, so I’ve enjoyed more free time than I have in years. There’s no dress code and I regularly show up in jeans, sneakers, and a t-shirt.
My first lesson with any class is usually simply a conversation about me and life in America – some classes are eager to ask questions while in others I have to work the crowd a bit. So I’d say it’s good to be comfortable and confident talking to your classes, even when they’re being shy.
Other lessons have ranged from a comparison of the American and Italian education systems to a profile of my home state of Georgia to an analysis of Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” lyrics. I’ve prepared a couple of Powerpoint presentations that I re-use often and showed my fair share of Youtube videos.
Some teachers use me more as a sidekick to read passages and assist with their existing lessonplans, while others want me to come in with my own thing. The most important thing is to communicate with them in advance and make sure you’re on the same page.
I’m the first American TA my school has hosted and it makes me a bit of a celeb :) Every time I walk down the hall I get hellos and smiles from most of the students, and just about every teacher wants me to help out with at least one lesson. I’ve gotten to go on fieldtrips to theaters and museums and even to the expo in Milan.
My host family is really nice and helpful, taking care of everything from meals and laundry to rides to the airport. One Italian stereotype that seems to hold true is that of the very helpful Italian mother – their hospitality is unparalleled and a level above anything you’d expect in America. We already spent a weekend at their mountain house in the Alps and they’re taking me on a vacation to Florence with them in a couple of weeks and covering all the costs.
Knowing Italian would definitely be helpful, but I spend most of my time at school or with my host family, and in both of those situations, I’m basically there to speak English (a big reason for families to host is for their kids to get better at English from being around you). Around town, I get by easily on basic Italian phrases and emphatic hand gestures.
On just about every weekend, I’ve been able to travel – in under two months I’ve hit Munich, Venice, the Alps, Cinque Terre, Barcelona, Bari, and London. Whether you go by train or plane, it’s pretty affordable and a lot of fun. I take most of these trips with fellow Greenheart volunteers who I never met before this, it’s a really fun group and we get along well.
Most of these trips have been Friday – Sunday, but I asked for Friday off for a couple of them and my school was totally fine with it. They’re happy to have me here, understand that I’m not getting paid for this, and want me to experience the beauty of Europe.
I am giving you a look at my personal experience, and not a guarantee that it’s a standardized one. I have spoken with other teachers who have various struggles that I have not faced, but I think one factor that holds true for any volunteer is the importance of that enthusiastic, optimistic, and very flexible attitude.
You’re going to encounter misunderstandings and confusion, you’re going to get frustrated at people’s broken English, and you’re going to miss your family and friends back home. But you’re also going to authentically experience one of the most remarkable and beautiful cultures in the world while positively impacting young people and travelling around Europe at a low cost. I say it’s a win :)
I would do this program again in a heartbeat. I encourage you to do your research, take some time to think and pray about it, and go for it if it’s right for you! Feel free to check out my blog at heymikea.wordpress.com for a fun take on my experience in Italy.
I think that additional screening of host schools and families would help standardize the experience for all volunteers. For example, they should make sure every family has a couple of members who speak English.