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Updated: Apr 12

I’ve only had the opportunity to travel to Italy twice in my life. The first time when I was 16 as a graduation present from my grandparents and the second time when I was 21 when I decided to go teach English there one summer. While I had heard of many TEFL (teaching English as a foreign language) opportunities abroad throughout Asia, ACLE (Accademia Culturale Linguistica Educativa) was the first organization that I had heard of that was actually based out of Italy. The fact that I’m still talking about my time there, even about 8 years later, should tell you something. I have talked to SO many of my friends about my unbelievable summer with ACLE and I am super excited to share my experience with you here today.

Established over 35 years ago, ACLE is a non-profit organization that focuses on teaching English to Italian children through drama, songs, games and interactive learning (as opposed to the general method of teaching languages where you’re stuck sitting at a desk all day with teachers drilling you with grammar rules). ACLE recruits tutors from any English speaking country (like Canada, USA, South Africa, Australia, England and so on). While you must front the expense of getting to Italy, ACLE provides “study grants” (essentially payment) for your work with them while you’re there. The payments I made working for ACLE ended up covering my flight, after work 5 a 7 drinks and 2 weeks of travel (Venice, Verona, Abruzzo and Naples). I met people from all over the world and even though it’s been about 8 years since I’ve been to Italy or seen the friends that I made, I’m still in contact with many of them today!

The tutor program is organized by first holding orientation sessions throughout the summer for all new tutors (camp counselors) for one week and then assigning them to camps. My orientation session took place in San Remo (north Italy). Over 100 new tutors met and spent a week together learning the ACLE methodology and ways of teaching during that week of training. I was super nervous going into this because I knew that although I had a lot of enthusiasm (and positivity), I wasn’t an actual English teacher! My one week orientation session was absolutely amazing though. We were provided with everything we would need to teach, from workbooks to songs, activities and games. To this day, I can still remember some of the most popular ACLE songs! The week spent in San Remo was SO much fun and definitely a highlight of my entire trip.

Once orientation was over, we were assigned to our camps. Similar to what contestants experience in shows like the Amazing Race, we were given envelopes with our assignments. These assignments would include the information of where we were being sent, our train tickets, info on our host families and a few euros for a snack along the way (keep in mind that I attended the ACLE camps a long time ago so obviously things might have changed since then). It was always super exciting to receive our assignment envelopes to find out where we were going. While I stayed predominantly in the north of Italy, I had friends who traveled down throughout the country to places like Rome, Sorrento and even Sicily.

One of my favourite parts about the ACLE program was that we got to live with host families while we were there. At first, I was actually super nervous about this (and so was my mom) but this turned out to be one of my favourite parts! The first family I stayed with was in Roccafranca (about an hour from Milan) and had been hosting ACLE tutors for about 10 years at that point (essentially since their kids first started going to camp). They took three of us into their lovely home, giving us the whole top floor of the house as our bedroom. A gorgeous rustic construction, this family had chickens, pigs and other animals around. The entire family was extremely gracious and worked very hard at making all of us feel at home. We were lucky that they had an amazing daughter about our age, Chiara (who I am still in contact with today), who took us under her wing to show us around town and introduce us to all of her friends. I definitely miss this host family the most!

My second host family happened to belong to the principle of the school I was working at in Bergamo (also about an hour from Milan). This host-mom took in two tutors and was located walking distance to the camp. Located essentially downtown, this was a big change of scenery from my last home in the country-side. We were given a lot of independence during that week and we were able to explore the city quite a bit. I learned so much about historical Bergamo while I was there!

The last family I lived with was in Rovigo which is about an hour from Venice. This family had one younger daughter, Benedetta, who went to the ACLE camp as well as an older son. I really bonded with the mom of this host family during my time with them. She lent me a bicycle and we spent a few afternoons cycling through the town exploring. It was also thanks to her that I practiced driving a standard car for the first time (after a night out where she had one too many glasses of wine and needed me to drive us home!!). I remember spending many nights at the small town amusement festival, and even made friends with the bumper car operator.

These host families took the ACLE tutors in and truly treated them like family. Inviting them to meet their friends, attend festivals and parties and were genuinely curious to learn about our country, culture and customs. I still remember teaching my first host family about banana bread. They were so excited about this recipe that they had never heard about or tasted that they took me to the supermarket immediately to buy all of the ingredients to make it in their home. Something that was so simple, like banana bread, was so exciting and new for them. I absolutely loved it!

Of course, my ACLE adventure wouldn’t be complete without talking about the children I met their. Italian students are used to strict teachers and lecture-type teaching so it was so great to see their faces light up with excitement when I would tell them to push back all the desks so we could do an activity or play a game. ACLE really does have an amazing technique for teaching languages in a short amount of time. It makes sense though; if a student is having FUN while they are learning, they’ll retain more! I taught every age range from kindergarten level to grades 3-4 and even the senior class of 15 year olds. I went into this thinking I would only want to teach the smaller children but I ended up enjoying the older levels more because of the higher level of conversation and understanding.

Traveling through Italy that summer gave me such a boost of confidence in terms of my independence. Weekend trips to Venice and Verona, afternoon spritz at the local cafes/bars and friendships made world-wide. My only regret (thanks to my busy work schedule) is never going back and doing it again. Meeting so many like-minded, energetic and positive people for the summer honestly changed my life.

I clearly love talking about my summer teaching in Italy so if you have ANY questions, please do not hesitate to comment below or email me personally.

Se non ora, quando (if not now, then when)?

Keep smiling, Dee


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