So here we are: five months have been and gone, and the first part of my year abroad is over. It’s been such an amazing experience, one that I would recommend to everyone, but it’s also been much harder than I’d ever imagined and I’ve learnt so much from it as a result.
I think it's really important that we talk about all sides of the year abroad - the exciting, the overwhelming, the difficult, and the downright terrifying - not just to give future students a more realistic expectation of the experience, but also to reassure current placement students who may look at other people's highlight reels on Instagram and feel as though they're doing something wrong.
So, I've decided to write about my full experience of working in Italy - the highs and the lows, and also the things I might have done differently.
During my time in Italy, I worked as an administrative intern for an Italian language school with sites in both Sestri Levante (Liguria) and Florence. I found this placement through Moodle, as the school regularly employs Bath students each year thanks to a connection with the PoLIS faculty. The premise of the placement is to spend the morning in language classes with fellow students, and then to spend the afternoon working in the office.
I was lucky enough to spend time in both of the school's sites, and my experiences in Sestri Levante and Florence were both very different. My principal role in Sestri was to assist the school's director, whereas in Florence I had many more responsibilities and set tasks.
In Sestri my routine changed daily, and I could be doing anything from sending marketing emails to escorting new students to their accommodation. Everything was very relaxed and my hours were hugely flexible.
In Florence there was more of an established routine, but I still had a certain amount of flexibility (it is Italy after all!) Each week I had administrative duties to complete, such as sending regular emails to students, and I also helped with the school's social media pages and blog, for example researching the events going on in Florence each month.
- By far the biggest advantage of my placement was language improvement. I spent all day every day speaking Italian, as well as studying it in depth during grammar and conversation lessons in the mornings, and my confidence in the language has improved vastly. Not all placements provide such an opportunity to improve your language, so this is something to consider especially for ab initio students.
- Another amazing aspect of my placement was the amount of travelling I was able to do. Working for a language school meant that there were regular excursions and trips to nearby cities and towns, and I was often lucky enough to tag along for free! This means I got to visit some of Italy's most beautiful locations - including the Cinque Terre, Lucca and Bologna - with basically a free tour guide.
- The flexibility of the placement was also a big plus, as it meant I never had to worry about getting time off to visit home. My supervisor was also really relaxed and often let me join in with student activities or allowed me some time to research for my special study, for which I was very grateful.
- Working for a language school meant I was able to meet so many different people from all kinds of backgrounds, which I absolutely loved. However, these people would often only be around for short time, and it was almost impossible to have a fixed group of friends. This is both a positive and a negative aspect, because while it was good for me to put myself out there and socialise more, it can also be quite isolating when you feel you have no friends close by.
- The lack of a fixed friendship group also meant that I spent a lot of time travelling and visiting places by myself, which can feel a little bit lonely. Especially somewhere like Italy where people always go out in groups and the culture is very much a sociable one. Sometimes it was hard seeing posts on social media of fellow course mates constantly out and about with new friends, and feeling as though it was just me who felt lonely (spoiler, it wasn't!)
- I've written about homesickness before on this blog, and it's something that more of us placement students need to talk about. I'm not afraid to say that it's something I really struggled with during my final month in Liguria, because all of us will experience it at some point during the year abroad. I soon realised that it was the lack of distraction and things to do during low season in Sestri Levante that worsened my homesickness, and once I'd arrived in Florence things got much easier.
WHAT I'D DO DIFFERENTLY
- As much as I loved Sestri Levante, I do wish that I'd gone to Florence sooner as I felt much more suited to the city lifestyle and there was a never ending list of things to keep myself busy. I also much preferred having a proper schedule and fixed set of working hours, despite it being much more tiring. I liked getting to the end of the week and feeling as though I'd achieved something and, of course, getting to experience living in a city as beautiful as Florence was incredible.
- It's much easier to say this in hindsight, but I do wish I'd put myself out there more and shown more of what I can do during my placement. The simple fact of trying to communicate in another language could be so daunting that I often hesitated or held back when it came to my actual work and the suggestions that I could have put forward. I'm hoping that in this next part of the year abroad I'll have more confidence in my abilities, and also worry less about making mistakes.
All in all, I feel so lucky to have worked and lived in Italy and it was a truly invaluable experience, not just for the improved language skills but also for gaining independence, stepping outside of my comfort zone and learning more about myself. It was in no way easy, but it's not supposed to be! The year abroad is an emotional rollercoaster, and there will be many ups and downs, but it's all 100% worth it.