Moving Forward in a Backward Manner – From Tour Guide to Student

Tea Time near the Duomo

After my recent post about leaving Bus2alps, I have been repeatedly pummeled with a single question: What now? Friends and family from home, friends here, and even some that I haven’t spoken to in ages want to know what is next in my non-traditional life. I wish I could tell you. But the fact is that it isn’t as easy as that. I can’t just blurt out an answer that will solve all of my problems. But I found a small, temporary solution for the time being.

Working with a student-travel company that has a customer base almost completely of american students, even though I have been living in the heart of Tuscany and dating a Florentine (for those of you that don’t know, though, Rami is absolutely fluent in English and sounds American – which doesn’t help my situation), my Italian speaking skills are male – aka “bad”. More like terrible. It has come to the point where my non-american friends immediately switch to English when I enter the conversation. Shop owners (if I don’t dress correctly) welcome me with “hello.” What a tragedy I am.

Because of this and because I now have time on my hands, I have decided to go back to school.

I set off one morning in the Italian sunshine with a simple list of language schools that I thought looked promising. Finding them is somewhat of a challenge at times, for the first few I entered were in old palaces – set on the upper levels of grand staircases that left me out of breath. I’d have to stop before the doorway and collect myself before going in (I also need to start going to the gym again if you haven’t noticed) – then decide if I was going to attempt to ask for information in Italian or English.

A few were boring – the women at the desk uninterested in me. Some lazily shoved papers across the counter with price lists, while others dragged their feet in true Italian lackadaisical fashion while I followed, peeking in the classrooms they motioned to on my “tour.” I wasn’t impressed and slightly nervous that I was expecting more than I could find. Rami was getting frustrated with me sitting around the house with nothing to do and knowing how much inactivity made me restless – even after only a week. I needed to find something.   The last school I looked at that day was the one I chose. Located near the church of Santa Croce, Parola is a small language school that just so happened to be referred to me by my friend, Jess Dante, who now runs The Abroad Guide. Because it was later in the day, the school was quiet when I walked through the door, but a man was behind the desk, speaking with another potential student in rapid Italian.

My speaking Italian is a catastrophe, but my understanding has gotten significantly better in the past year so I could understand down to what type of classes she was asking about, but whenever she walked out the door and he turned to me, I faltered.

Voglio…lo stesso…di lei,” I pieced together – and even though that isn’t remotely correct for numerous reasons, he smiled and began the conversation in Italian – which, as a respect thing, made me feel better. It’s like when you let a toddler dress themselves for school. Probably can’t do it, probably will come out with a tutu, two left shoes, and a belt around their face, but they want to try and feel important so you let them struggle until they decide to ask for help. He continued with Italian for a bit but then did transfer over to English once it was understood I couldn’t possibly ask the questions I wanted to ask in Italian. He explained that I could begin a class within the week if I wanted to, and told me that it would be 490 Euro for a month-long group class with lessons Monday through Friday for four hours a day. When I asked why this was so inexpensive compared to the other schools I had looked at, he grinned and shook his head.

“We aren’t trying to push up prices just because we can,” he shrugged as he did the chin-jut that most Italians do when words seem to fail for a situation. If you want a demonstration, I’ve found myself doing it at times as well. Body language Italian is another whole class in itself, though I believe it is much easier to pick up. He introduced himself then as the director of the school, Simone, and said he had even taught in Boston College for a few years.

“We’ve kept the same prices for years because we can afford to,” he said. “It also allows our classes to be full. We don’t want to offer a class, and then not be able to fill it. We’re here for you; we’re not going to take your money just because you expect higher prices in Florence.”

He persuaded me to take the evaluation test right there, even though the school was officially closed for the day. As I struggled through the questions, mumbling apologies the entire time over my shoulder that this was the first test I had taken in three years, he was very patient and simply waited for me to finish. He told me I was an advanced beginner and that I should start class the next day.

After that interaction, with genuine care about me enrolling in his school, and even though I was out at a club until four in the morning that Monday, I dragged myself to school last Tuesday at 8:45 and began a pretty intensive course that involves two hours of grammar, and then two hours of conversation. I couldn’t be happier.

Though I’ve talked up the school so far, and the first few days have gone extremely well, I’ll wait until I finish the program before I review it fully on here. Hopefully after a few more weeks, I’ll be able to at least begin to insert myself in the Italian conversations that happen in front of me every day.

This week has been a little hectic with the World Championship Cycling Races being held outside my window and I’ll try to write a post about that a little later, as well as a follow up as to my plan for life after my class is up. Because obviously a month long class doesn’t really fix my long-term predicament. But for now, I’m focusing on parole or “words” for a bit.

**Thank you to everyone who has supported me through the past couple of weeks (nevermind years) and helped me with their advice, or simply just listening to my stories and complaints. You don’t know how much it means to me. And of course, a special shout out to my Mum, brother Ned, close friends here and at home, and Rami. Without you, I’d just be empty words on a page.

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Summer is a’comin!

The street musicians are back in the cities and the coastlines are warming up, flowers are blooming and outdoor seating in the piazzas is popping up as quickly as the tulips; summer is coming, and Europeans couldn’t be more excited.  Stepping off the plane for a summer in Europe is exciting, stupendous, astounding, breathtaking, and sometimes a little annoying because of things you may miss from home – but seriously, it’s guaranteed to be one of the best summers of your life.

The heat of the summer is inevitable in Europe – especially in Italy, and other more southern areas. Regardless of where you are, there are ways to beat the head (even if you don’t have AC where you’re staying). Eat lots of frozen treats – granitas and gelato in Italy, for example. Have a fruit smoothie with locally grown fruits. Staying hydrated isn’t usually a problem in the cities (or even the little towns like Interlaken, Switzerland) because of the numerous water fountains located around the area. Some, like the one in Piazza Signioria in Florence, even have sparkling water as an option. This water is either glacial or at least pretty cold and much better than spending your money on bottled. Take advantage of it.

Also, make sure you stroll at night – when the city comes alive after the sun has set. Dress up for it and sit outside the bars or in the outdoor seating areas in restaurants (no open container laws usually!) and enjoy the summer night surrounded by the beauty of Europe. Take the high road and go to a vantage point above the cities as well. Most illuminate their most coveted monuments so a view of the cities at night is just as beautiful, if not more so than the day. Plus, the heat has resided so you may even enjoy yourself a little more. *Side note – in some cities at night, the mosquitoes are out. Prepare yourself by bringing repellant or at least a lotion to cool the bites afterwards!

Make sure to hit the beach at some point. Most Europeans do during the summer to beat the heat as well. Difference is – most beaches are paid here – meaning you throw a couple Euros their way, and you get to be treated like royalty with beach lounge chairs and your own umbrella. Usually this cost also includes showers (because the seas are pretty salty here) and sometime of changing area and food shack. Though different, it’s cool to feel welcome and fit in on a beach here. If you really miss just lying on the sand with your towel, you usually still can on a small area of “free beach” but it definitely isn’t as nice as the others.

But most of all, experience the European lifestyle as it is in the best season to see it – when everything is bustling and booming, and the European citizens are happy that the long winter is over. What you may miss with barbeques and Fouth of July parties, you’ll get back with food festivals in piazzas and beauty that is insurmountable. Good Luck with the flight over, and we’ll see you in the city!