Placement blogs

Faculty of Humanities & Social Sciences' students share their placement and year abroad experiences.

Tagged: languages

Year Abroad IV – moving to Siena, Italy

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📥  2016-17, Politics, Languages & International Studies

Siena, Italy                                                    March, 2017

Buongiorno a tutti! Long time, no see. I have now started the second part of my Year Abroad – my study exchange in Siena, Italy.

Why Siena?

I decided I wanted to do a study exchange rather than a work placement in Italy because I wanted to try out both options. I felt quite confident with my Italian before coming to Italy but I thought spending the spring and summer months as a student in this beautiful country would be the dream – good weather, amazing food and a lot of young people.

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The University of Bath has study partnerships with five different Italian universities: Naples, Rome, Trento, Parma and Siena. When applying for a place, we had to shortlist the destinations to three, so I took it to the Internet and final years’ experience (pro tip – you should totally ask year abroad returners about their experiences, they will be happy to help you out retelling their [hopefully] amazing time abroad from a student’s point of view!) to narrow the list down to three. First of all, I was looking at the size of the destination. I did not want to go to Rome because, as a capital city, I deemed it too large and probably quite expensive for only six months. Remember, I come from a tiny island, Tenerife, and Bath isn’t what you’d describe as a big city either… Naples was a similar case. It seems to be renowned for not being the safest city in Italy which threw me off. In contrast, the location and fact that it is the only coastal place in the list was very appealing, but the cons outnumbered the pros. Then I looked at connections. Trento was soon discarded because I could not even find how to easily arrive there. I’ve been told it’s beautiful and picturesque, but I’m planning on travelling around the country so having good travel connections was very important. And then I was left with two options: Siena or Parma. Both cities quite student-y and of similar size; connections seemed to be equal too, so my choice came down to the region they were in. Eventually I went for Siena because of its history: a very ‘Italian’ looking city with lots of narrow alleys and a wall surrounding the historic centre.

Siena is a medieval town, Florence’s life-long enemy and UNESCO Wold Heritage Site just like Bath (cannot stay away from beautiful cities apparently), in the Italian region of Tuscany. It’s mostly famous for Il Palio, a horse race between the contradas or neighbourhoods of the Old City, held twice a year in the Piazza del Campo. There are two different Universities and it is a very touristy city with masses of tourists arriving each day (even now in the winter), which reminds me greatly of Bath. Inside the city walls, all the buildings have that typical Tuscan look: tall windows and red bricks, along with the laundry hanging to dry under the window sills. I must say I have fallen in love with this (extremely hilly) place and I’m quite happy with my choice.

I'm in love with the style of the houses!

I'm in love with the style of the houses!

My arrival & finding accommodation

I moved to Italy late January, since I was yet to find somewhere to live and had signed up for an intensive Italian course in February to pick up my Italian again, and will stay here until July. The trip to get to Siena was long but went fine. I was quite worried I’d lose my suitcase during the short layover at the airport in Madrid, but I was lucky and my luggage got here just fine. It was a long journey - two flights and a couple of buses and taxi ride-, but I feel like I’ve mastered travelling by now. I had to fly from Tenerife to Madrid and from there to Florence. To arrive in Siena from Florence there are two options: a bus or a train journey with change in Empoli, so I went for the easier bus option – make sure you get the one along the autostrada or highway, shorter and less curvy!

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I’d booked an Airbnb near the Duomo for the first two weeks while I looked for a flat; perfect location a minute from the Piazza and very comfortable since I had the apartment basically all to myself! I would recommend doing this when moving to a new place: find an Airbnb or hotel for a week at least while you look for long-term accommodation once you’ve arrived. Things look so much different in person and this way you’ll avoid scams (I was sadly victim of one before arriving, so please don’t make the same mistake and make sure you look at the place in person before paying anything). I must say, it was hard to find a flat. Since I’d arrived so early the first semester Erasmus students were still around with exams, so their places were not available yet. In addition, a lot of landlords do not seem to like Erasmus students because of the short-term contracts, which limited the options. It has been even worse for male students, as most adds I saw were for female student and camera doppia which means a room-share. I was looking for a central apartment where I could have a single room and I had been doing research from home, sending tonnes of messages to book viewings with little luck. I used webs like uniaffiti, easystanza and housinganywhere. Eventually I managed to get a viewing that was really promising and that ended up being my actual flat. I live in the centre, in the Contrada del Drago, and I couldn’t be happier! Siena is quite small so you can walk everywhere. I’d recommend looking for a place within the walls, because everything happens inside the historical centre, but if you end up outside it’s not much of a big deal either. Also, make sure you actively look for a place; not only messaging online but talking to everybody you meet in the street as I know of people who got lucky because they met someone who knew of an available room. And, above all, don’t give up!

Taking an intensive language course

Concerning the language course I took, I have mixed feelings. Before arriving here we were offered a mostly subsidised Italian language course (75euro) by the Universtà degli Studi: either intensive in February or ordinary between March and April. I went for the February one since I had the time and it would allow me to sort out accommodation before the start of the semester in March.

If you’re going on a study exchange, I’d recommend doing a language course if available just to make sure you’ll be able to follow the lectures. While I was in France I barely got to speak any Italian so my skills had become rusty from being out of use since June. I do think doing the course has eased me back into speaking Italian confidently and has definitely tuned my ear.

However, I found the quality of the course at the Università degli Stranieri (the course is in the other University; my exchange is with the Università degli Studi), to be quite disappointing. We had to do a language level placement test at the start, after which I was placed in C1 level. I was accurately placed since the OLS test results also classed me as C1. However, I don’t know if it was because of the higher level or the timing, the group I was assigned was a mix of international students out of which I was the only Erasmus, contrary to first semester students’ experience. Also, I believe we (the other Bath students and I) were put into ordinary lessons not the intensive course we’d signed up to. Anyhow, we had four and a half hours of Italian lessons a day for three weeks. In my class we did a lot of reading and debating, but not much grammar. I found some of the topics interesting, such as language and dialects in Italy or the economy. However, I do not feel like it was worth the money or the time overall. A week would’ve been enough for me. Everybody was really nice and I met quite a few people in the course, which was great, but if I were to condense the new things I learnt over the course, they’d come up to an hour and a half, maybe two hours-worth of lessons… I did the end test a couple of days ago and all it involved was writing a ‘for and against’ essay (250 words minimum) about social networks and we were given two hours and a half and a dictionary. Talk about challenging… Either this was really easy, or Bath is really demanding.

Overall, it will depend on who offers the language course. Here in Siena it could definitely improve. For lower levels like A2 or B1 I imagine it will be a lot more useful since you’ll be taught actual grammar along cultural topics. For higher levels like me, the experience might vary. I do nonetheless recommend searching for a short course before starting, particularly if you haven’t been able to practice the language during your other half of Year Abroad.

Day trip to Florence.

Day trip to Florence.

Despite the unsatisfactory experience of the course, I’ve really enjoyed the time I’ve spent in Siena thus far. The place is smaller than I anticipated, but now that the lectures have started life has got busier.  I’ve been using my time to run errands and sort out most of the paperwork, as well as exploring the city and surrounding area. I feel like I’ve got a grasp on the situation by now thanks to that extra time. Since I had to change modules and send Erasmus paperwork, I’m glad I arrived earlier and have had plenty of time to sort it out before getting caught up in lectures and module work. I must say the Italian system is nothing like the English one. We’ve had to chase down quite a few people to get the papers signed – it has been quite an adventure – and I expect this is the usual process in this country. My piece of advice? Be patient but persistent, and don’t stress out.

I will be writing another blog entry on the Erasmus paperwork and Welcome Week in Siena because the whole process definitely deserves one on its own, so keep your eyes peeled!

Ci vediamo presto!

Zoe

Day trip to San Gimignano.

Day trip to San Gimignano.

 

Year Abroad: 5 Unusual Ways to Practice your Language

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📥  2015-16, 2016-17, International Management & Modern Languages, Politics, Languages & International Studies

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As a languages student, the highest priority for your Year Abroad is to improve your language skills – this goes without saying. But ask any student who is currently away, or has completed their placement, and they will tell you it’s not always that easy. Your Year Abroad will not comprise of steady and neat improvements in your abilities, but rather little leaps and starts of understanding, which will be oh-so rewarding, but utterly frustrating.

You will, of course, have the immediate spike in knowledge when you initially move abroad; living and working in a foreign language all day will leave you exhausted but amazed at your own ability to pluck words from nowhere: you’re a natural, you’re fluent! Unfortunately, this will often wear off after the first few months, once you have mastered the complexities of the supermarket and your nearest café. You may even be dismayed to find that after just a week or two at home for Christmas you’ve forgotten some of the fancy idiomatic phrases which you were using with such confidence in November. Speaking from personal experience, your language acquisition – and with it your confidence – can go a little bit like this:

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But do not fear! Here are 5 unusual ways to practice your languages, if you ever find yourself struggling to work enough Dutch into your day or Español into your evenings!

  1. BlaBla Car (or similar company). I would encourage any Year Abroad student to travel and explore as much as physically possible and a great cheap way of doing so is by using a company like BlaBla Car. BlaBla Car matches people who are taking a certain journey in a car with those who need to travel but have no car – an efficient way to save money on tickets and on petrol! Using BlaBla Car in a foreign language will guarantee you with quality language practice on any number of topics, from the reason for your trip to the political state of the country – trust me! It has the handy benefit of putting you next to the driver rather than opposite, which can take the pressure off! Bear in mind that while BlaBla Car is more commonplace in Europe, you should still be aware of the risks of getting into someone else’s car – make sure you use the code provided to find the right driver, tell someone where you are going, and keep friends as updated as possible.
  2. Theatre. The theatre might not be your cup of tea at home, but it is an excellent way to catch up on the nuances and stresses of your new language. If you can keep up with Shakespeare in Italian, you’re ready for anything! There is also something distinctly fascinating about telling your friends from home that you are off to the theatre for the evening! Grab a friend – native or otherwise – and get two front row seats! You won’t regret it.
  3. Trains. Similar to BlaBla Car but more spontaneous, you will be amazed at the number of strange conversations that can spring up on a train journey. I, for example, had the delightful experience of sharing an overnight carriage with an Italian family, their dog, and a drunk man. The inebriated Italian spent most of the night telling me what a “bella donna” I was, whilst the family quizzed me on everything from why I was travelling alone, to how the police force works in England (I was not too helpful). When travelling by train, either alone or with friends, make sure you keep an eye on all your belongings, to avoid being the victim of an opportunistic crime. To be on the safe side, check out the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s advice on what to do if you’re the victim of a crime abroad before you travel.
  4. Gym. This may come as a surprise, as my experiences of English gyms have never involved making a best friend. However, joining a gym on your Year Abroad is the perfect way to keep busy and meet the locals. For a start, many people have routines, and you are likely to see the same faces each time you arrive. Secondly, gym lessons such as yoga, Zumba and boxing are all great ways to interact with new people and potentially bond over your lack of coordination.
  5. Café local. This is something you should do anyway, but it’s also great for improving your chit-chat. Find yourself a nice sunny café, with the widest selection of cakes and coffees possible, and make yourself at home! I would recommend bringing a book or some work to do, but don’t be afraid to dive in and get chatting to your friendly barista. You might feel awkward at first, but nothing will beat the feeling a few weeks down the line of being warmly greeted as a regular and handed your ‘usual’ drink of choice. Do be careful when you’re out and about on your own, especially if you’re a woman travelling alone – again the FCO has some great advice you should look over.

Whatever you decide to do, you won’t regret taking a chance and trying something new! Do plenty of research on your destination here before you go, not only to find the best sightseeing tips, but also to make sure you’re familiar enough with the customs and culture so that you don’t offend anyone – not a good way to make friends! Make sure you keep safe and sensible, and follow @FCOTravel on Twitter for all your latest updates.

 

Year Abroad II – working in a local language school

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📥  2016-17, Politics, Languages & International Studies

Fécamp, Normandy, France.                                                                                                                                                       November, 2016.

Je suis revenue! I’m back! This time, as I mentioned in my previous post, I will explain what I am doing in this northern corner of France: my teaching placement in Fécamp.

Where do I work?

I work in a small family-run English school called ‘The English Centre des Hautes-Falaises’ in Fécamp.

Fécamp is a picturesque coastal town situated in the Valmont river valley in the Seine-Maritime department (Haute-Normandie region) only 35km away from Le Havre. The town has around 20.000 inhabitants and there are a couple of schools and high schools, so there are quite a lot of children of various ages coming to the language school, both from Fécamp itself but also from nearby towns and villages.

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The school is located inside an old flour mill that stopped working in 2007. I was amazed when I first arrived! All the objects and machinery from the mill are still well kept in the main building. However, the school is within the property but not inside the mill itself. The English Centre is made out of different classrooms in varying sizes: the office and four different classrooms ranging in size to accommodate individual students through to a considerable amount of toddlers running around.  All the rooms are decorated with English paraphernalia to your heart’s content: flags, Beatles posters, teapots, The Doctor, the Royal Family, red post boxes… there is even a Sherlock Holmes and telephone booth to greet you at the entrance! Apart from these things, the school is well equipped with tons of vocabulary posters, craft supplies, games, books, whiteboards… which are at our disposal for the lessons. Anything we might need for the lessons, we can more than likely find – it’s all about being creative and engaging here!

The views from the top of the Mill are amazing!

The views from the top of the Mill are amazing!

 

 

One of the main characteristics of the school is that a lot of importance is given to learning English in a fun and engaging way, while achieving results. This means that the lessons are very dynamic in order to keep the students interested: different topics for the adult lessons and lots of different games and songs for the children’s lessons. We use some course books sporadically but the main stress is on learning through games. Therefore, the English Centre has a lively atmosphere every single day –and as a stagiaire you have to keep up with the action! The strangest thing I’ve had to do so far would probably be performing ‘Lollipops’ with a wig and fake microphone up on a stage with one of the other stagiaires while a group of 6 year-olds stared at us in astonishment. A fun lesson that was!

What does my role entail?

As one of the placement students of the school, my role is to teach English to French children, teenagers and adults. This means that I assist the main teacher when it comes to larger groups (mainly children), but I also have to plan and implement individual lessons and some group adult lessons.

At the beginning, I found it hard to gauge the level of the students as I had never done any teaching myself, but during the first two weeks we were given a lot of assistance in order to learn our way around and grasp the dynamics of the lessons. During this time, we got to know the students – it took a while to learn everybody’s names, there are so many students! Slightly under a hundred I’d say! – but, soon enough, we learnt how the school works and how to handle the classes.

When it comes to individual or adult lessons, we are given quite a lot of freedom on the topics we can work on in class, so I’ve personally given some lessons on Tenerife, Musical Theatre and Films since they are topics that interest me; it’s a matter of balancing speaking, grammar points and topics which your students might also find interesting (or even better, tailor the lessons to the students’ own interests and needs which is, of course, the ultimate aim). We also have weekly meetings which help monitor the progress of the students, find solutions to any problems that might arise and distribute the work. I have found these, along with discussing the lessons with my colleagues throughout the weeks, a great way to improve my language teaching skills and overcome any problems that might arise!

We also have to do basic office admin like answering the phone or making sure the timetable is up to date. We don’t actually teach in a business-like environment ourselves, but we do assist the main teacher by phoning the workers from a partnering business throughout the week to help practice their English on the phone.

I’ve found my responsibilities as stagiaire quite varied which has been a great learning experience so far – I get to teach students from all ages and all backgrounds, and I have learnt so much since I’ve been here. All the students are lovely and (mostly) well-behaved and it is such a rewarding feeling when you notice a class has finally grasped a point you have been teaching them! All progress, little as it may be, absolutely makes my day!

The team.

Since The English Centre employs language students from different Universities in the UK, the staff changes every couple of months. The manager is a lovely woman who loves her job and makes sure that you are well settled and confident with your work at the centre – she always tells us “if you are happy here, things will run smoothly” and that is what we all want! Despite being a very busy woman, she is always there for you to reach out for if you need any help. Sometimes I haven’t really known what to prepare for certain lessons, for instance, because I haven’t met the student yet or because I am running out of ideas, and she has always offered help. Along with the manager, there are some other English teachers at the Centre who come and go. I got to meet one of them at the start of the placement before she left, and the other is working abroad at the moment. As I’ve said, they are all really nice and helpful and I literally have nothing negative to say! Since it is a family-run business, it is really important that everybody gets along well for things to run smoothly. Everybody has been really welcoming and helpful; if you put in the hard work and energy required, you will have a rewarding experience working here.

Wearing the red fleece uniform.

Wearing the red fleece uniform.

Concerning the British students, while I have been working here there have been two other exchange student stagiaires: a Bulgarian female student from Glasgow University and an English male student from Liverpool University. We all get along really well (especially because we all arrived at the same time so we’ve all learnt along the way together) and, since we all come from different places and have different backgrounds, it is great for the students who get to work with natives with different accents and perspectives of the UK – the variety makes a huge difference and keeps things interesting!

What is an average week like?

At the moment, since there are three stagiaires plus the main teacher, we get quite a lot of free time throughout the week. We work flexible hours which means that each day is different. Wednesdays and Saturdays are our busiest days as most Children lessons take place these days – morning and afternoon. The rest of the week, classes are spread out throughout the morning and the afternoon/evening, to suit the students’ availabilities. For instance, most adult lessons are in the evenings to allow for the clients to fit a lesson after the work day. Most lessons are an hour long with the exceptional hour-an-a-half. We get Sundays and another day of the week off each and, in addition to the free hours in between lessons, it means we only work around 15-20 hours each and have plenty of time to join other activities, work on assignments, plan lessons or any other thing you might want to do.

Aside from the classes, the Centre also organizes different fun events throughout the year. During my placement we’ve had a photo exhibition, a ‘speed-meeting’ event to practice English in 5-10’ conversations, Guy Fawkes night, a ‘Fish and Chips’ night and we have a concert night and a Christmas workshop coming up. As I’ve said, it is a very dynamic business and we do our best to share English traditions and offer opportunities to improve in English while having fun. All of these events have been really enjoyable!

We've organized and taken part in a few different events over the past four months.

We've organized and taken part in a few different events over the past four months.

My personal experience and thoughts.

I wanted a teaching placement because I thought the Year Abroad was the perfect opportunity to test the waters and find out if education was the thing for me. Both my parents are teachers and, as a non-British person, I had English lessons myself through to University. Other than that, I started off as a complete rookie – I had never taught lessons myself and all I knew about teaching came from what I had experienced as a student, what I’d seen at home and the content of the ELT unit offered to second year Modern Language students at Bath (which, by the way, you should totally take – it was interesting even if you aren’t contemplating teaching!). Fortunately, no previous experience was required for the position at The English Centre, but they do require you to work hard and be willing to learn. There is a great supporting system. You work hard and give the best of you, but you also get to share ideas and try new things while being assisted along the way. I have learnt so, so much during the past four months. Putting the ELT theory into practice does require a bit of creativity and on-the-spot problem solving at times – theory is not always the same as reality! However, at no time have I felt on my own and I think that is the main point I want to get across – if you are worried because of lack of experience, there is always a first time for everything!

In addition to gaining teaching experience, the perks of the placement which – I must mention – is unpaid, are a fully furnished house just two minutes away from the school and ten from the town centre with the bills included (gas, electricity, water, TV, Wi-Fi, washing machine…). In addition, we have received so much help from our hosts to get involved with activities and social life in the town and improve our French, it has been amazing! I have taken up some fitness sessions and the other two students have joined the local band and go to dance lessons. We have also been invited to take part in all sorts of events in town, from a charity marathon to a short film festival!

La maison - typical Norman house.

La maison - typical Norman house.

Even though it might not be the best placement to improve French, since you are indeed teaching English and speaking English most of the time at the workplace, the placement at Hautes-Falaises is a great opportunity to give teaching a try and experience for yourself what it is like to live in a French town. Everybody has been really nice and kind; it is just a matter of making that extra effort to speak French outside work.

If you are interested in a teaching placement where no two days are the same and you are surrounded by kind and supporting people, then definitely consider The English Centre! You can find the application details on Moodle and I promise, you will have a great time!

À bientot!

Zoe

 

 

 

 

 

What living in Italy has taught me…apart from Italian.

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📥  2014-15, Politics, Languages & International Studies

 

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1). What culture actually means and actually how British I am.

I always thought that I felt pretty Italian, I mean my Dad is from Rome and my mum speaks it fluently. I grew up on Italian cuisine, always  being excited to go and stay at my dad’s because I knew we would be eating a feast! (even if it wouldn’t be ready until like 9pm) I’ve also been to visit my Nonna in Rome a few times over the years so it’s not like I haven’t experienced the Italian culture before. But actually living here is a very different matter. Day in day out of pasta and Italians rapid chatter and really really unreliable transport is just a little bit too much after a while, so I found myself longing for the rolling green countryside of the UK and our silly, but nice over-politeness.

I found myself missing things that I never even realised were such an important part of my life in England. Now that I’m writing them down, it sounds kind of silly, but I really missed being able to have a proper cup of tea, just whacking the kettle on (not having to boil the water in a pan for aaaages). I even started taking my own milk and teabags into work! #desperatetimesdesperatemeasures.

And although I love love love Italian food, I mean In England you would find me with a ciabatta stuffed with prosciutto and rocket rather than a ham sandwhich, I began to miss British food. Potatoes, pies, roast dinners, burgers and even Nandos (the honour of my first meal of my first time back in England was actually given to Nandos, please don’t judge).

But this is just food and drink! You might say, but surprisingly it does make a big difference!

However, I also began to realize something else… The way Italians behave and think is completely different.

Obviously I can’t speak for 100 percent of the population, as with anything,  but for the majority, that stereotype  of families being closer is true.  It’s also true that Italians stay with their parents until much later- one of my colleagues only moved out last year when she got married and she’s 30!

Overall I’ve found the culture to be much more traditional, and perhaps in a way a bit more restrictive, for woman especially.  I’ve found that I don’t really agree with a lot of things and I find it quite suffocating at times (e.g when Italians are shocked when I travel around at night by myself, night as in 10pm). What can I say, I like my independence! But that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s wrong and I respect the differences, however it’s clearly shown me that my values are definitely British! And actually how deep “culture” actually goes.

2). To be prepared for anything!

Honestly I feel like anything could happen in Italy. Even when you’ve planned it down to a T, the unexpected will just completely throw your perfect plan out of the window. It’s advisable to have a plan B, and C and maybe even D…just in case. I can’t count the number of times I’ve gone to take a train or bus and there’s been a strike, always when I need to get somewhere important too like oh I don’t know the airport! Also expect trains to be canceled without reason or notice and nice restaurants you’ve taken the time to research to be closed! Basically you just need to be able to think on your feet, which I can certainly do now!

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3). To Keep Calm and Carry On.

This is linked to the previous one. Seeing aso many things have gone wrong, it makes sense that after a while you get used to it. So now instead of going into panic mode, I just remember that it’s not something I can control and it’s definitely not my fault so what’s the point of stressing? So maybe I’ll be a little bit late, but hey it’s Italy so it’s allowed (I think the public transport situation might have something to do with it!).

4). To go outside my comfort zone

I am naturally a quiet person, especially with people I don’t know so going off to meet new people isn’t exactly one of my favorite things to do, let alone going to meet a whole bunch of them by myself. But I did it because I had to. Living in a small town outside of Milan, it wasn’t always easy to meet people, especially because I had chosen to work full time in an office.  So I really had to make an extra effort and just ignore the fact that it was a little bit scary. I did all the things I could think of like going to an English conversation meet up and meeting people from a website called Conversation Exchange (yeah meeting people off the internet, pretty scary!). But you know, it was worth it because I have made some great friends, that I know I will keep in contact with.

And of course all this is on top of improving my Italian, which I can tell (if I do say so myself) has got a whole lot better. I wouldn’t say I’m fluent, I feel like I probably need another year  or two for that, but I know  a heap of vocab, like the ones that you’d  just never learn but take for granted in English like “My bike has a flat tyre”. I don’t have to think so much when I speak and I feel like I can speak more natural Italian, the kind of phrases that you can only pick up from living in a country.

Most of all though, I have just got so much more confident in speaking Italian. I realized that making mistakes wasn’t such a big deal, the most important thing is to communicate!

So really in 7 months I have learnt a lot! Hopefully the next 4/5 months in Vienna will be the same!

 

Travelling (a bit)

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📥  2014-15, Politics, Languages & International Studies

It goes without saying that a Placement is a great opportunity. You will gain valuable experience and skills that will help prepare you for -as everyone keeps going on about- the highly competitive "real" world.

You might even realise what is you want to do after you graduate! (not everyone has their minds made up, me being one of them).

But doing a placement in a different country? That's a whole other level. As well as learning new skills and getting used to full time work (which can be tough at times), you also get to experience another culture (which can be surprisingly different to your own), sample the local delicacies i.e eat all the Gelato you can and even improve (or learn) another language.

And all this while you’re gaining real life work experience.

Fantastic!

But the best thing I think is getting to travel.
Never before have you been so close to so many destinations.
You can just hop on a train for an hour (or two) and tadaa you’re in Venice, or Verona or Lake Garda. No flights to juggle, suitcases to pack or leaving the house at ridiculous times in the morning.
Of course, you can’t go swanning off somewhere every weekend because well there’s bills to pay and food to buy  but planning in advance and finding deals makes a few trips here and there possible.  Much more possible than if you were in England anyway.

At first , you might come across the problem of but who can I go with, depending on your circumstances (when I arrived in Italy I didn’t know anyone. Absolutely zero friends - thankfully that improved).  So I made the most of people coming to visit me and dragged them along to all the places I wanted to visit.

Of course, I haven’t ticked everything off my list and I probably never will because it keeps getting longer but here are a few of the places I’ve been lucky enough to visit and if you’re ever in Italy you should definitely check them out!

Desenzano on Lake Garda and Sirmione.

Lake Garda is incredible. It’s just so beautiful, the taking-my-breath-away kind of beautiful.  A great expanse of stark blue water it stretches for miles, never seeming to end giving you the feeling that you’re by the sea rather than a lake.

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The little town of Desenzano where I went (because there are a few little towns dotted around the lake) is full of cobbled streets and those pretty pastel houses with the shutters. It’s small but lovely with a little harbor in the main Piazza where expensive little boats bob up and down on turquoise water. You could be fooled into thinking you are in the South of France (which is fine by me).

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The real treat though, is just across from Desenzano on the tiny island of Sirmione. It’s really easy to get to, just a half an hour ferry ride across to this little spot of paradise.

 

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Suddenly we were transported into what felt like the middle of the meditteranean, not rainy northern Italy.

Venice

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I had always wanted to go (well don’t we all?) and now that I’m living just outside Milan, it’s only a couple of hours away on the train. Using a two-for-one deal on the train (deals again.yay!) me and my boyfriend took a day trip to the floating city. Unfortunately it rained the entire morning and some of the afternoon too, which kind of dampened the mood a bit (no pun intended honest). But after the sun came out it was very enjoyable (warning, Venice is not the kind of place you can enjoy in the rain).

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Bergamo

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Ok, so maybe this one you won’t have heard of, but it’s definitely up there with the rest. The town is made up of two parts: Citta bassa and Citta alta. The one you want to go to is the latter.

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It’s a medieval town built high above the modern city with stunning views over the whole of Bergamo. You can even see the mountains. It’s tiny at the top but like the majority of towns in Italy full of beautiful architecture and winding cobbled streets. Perfect for a lazy afternoon of wandering, eating (make sure you try Polenta, the area’s typical dish, very yummy but very filling!) and sipping sophisticatedly  from a glass of wine.

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Despite how it looks, Polenta is actually very yummy!

Lecco

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Another beautiful lake-side town, set in the mountains. I’ll admit not as grand as lake Garda but still very pretty nethertheless. I’m making the most of all these lakes and mountains because we just don’t have the same thing in England.

Rome

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Trasteverie in the summer

This one kind of doesn’t count because I’ve been there before as I have relatives there (hence why there's no picture of the colosseum)  - I’m half Italian, dad’s side but I couldn’t come to Italy and not pay everyone a visit could I? To me, this is my real Italian home. I mean, I love Milan it’s a cool place and lots of fun but I’m just not in love with it like Rome.

Verona

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The famous balcony

The city of Romeo and Juliet.

And what a beautiful city for the greatest love story of them all. I could quite happily live here, wandering around, imagining myself as Juliet.

There's even her balcony, which given the story is fictional is totally made up, but you still get swept away with the Romance in the air.

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Love Letters. Who says Romance is dead?!

Without studying languages and doing the year abroad, I never would have had the opportunity to explore so many places. I didn’t do the whole gap year thing and my family rarely goes on holiday (we don't really have the money you see) so for me this is a great opportunity to explore the world a bit. Ok so Italy is only a very small part, of a small continent but it’s a start.

But I’m planning on going to Switzerland too as I’m so close (I can get to the most southern bit within 40 minutes- ok so it’s only chiasso which no-one’s heard of but still!) and have booked train tickets to Zurich because they were so crazily cheap (advantage of being in “mainland” Europe).

Having had a slice of what it’s like to travel (couldn’t have done it without you langauges, thanks!), I want more! I’m definitely going to make the most of all the opportunities to do so this year.

And when I do come back to England I think I’ll go and explore that a little too.

I think we forget sometimes with all this travelling malarkey, that our own country has so much to offer too.

Which is pretty crazy when you think about it.