By: Alexa Hill
If you had asked me a year ago what my intentions were for going abroad to teach English in Italy, I would have said that it was a good excuse for an adventure. Like many English teachers, I wanted to explore an unknown country, completely immerse myself in a new culture, and make a year’s worth of memories before returning to America and joining the rat race. Much of my motivation for teaching English was related to my own desires to have a unique life experience, but not necessarily related to English. I saw teaching as a vehicle for world travel. If you ask me today what my intentions are, living in another country, I would say something quite different.
I have been teaching English in Bologna, Italy for about 10 months now, living la dolce vita. As I enter into my last week of teaching English in this beautiful, historic city, I find myself reflecting on this experience and how being an EFL teacher has impacted my life plans. I was always someone who knew what I wanted and had a very clear idea of how my life would turn out. At the risk of sounding cliché, teaching English really opened my eyes and allowed me to step outside my own cultural perspective.
My transition from American life to Italian life was quite painless, except for the endless bureaucratic offices I had to visit on what seemed like a weekly basis. As the days on my visa began to run out, I thought about my transition back into American life. Instead of looking forward to starting a new career and eating peanut butter again, I felt reluctant to leave this new life I had built in Bologna. It was only weeks later that I received an email from my boss stating that there would be an opening for the position of Materials Creator at the school headquarters in Florence. Flash forward a few weeks and two interviews later, and I was looking at my job acceptance email.
In two weeks time I will be moving to Florence and starting a brand new life in Italy. I will be working just 15 minutes from the beautiful Florence city center where I will be in charge of editing and updating the didactic materials for the school I have been working in for 10 months now. The transition is a big one. With moving comes a new set of bureaucratic procedures to learn and the challenges that come with communicating in Italian at a more sophisticated level. While Bologna is only a 35-minute train ride from Florence, my life will be changing quite a bit. Bologna is the home of some amazing friends, incredible coworkers, and a very supportive boyfriend. However, I am embracing the move and looking forward to my new role in the company, different culinary experiences, and new friendships.
As the late renowned chef and traveler Anthony Bourdain said, “If I am an advocate for anything, it is to move. As far as you can, as much as you can. Across the ocean, or simply across the river. Walk in someone else’s shoes or at least eat their food. It’s a plus for everybody.”
Teaching is a very interactive profession where you have to be constantly alert and focused. You must be prepared to answer questions that you have no idea how to address in the moment such as “why do we say ‘what happened’ instead of ‘what did happen?” or “why do ‘flammable’ and ‘inflammable’ mean the same thing?” While, after time, many questions become predictable, you will always be thrown a few curveballs here and there. After starting my new job, I’m sure I will miss the unpredictability that is teaching a foreign language: each day new students, new questions, and new activities. However, I am beyond excited for the new challenges I will face and the projects I will complete to help ensure that these inspiring and useful interactions between teachers and students can continue to exist. While I may be putting down the chalk and exchanging it for a computer mouse, I will not be far away from the classroom, metaphorically speaking.
As workers in the field of EFL and ESL education, it is our job to continue to inspire others to see the usefulness of English, but also how fun it can be to learn a new language. I learned that English was less about me and the opportunities it gave me, and more about others and the opportunities it gave them. In Italy, where the job situation is less than excellent, many young people are signing up for English classes and looking for work with international companies or moving abroad to look for work. English is like a bridge that connects people from where they are now to a new world where they are able to communicate with millions of new people.
Just think about the potential opportunities that could arise from these new relationships. While I was initially drawn to teaching English because of the appeal of living in Italy, I decided to stay because of my dedication to the students and the improvement of English instruction abroad. Whatever your decision is, teach English for a year or make a foreign country your new home, just know that you certainly made an incredible difference in someone else’s life and not just your own.
Alexa Hill is 23 from Bend, Oregon with a BA in Psychology and a minor in Business Administration from the University of Oregon. She worked as an English teacher in Bologna, Italy for almost a year before accepting a new job in Florence as the Materials Creator for her school. You can follow her adventures through her blog and read more about her teaching experience: Teaching English in Bologna, Italy: Alumni Q&A with Alexa Hill.