The end of my year abroad is fast approaching, and with exams out the way it’s time to write my final couple of posts. In this post I’ll stick to just a couple of important episodes from the last few months, and you’ll also find a few captioned pictures from some of my other travels during this period.
Fencing & a Turning Point
If you’ve been keeping up with my other blogs, you’ll know I’ve been fencing at a local club called A.S. Comini for the past 9 months or so now. Back in May, my friend Oscar came to visit for a few days of training and a quick tour around Venice.
The plan was to train Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday night, and for Oscar to go home on Friday. This holiday was more of a flyby, so we didn’t have time to get further afield than Venice, though sightseeing wasn’t really the purpose of the visit.
We managed to get to the gym briefly on Tuesday night after Oscar’s arrival and make a few introductions, but Wednesday was our first full day. We visited Venice during the day, and I did my best impression of a tour guide. We only got lost three times looking for an ice cream place I’d been shown a couple of weeks before, so I’d say I didn’t do a bad job.
We managed to see most of the main sights, but this being my fourth or fifth time visiting, I feel like I had a realisation about the tourist attractions of the city. They can be roughly divided into the following two categories:
- Category A, ‘I’ve done Venice’: includes the Rialto Bridge, St. Mark’s Square, Canal Grande, tacky souvenirs, eating overpriced food that is not typical of the region (Hawaiian pizza does not belong on this island).
- Category B, ‘I had more time and money’: travelling by gondola, staying in fancy hotels, going into designer stores and realistically being able to consider buying something, buying a not-fake Venetian mask, enjoying some ‘cicchetti’ (Venetian finger food) from a local bar.
There’s definitely some things from category B you can do on the cheap, but you’re probably going to have to search. This is also not to say you can’t enjoy Venice as a day trip, but if you want to get a really good feel for the city you’ll need longer.
We got back to Padova pretty early and warmed up together when we got to the club that evening. Even after my one year training in Italy, I’ve got a little way to go before I can rival Oscar. Him visiting was a good measuring stick for me, as a problem I’ve had most of this year has been how to assess my progress. The standard at Comini is really high, so winning bouts with many of the guys and girls there is out of the question. Winning matches isn’t the only way to measure your progress, but it’s pretty solid.
This means the next best thing I could measure was the points I scored in my bouts. They have been slowly trending upwards throughout the year against people I’d fence regularly. But so much is down to how you and your opponent are feeling on the day, so much so that you can have a very different outcome against someone who you lost to convincingly the day before if you’re on it and they’re not. It can be hard to judge whether you’re just having a good day when you do come out on top, or whether that’s training paying off. Fencing someone from back home let me see the difference in my results pre-Italy and now having spent 9 months here.
Training the following evening was probably the highlight of Oscar’s visit for me. Having made what felt like slow progress for a few months, everything just seemed to fall into place after a few bouts that session. I can’t really describe the change any other way than to say that it felt like I’d changed gears. I was able to bring a level of intensity and focus to each bout which I felt like I’d been lacking until that point. Scores that night I think were particularly good, and there was a real sense that the work I’d been putting in for the year was starting to pay off.
We said our goodbyes on Friday morning, as I had my final English lesson to teach that afternoon. Having Oscar come to visit was great, particularly having a familiar face amongst the friends I’ve made at the club. Before Oscar’s visit I had been a little frustrated that I wasn’t quite where I imagined I’d be with that at the start of the year with my Italian, and the limits this imposed on my social skills. If you’re lacking in grammar or vocabulary you become painfully aware of it very quickly. I had many awkward conversation when I talked myself into a corner, only to realise I didn’t have the words to get myself out. That said, having the opportunity to mix with a local crowd whilst doing a sport I love has been an amazing experience I’m incredibly grateful to have had. The upside to the awkwardness of not being a fully competent user of a second language is that I now have some good stories to tell about the times I really messed up.
Being able to share the experience of fencing at Comini with someone I know was really good for me. Having Oscar come helped me get some perspective on everything I’ve talked about above, and to really make the most of the final month I had fencing at the club after he left.
Near the beginning of this year, I applied for a role as an English language assistant teaching at a local high school. My job started in January, and just recently finished in May. I’d never taught before, so I figured it would be an opportunity for me to develop a new skill, and get a better understanding of the differences between Italian and British education systems.
For most weeks from around the middle of January this year until the middle of May, I’d go to the school once a week to lead an hour long class. The school I taught at was specialised in economics, marketing, and tourism, so the lessons I taught would follow these themes.
I have little knowledge of marketing and tourism, but there’s a gold mine of teaching resources all over the internet on just about any topic you can think of. Needless to say I fully exploited these resources as soon as I found them.
Initially, I tried to teach lessons I’d planned entirely myself, but these often me standing at the front of the class and talking for an hour without really starting a dialogue with the class.
I’m sure this was quite boring.
The resources I found made the lessons I taught a lot more engaging and interesting for the classes, and I think they learned a lot more by asking and answering each other’s questions as well as presenting to their peers, than they would have by just listening to me talk about the supply chain of Nutella or how a what a credit score is used for.
A few of the classes I taught were entirely or almost exclusively female, so getting the class to answer my questions took a few weeks, but we got there. Classes where there was a more even split of boys and girls were more forthcoming and happy to ask and answer questions, which from a teacher’s perspective is a lifesaver. Having spent time in their shoes now, I have more sympathy with the professors at university who ask the class a really straightforward question, and are greeted by silence.
I was contracted to teach thirty hours of lessons altogether, and I ended up with a backlog of classes I had to catch up on towards the end of April and all of May. This meant that I could be teaching four hours or more on some weeks, in contrast to the one hour per week I was used to towards the beginning of the year. It’s not something you really think about as a student but if you want to teach a good class there’s a lot more planning that goes into it than you’d think. You can wing some lessons, especially if it’s material you’ve taught before; but any new materials (like tourism and marketing for me) take time to understand to a point where you’re able to lead a successful class on them.
Would I consider teaching as a future career? Probably not, at least not for the time being. I did find it really rewarding when you could see you’d explained something to a student and you can see in in their eyes as everything falls into place – it’s a really unique and powerful sense of satisfaction. However, the thought of doing this on a more than part-time basis is not appealing to me. Maybe there will be a point in my life in the future when I’ll reconsider; but I don’t think I’d be teaching English, and I’d prefer to teach older students who have a particular interest in what you’re teaching and are eager to learn. That’s all a long way away yet, and there’s a lot of stuff I want to do before I even give that any serious consideration.
That concludes my penultimate blog, the very last one will be out in a few days’ time. I’ll talk more broadly about the year as a whole, and about the benefits of having written this blog, or what I suppose are the benefits of just putting pen to paper and documenting your experiences.