“I’m coming home,” I told my mum on the phone. I’d had enough. I’d come all the way to the ‘Bel Paese’ to be confined to my apartment for weeks, possibly months, in Italy’s first lockdown. I questioned myself: “Did I make a mistake?”.
“Give it two weeks, then you can make your final decision,” my mum replied. Well, it turned out to be the most valuable advice. I stayed another two weeks, then another, and I’m still here a year later.
In January last year, I touched down in Italy bursting with excitement, ready for a fresh start and to start living ‘la dolce vita’. My first two months were filled with aperitivos, pizzas, and exploring some of Italy’s best cities: Venice, Florence and Padua, to name a few. My teaching experience exceeded my expectations; the students’ warmth and the help I received from my colleagues made me feel like I belonged.
Teaching English in Italy
The company has schools all over Italy. It uses a communicative method of teaching English to adults on a range of topics. It has vastly improved my knowledge of grammar and made me a more cultured person. The school organises many social events and workshops, so there is much more to my job than teaching grammar. The school also provides excellent training opportunities and ongoing feedback to improve your teaching.
Frankly, teaching grammar to adults was daunting. I was nervous about not knowing all the terminology or the answers to every question a student might have. But with a bit of studying and guidance from my director of studies, I became more confident in myself as a teacher. I realised there are some things you need to learn on the job; I will never have all the answers.
Surviving Italy’s lockdown
At the end of February, news hits that COVID-19 had made its way to Italy. Up to then, we’d heard it was spreading like wildfire in China, but it seemed so far away and out of sight.
Italy was inflicted with the strictest lockdown in Europe. Although difficult, in hindsight, it was a sound decision. The school announced it would be closing temporarily but wanted to experiment with teaching the lessons online. I was nervous at first, but once the technical problems were ironed out, I started to enjoy it.
It became a saving grace, a source of motivation and optimism during lockdown to connect with students daily and escape from the intensity of lockdown. It motivated me to be a better teacher; I started doing professional development courses with TEFL.ie and Future Learn.
It was very fulfilling to help students through their language learning journey while providing them with a bit of escapism during a challenging period. Of course, I went through some difficult times myself that made me very homesick and filled me with uncertainty. In those times, I would sit on my balcony basking in the Italian sun and remind myself I was still moving forward with my dream of teaching English in Italy.
Summer in Italy
Thankfully, last summer, after some months in lockdown, Italy eased its restrictions. I was first in line to enjoy a tourist-free Italy. It was such a rare opportunity to see Venice without throngs of tourists. Instead of hearing an assortment of accents, all you could hear was locals speaking their Venetian dialect. The hotspots were cleared of elbowing sightseers Instagramming at every opportunity; you could see Venice for how it really was. It was unforgettable!
With the relaxed restrictions, I started to see more of the region by hiking in the Dolomites, sunbathing on Venice’s islands, and eating bolognese in Bologna. It was a dream-like summer that I would have never experienced if I’d decided to go home the months before.
Many people have said to me that I arrived teaching English in Italy at a bad time. But I never felt this way, quite the opposite. If I’d have known about the impending lockdown, I probably wouldn’t have moved to Italy. I would still be in Ireland, armchair travelling and potentially not working as a teacher. I felt I came at the perfect time, just before the lockdown hit. Now that I’m in the heart of Europe, I am only a train ride away from other amazing European countries when the borders open up again. There’s still so much more to explore.
My top advice for teaching abroad during coronavirus
If you’re harbouring doubts on whether to brave the move abroad (when restrictions allow), let me put this question to you: what do you have to lose? If you end up hating every minute of it, it will make a great story. I will guarantee it will teach you something.
If this pandemic has taught me anything, it’s that I took the ease of travel for granted. It’s unfathomable to think before we could travel anywhere at the drop of a hat. So, make the most of the opportunities you have.
If you’re living abroad or still deciding whether to take the leap, here are my tips to stave off boredom and homesickness in quarantine, lockdown, or self-isolation:
Work on professional development
You couldn’t ask for a better time to work on your professional development as a teacher. Any skill you want to improve on, there is an online course for that. Not only will it give you a routine and a sense of accomplishment, but once you come out of lockdown, you will come out a better teacher. There are lots of free courses out there, but I like to invest in other courses too. It gives me more motivation to finish, and the courses are usually better quality when you pay for them. Take it as a sign to grasp the grammar you’ve always grappled with!
Connect with locals or other expats online
Staying at home for long periods can be alienating. It can feel similar to staying at home in your native country sometimes. To avoid this feeling, connect with local people or other expats through social media platforms. Some groups I recommend are Expats in Italy or YesTheoryItaly. Taking online language lessons is also a great way to stay tied with the country you’re in and build up some fluency that you can show off when you’re out of quarantine.
Learn to cook local recipes
Research some local, regional dishes on YouTube and start experimenting in the kitchen, whether you’re making homemade pasta or just roasting some locally grown vegetables. Not only will you feel more connected with the culture, but you can ace pronunciation of their dishes such as “gnocchi” or “carbonara” (I’m still working on that).
Remember, home is always there
Why hasn’t homesickness been published in medical journals yet? It feels like a real sickness, especially in long periods of lockdown. It’s important to stay connected with friends and family through voice notes or Zoom – whatever’s easiest for you. Take your favourite mug, photos, or bedsheets from home with you. It will give your place that homey feeling. It can be easy to focus on what you’re missing from home. But remind yourself of your goals and why you came to the country in the first place. Why return now when you can explore a new culture and work on yourself as a teacher or a traveller? Home will always be there waiting for you.