Sometimes, we cook the flies: Working in Italy, one English Camp at a Time (part 1)

ACLE: Emotions Generate Learning 

It’s 8.30am on a sunny June morning at Castellaro Golf Resort, Taggia Arma, Italy. I am being herded outside – with a group of seventy young people looking and feeling just as tired and bewildered as I am – by five ACLE blue shirts singing at us to “make, a circle, a big big circle, make it big, and round, a BIG BIG CIRCLE!!!”  My tummy growls slightly and I realise I’ll have to be a bit less polite at mealtimes if I’m going to survive the next six weeks.

23893-1-2045798-1354285239(A sunny June morning at at Castellaro Golf Resort, Taggia Arma, Italy. Image: www.interhome.co.uk)

What was I doing? I was training to become an ACLE Tutor, to get sent all over Italy and teach children aged 5-18 at immersive English camps. ACLE are a Theatre in Education company with the mission of challenging and updating the Italian scholastic system, through methods that promote ‘REAL’ learning – Rational, Emotional, Affective Learning. If you have concerns with the way the British education system is heading, then I can assure you the Italian one is already there. As a tutor, my job was to deliver immersive learning experiences to Italian children in a way that made them excited about learning English – hence the ACLE tagline ‘emotions generate learning’. Of course, this obvious but often ignored piece of wisdom doesn’t apply solely to the pupils. Learning must be a reciprocal process and along with the fact that travelling is intrinsically educational, working for ACLE makes for one heck of a learner-coaster of a job.

So what did the job entail? A certain amount of teaching, yes, but the emphasis is on fun. We played games, sang songs, held fashion contests, transformed the camp into a multi-cultural hub of activity, made arts and crafts, and then bundled the entire thing into one final show, complete with costumes, sets, lights and a lot of English. Throughout the week the tutors stay with host families whose children are attending camp, and if there are more tutors than there are camps one week, you get placed on hold and are accommodated in the stunning mountain village of Bajardo, in Liguria.

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Sometimes, we cook the flies: Working In Italy, one English Camp at a time (part 2)

Surviving Orientation 

“You can’t ride in my hot Ferrari, because I’m too cool and I’m down to party. Oom pahoom pah pahoom pahoom pah pah. Next verse, same as the first, sung by Charlie, better not worse!”

Shock. Disbelief. Someone I have known for just two days is bouncing towards me with a big grin on their face, inviting me to leap into the warm-up circle of seventy people and sing another rendition of this chorus, complete with original dance moves. For a moment I consider the sheer bizarreness of the moment I am sharing with this group of strangers from across several continents, standing out the back of the conference hall of Castellaro golf resort in the middle of the Ligurian hillside, pretending to drive their hot Ferraris and be llamas. Then I high-five the other trainee tutor standing in front of me and leap into the circle. 

2014-06-22 12.53.06(Get out of your comfort zone and drive that hot Ferrari. Author’s own photo)

It’s ACLE tutor orientation, the week-long intensive training programme designed to prepare the novice English tutor for the experiences awaiting them at camp. There is no space for shyness or reluctance, you’ve just got to feel the fear and do it anyway, knowing that everyone else is there for the same reason.

Orientation was crazy, surreal and intensely educational. High up in the hills of Liguria, theCastellaro Golf Resort feels removed from the outside world, allowing you be completely present in the place, the people who are there with you, and the uniqueness of the experience. The energy that was expected of us, and the amount of information we had to take in over five days, was incredible. Arriving at Castellaro at 5.30pm, after a day that had started at 3am in Bath, gave me little time to relax or get over the journey before hitting the ground running. For tutors who had travelled long distances and were dealing with jet-lag, the intensity was all the more extreme. I had two hours to arrive, unpack, shower and get to know my roommates before dinner, then rise at 8.30 the next morning to get straight to it. Little did we know that this was the best possible way of preparing us for the events that were waiting at camp.

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Sometimes, We Cook the Flies: Working Italy, One English Camp at a Time (Part 3)

A Day in the Life of an English Camp Tutor

My first two articles introduced my time working for ACLE, but I am well aware that I haven’t actually outlined yet what my days looked like. So, here’s an indication:

6.30am: Wake up. This really depends on how long it takes you to get ready in the mornings and what time camp starts (my first began at 8.30am and finished at 4.30pm) but typically a day at camp is 9am-5pm.

8.30am: Arrive at camp. I found that arriving at camp half an hour before the day officially started was a great opportunity to double-check that everything I’d left in place the night before was still okay, and to deal with any last-minute prep or difficulties that arose, so I was in as little of a flap as possible when it was time for the children to arrive.

9am: Warm-up circle. This involved getting into a big circle, usually outside, with all the children and other tutors, singing songs and playing games. This was where the Hot Ferrari song (from the article on orientation) really came into its own.

9.15am-11.00am: First lesson. The first lesson of the first day at camp is really an ice-breaker, it’s an opportunity for you to get to know the kids and assess their language level. With the younger kids I would fill this session with funny name games and re-capping vocabulary they should be familiar with. With the older kids I’d do a similar exercise but the emphasis was on getting them to speak as much as possible. The ACLE Tutor Manual, which will become your Bible, has lots of great advice for how to have a successful first lesson. Throughout the rest of the week, this time is filled with lessons that correspond with the appropriate page in the children’s camp workbooks. Workbooks come in different colours depending on the language level: with white for the 5-6 year-olds to green for the 14-15 year olds. There are seven levels in total and tutors get assigned classes by colour.

11.00-11.15am: Break. If you’re lucky you might get a chance to do a quick bit of prep for the next session, but I always tried to make sure I had it all done first thing in the morning. Most of the time I would end up wandering around the playground talking to the children whilst stuffing a banana and several biscotti down my throat. Every adult has a duty of care in Italia, and you never, ever leave children to their own devices.

11.15am-1pm: Second lesson. I would typically use this time for show prep, especially towards the end of the week. By this time the children are hot, tired and are not always keen on learning and rehearsing lines. So we’d talk about the show, write the script, make the set and design the costumes.

1pm-2pm: Lunch. The best part of the day! Time to discover what wonderful treats your host mother has packed for you.  Continue reading

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Sometimes, we cook the flies: Working Italy, one English Camp at a Time (Part 4)

‘Never Interfere with an Italian woman’s washing machine’: Surviving Your Host Families

Upon arriving in Italy, minutes after stepping off the train at Taggia Arma, I was advised to ‘never interfere with an Italian woman’s washing machine’. Italian women are incredibly house proud: I was placed at camps from Genoa to Vicenza during my time in Italy, and not one of the houses I stayed in had a cobweb in the corner of the bathroom or cat hairs on the sofa.

One of my host families had a lady who came in daily to do the laundry and I was told to put my clothes in with theirs at the end of each day. After four days and the sudden realisation that I had a dangerous sock-shortage, I went into the utility room to investigate. To my absolute horror and embarrassment, this conscientious woman had thrown several pairs of my (not quite threadbare, and they certainly weren’t rag-worthy) trainer socks in the bin. I commenced my salvaging efforts and attempted, through mime, that I appreciated that she was washing my socks, but that they didn’t need to be thrown away.

During my time with my second host family, we sat around the table and towards the end of the meal I was offered gorgonzola cheese. Grabbing a piece of gorgonzola-loaded focaccia and chewing heartily, I exclaimed“crikey – that’ll put hairs on your chest!” This family spoke very limited English so only looked at me in bewilderment. Franca, the mother, apologises. “Sorry Charlie…no capito.”

gourmet-goronzolla-cheese(For a strong after-dinner snack, try gorgonzola cheese. www.pennmac.com)

“Oh! Sorry! In England, when a cheese is very strong we say it will put hair on your chest.” I grab a lock of my hair and put it on my chest to indicate. Inés, my thirteen year-old host sister, attempts to clarify. “Hair…on your chest” She covered her mouth with a hand and snorted with laughter. Franca and Sandro, my host parents, petitioned their daughter for further clarification.

Also during my time with this second host family I was also taken down to the tobacconist to buy some stamps for my postcards. When we came back into the house there was a funny, charred-meat smell. Franca closed the door and gestured to me in the way that is quintessential of all Italians when they are struggling to understand or explain something. “Umm…Charlie, sorry…sometimes….sometimes err….sometimes err we err, argh non riesco a ricordare la parola in inglese… Oh, yes! Err we err, cooook, yes, sometimes we err coooook the flies.” She beamed at me. “Sometimes, we cook the flies.” No, her husband had not been making Garibaldi biscuits in our absence, and I was not about to face fly risotto. She was explaining that the smell was due to a small ultra-violet fly-catcher in the kitchen that I hadn’t previously noticed. And it did, indeed, cook the flies.

Every host family is unique, and staying with host families often makes for some of the best experiences you will have as a tutor in Italy. They open their hearts and their homes to you, and for the short time you are with them, you are a part of the family. Of the four host families I stayed with over my six-week trip, two had young children and the other two had older teenagers, two spoke very good English and the other two very little. Two were quite happy to leave me to it in the evenings and take me to local places of interest where I could meet up with my fellow tutors, and the other two went out of their way to plan several interesting things for the whole family to do together. One thing I can guarantee is that they will always eat their evening meal together. Mealtimes were some of my favourite times with my host families, because it gave us an opportunity to chat, to ask questions of each other, to plan outings and, often, to roar with laughter.

_MG_9963_6623(Head to a tabacchi for all your necessities. www.arcmodulo.it)

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‘Sometimes, we cook the flies:’ Working Italy, one English Camp at a Time (part 5)

Part Five: The Food 

It’s 8.45am on a sunny Sunday morning. I’ve been told to have a lie-in by my host mother and I’m making the most of it. I’ve been in Italy for three weeks now, and tomorrow morning my second camp starts. I get up and open the shutters on my balcony doors, stepping into the sunlight to survey the scenery before me. The plains of Lombardy have been swapped for the hills of Piemonte, and I am living in a house situated in the middle of the historical centre of a medieval hill town, complete with a room in which I have my own en suite bathroom and a balcony with a wicker chair. My stomach growls and a small mental cloud crosses the picture of paradise before me. Italian breakfasts! I dress and go downstairs, preparing myself to consume a polite few biscotti and a glass of milk and then wait until lunchtime, when I’ll be fully able to sate my appetite. What awaits me on the table after I have greeted my host parents is astounding.

Italian food is a topic that deserves an article all of its own. If you’re a breakfast lover, you might have to ask your host family for a little bit more: Italians don’t really do ‘breakfast’ the way we think of it. (Note: if you’re a porridge lover like myself, ask for ‘fiocchi d’avena’.) I struggled through my first camp on a near-empty stomach from the start of the warm-up circle through to lunch, and then resolved to stop being ridiculous and just explain to my next host family that Brits eat breakfast, especially when facing a ten hour working day in the blazing sunshine. But, there was no need. I came down to breakfast on the first morning to a table loaded with cake, cereal, bread, yoghurts, fruit juice, bananas, croissants, biscuits and focaccia. Stunned, I sat at one end of the table with no idea where to start, while my host parents sat at the other end nursing their espresso cups and proceeded to watch me eat. With another family, I arrived at the breakfast table to find cereal and milk had been laid out, but the only crockery or cutlery to be found were an espresso cup and a teaspoon. My host mother looked a little surprised when I asked for a bowl and a big spoon, but for the rest of the week they were there on the table with no further questions.

Italian-traditional-cookies(Italian breakfast is different but sometimes you’ll be greeted with pastries and coffee. whenangelscook.com)

If you have a specific dietary requirement, don’t fear! Studies have shown that, despite being the homeland of pasta and pizza, there is a high prevalence of celiac disease within the Italian population, and that doesn’t take into account the potential level of undiagnosed sufferers. If you’re vegetarian or pescatarian (like myself), it’s not a problem. They may not understand why anyone would voluntarily forgo beef lasagne, Bolognese sauce or slices of juicy cantaloupe draped in prosciutto, but they accept it and do a very good job of catering for you nonetheless.

The food is seasonal, succulent and there’s so much of it! I gorged myself on cherries and strawberries when I first arrived, which was swiftly replaced by antisocially juicy peaches, and then everything courgette. Chuck into that a regular dose of aubergine, mountains of sun-sweet tomatoes, huge tubs of mozzarella balls and a constant supply of fresh, light pasta, and the whole two months made for a very happy and healthy Charlie indeed.

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