Sunday, October 21, 2012

This week has been a good week

On Monday I thought I'd cursed it all by saying how brilliant the weather has been, and it got all cold and windy and stormy and a little bit scary. It wasn't the thunder and lightning     that freaked me out, that doesn't bother me, but the way the balcony doors were shaking and rattling made me wonder if they'd last until morning or if I was going to wake up with my bed covered in glass and splinters. Obviously this building has been here a LOT longer than I have, so really there was no reason to hide with my head under the covers all night.
When I woke up on Tuesday morning the weather was back to its full glory, sunshine and blue skies and 25 degrees, and it was almost like I'd made the whole thing up.
I don't have much to report from school this week. Week 3 played out pretty much the same as the first 2 weeks. I still feel like a giant talking dictionary in some classes, where I just sit  in the corner and every so often I'm asked how to pronounce a certain word. It is getting better though, and I’m gradually getting more chances to talk with the students, and try to explain (awful) grammatical aspects of the English language, for example, the phonetic differences between "fell", "fill", and "feel" - completely different meanings, but some students were pronouncing them exactly the same. I suspect most of them still are.

The big, exciting part of my week was Wednesday afternoon, when I discovered that I'd been waiting over a month for Orange to unlock my phone for NO GOOD REASON, because it was
already unlocked. So, off I skipped, (literally), to the nearest phone shop that I could think of to buy an Italian sim card. I realise that this doesn't exactly come across as all that exciting, but it really is. Now that I have 3G on my phone, I don't have to run down to the beach every time I want to check my emails. This is particularly handy because the lidos have all closed down for the 'winter' and there IS no wifi. In the absence of free wifi on the beach, having 3G on my phone also means that I don't have to turn up on Cettina's doorstep every afternoon, just so I can check facebook/check my emails/ call my mum. She says she doesn't mind, but I can't help but feel it's a bit intrusive to turn
up at 3pm every day, laptop/phone in hand, so I can call my mum and then if Cettina so much as mentions the word 'mum' afterwards I get all watery-eyed and blink at her a lot. This is not really how I want to spend my afternoons here in Sicily, and I can't help but suspect Cettina feels the same way. SO now, I have 100mb of data coverage with which I can do whatever I like each day, for only 5 euros a month. Most of this has so far gone on facebook and Skype, which is great, it means that I can keep in touch with everyone back home without going on some wild trek around Cefalu, searching for internet access. I will appreciate it all the more if this mythical 'winter' ever actually arrives, and I don't have to leave my cosy bed to update my status and tell the world that it is, in fact, 'reeeally bloody cold'. This may be a moot point however, because I honestly don't believe it ever gets cold here.

Another highlight of my week (that is also a bit less nerdy than the previous section) was Thursday evening. After I got home from school on Thursday, I fell asleep for hours, and ended up waking up at around 5pm, feeling terrible that I'd wasted a whole afternoon of sunshine and potential beach opportunity. So I decided that to make up for wasting so much time I would go for a wander around the old town with my camera, while the light was still good, and try to get some nice photos (a couple of which I will try to include here).

 I left the flat and headed towards the cathedral, but found it impossible to take any photographs of said cathedral that didn't have tourists blundering into the shot, or without beggars coming up to me, which, (and this might sound terrible), always makes me nervous when I'm on my own, especially when I've got my camera/phone/purse out in my hand.

I gave up on the cathedral and ended up walking towards the marina. I (rather unsuccessfully) tried to take some decent photos of the lighthouse, (curse you, shaky shaky hands), and walked all the way along the road above the marina, fairly certain that if I carried on that way I would go right around the rock and back into town. After about half an hour of walking along this road, in the darkness, (because the sun had definitely gone down by now), silently convincing myself that I would probably be kidnapped or murdered or run over, I reached the turning in the road that led back to Cefalu. Only, it was JUST a road, no sign of a pavement, and the road narrowed to pitch blackness about 50 metres from where I was. Obviously I had to turn back.

All the way past the marina I convinced myself I couldn't look down because then I'd see something I wasn't supposed to see and then I'd end up "sleepin' with the fishes", so I pretty much power-walked all the way back into the familiar territory of the old town.

Back in the old town, I managed to get a snap of the cathedral (which is not the friendliest-looking building, notice the slits in the walls for shooting arrows out of?) while a man on a scooter tried to run me over. By the time I got home it was only about half 7, but it had felt like the dead of the night, walking around on my own out there.

I'm sure there was no danger at all, but I properly spooked myself, and when I got home I realised I'd got about 15 massive mosquito bites for my troubles. I did manage to get a couple of decent photos on this mini-adventure, and I guess I've got a lot of time to practice while I'm here. I think I might just stick to getting my camera out during the day while I'm on my own though.

Hopefully my Erasmus grant will come through this week, so that I can go on a wee adventure to Palermo, (and also, so that I can pay my rent, which would be very useful). Cefalù is lovely, but it’s SO SMALL, so I definitely want to get out and explore more of Sicily. Next week (the week where October turns into November), there’s a 4-day school holiday, so I will investigate bus/train timetables and go on at least one trip to somewhere new. Right now I feel like I’ve got all the time in the world to go exploring, but I know that if I carry on thinking like that it’ll get to May and I won’t have been anywhere! It’s been a month already, and it’s flown by! As much as I miss my road bike, because in theory it would be great for exploring, I don’t think that I’d get that much use out of it here, because the roads are so twisty and narrow, and the Sicilians drive like absolute nutters. And the thought of hoiking it up all those scarily steep stairs every time I wanted to go out just makes me feel sad. You’d have to see these stairs to understand, each of them is higher than it is deep, and you honestly have to be some kind of mountain goat just to get up to the flat without tripping or clinging onto the banister. I have no idea how I’ll get my suitcase down when I go home at Christmas - I might have to get some rope and lower it down from the balcony (not even joking).

It's Sunday today, which is my day off, and I really want to go up the rock, but I think I may have left it too late in the day now, as it's nearly 1pm now, and I don't want to evaporate halfway up. I think I’ll save it for one of the holiday-days at the end of the month. I might just have to go to the beach today instead; it’s too hot to do anything else.

Finally – at least 2 different people have gone down the road outside my flat on segways since I started writing this. In fact, I think they’re going round in big loops, along the seafront and back round. I’m sure this is not normal.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

New Beginnings

I always start blogs and diaries with the best intentions, thinking I will update it weekly, and add photographs, and make an interesting record of my life.

However, as in almost everything I do, my innate capacity for procrastination, (and a sense that my daily life in Glasgow, centered almost entirely around trying not to be late for Italian lectures and peddling shoe protector in Clarks, does not exactly make for a riveting read), has led me to neglect this page for a very long time.

As I mentioned in the (rather lonely) previous post, last Autumn as I began my second year at university, I applied for the post of English Language Assistant (ELA) in Italy for the following academic year (October 2012 – May 2013). I don’t think I really expected to get anywhere with the application, but not knowing what I wanted to do after university, (or even for my honours subjects), I figured I didn’t have anything to lose.

As anyone reading this will know, (maybe all 3 of you, at a push??), I was successful in my application, and I have been sent to the beautiful town of Cefalù, in Sicily, to work for 8 months as an ELA.

When I was first offered the placement, it took quite a long time to sink in. I didn’t really think I’d be going anywhere, and had pretty much resigned myself to single honours English, and I was quite happy with that. Then I found out that I was going to Sicily for the best part of a year, and realised just how underprepared I was. Thus ensued three months of blind panic, putting pretty much everything I own into a friend’s attic for safe storage, (THANK YOU KAREN), and trying to figure out what aspects of British Culture I could possibly impart unto these young, impressionable Italian students (so far, it seems that a Dr. Who DVD and a street map of Glasgow will suffice*).
*Oh, and if any other ELAs or anyone from the British Council happens to read this, that was a JOKE.

I arrived in Sicily 3 weeks ago today, emotional at having said farewell to my parents, feeling cramped and irrationally angry after a 3-hour flight with Ryanair, and ridiculously conspicuous with my bright pink suitcase. Can I just say that I HATE travelling? I love getting to know a new town, and I love being in different places, but I harbour a full-body hatred for the bit in-between.

The first thing that struck me about Sicily was the HEAT. This was mostly because there wasn’t an awful lot more to notice stuck in an underground railway station at the airport. I managed to buy my train ticket and get on the train, feeling very obvious and English the whole time, and when the train reached Palermo Centrale, there was no announcement of the fact, and I couldn’t even see a sign to assure me that I was, in fact, in Palermo, but it just seemed to be taken for granted that anyone going to Palermo would know that they were in Palermo, by sixth-sense or something.

After an hour’s wait, and then an extra 20 minutes because, hey, this is Sicily, and it’s a Sunday, so really you’re lucky to be getting anywhere, I was finally on my way to Cefaù. On my way to Cefalù on a train with no lights, and on which only half of the external doors were functioning. But I was on my way. Again, there was no announcement of our arrival in Cefalù, and it was only the very helpful man sitting across the aisle from me that gave me any idea that I had made it to my destination, but I scrambled off the train, dragging my big pink suitcase behind me, into the welcoming arms of 2 of the teachers I will be working with here, Enza and Cettina.

Having spent the whole day on the verge of tears, (did I mention I HATE travelling?), it was so comforting to be met off the train, by these 2 ladies with whom I had only communicated via email up until this point, but who both acted as if my arrival could only be topped by, say, William and Kate suddenly getting off the train behind me. We all bundled into Enza’s waiting car, and as they drove me through the town to my flat (did I mention that Cettina is also my landlady here? I have definitely fallen on my feet with this assistantship), I could hardly answer their barrage of questions, because I was too busy gawping out the window at my new home.

After dragging my suitcase up 3 flights of the steepest stairs I have ever seen in my life, Cettina took me to her house, and fed me until I was full to bursting (seriously, Sicilians are the friendliest, kindest people I have ever encountered), and I then returned to the flat to acquaint myself with the place where I will live for the next 8 months.

Waking up the next morning and stepping out onto my balcony (MY balcony) for the first time was the best feeling EVER. When I arrived on the Sunday evening it had been too dark to distinguish anything other than the dark shapes of the hills and a slight glimmer of the sea. I hope I can add a photo to this post, because I don’t think that I can do justice to the view. Rugged green hills with tiny toy houses peeking out from between the trees, and clear blue ocean for as far as the eye can see – this is a view that makes every morning worth getting out of bed for.

Cefalù itself is a lovely town, a big mix of old and new, characterised by the innumerable scooters zipping up and down the narrow streets of the Città Vecchia (Old Town). Wandering around, (and getting lost), I realised that it is a very friendly place. Living in Gibraltar I always found that if you don’t speak Spanish, some people want very little to do with you, and make no effort to try and understand you, but it is a completely different story here. I’m the first to admit that my Italian is far from perfect, but going into shops, or buying fruit from a stall in the street, I feel that my efforts are appreciated, and everyone is always very happy to help.

In my first week here, I spent a LOT of time on the beach. My excuse is that it is one of the few places I can get online for free, and so, I really HAD to go there, in order to check my emails and keep in touch with everyone back home. But also, I wanted to get a tan. It’s the 14th of October now, and the weather is still incredible. I think there have been 2 bad days of weather out of 20 since I got here, so after a ‘summer’ in Glasgow, this is paradise.

A week after I arrived I started working. While I’m here I will work between two schools, a ‘Liceo Classico’ and an ‘Alberghiera’. The former gives a more formal education, while the latter provides students with the education needed to enter the hospitality industry. As the teachers and many of the students from the Liceo will be in England for most of October, I am spending my first month at the Alberghiera.

There seems to be a fair amount of snobbery, with staff and students from the Liceo telling me that I’ll have my work cut out for me at the Alberghiera, as the students are more disruptive and less academic. Whilst I don’t yet have any experience at the Liceo to compare it to, after 2 weeks at the Alberghiera I feel that this is mostly based on prejudice. From what I can tell, the students I have worked with are a lot livelier than their counterparts in the other school, but so far I have been treated with respect, and I have also been told that students look forward to having me in their class. Maybe it’s just because I’m new and foreign, and I’m not involved in disciplining the students, and maybe the novelty will wear off, but I have never felt more welcomed and accepted as the ‘new girl’ as I have in my first 2 weeks working here.

Within about 3 days of starting at the Alberghiera, I’ve been unable to nip to the shops, or go for a walk without having students coming up to me to say hello, or calling my name across the street. I know that it’s still all new and exciting, and maybe it’s just that the novelty hasn’t worn off for me yet, but Sicily, and specifically, Cefalù, is the friendliest place I have ever lived.

By no means is it all perfect here. I miss my family terribly, and on more than one occasion have my parents received messages asking them to call me only for me to answer the phone making squeaking noises and sniffles as if a vole has learned to use the phone.

I miss Glasgow too. I miss my sister, I miss having all of my things to hand, and I miss British television! I miss my friends, I miss the shops, I miss the 24 hour Tesco and I miss Heinz baked beans. I miss having a washing machine – washing everything you ever wear by hand is no joke. And I miss making cakes! There is no oven in my little flat, so everything I cook has to be made on the hob, which means no cakes! I will have to make up for this at Christmas.

I have so much time on my hands here too. The ELA contract is for 12 hours per week in the classroom, and I am obviously expected to research and plan for lessons outside of this. Even so, I have more free time than I have had since I was in primary school! I’ve had time to read whatever I like, and go to the beach, and go for walks and take photos, and it’s been lovely. It’s like being on a really long holiday, but I don’t have to feel guilty for doing so little, because 6 days a week, I have to get up and go and teach for 2 hours!

In the last couple of days I’ve been allowed to pretty much take over classes on my own. They were just simple lessons, like teaching second-year students to tell the time in English, and there is always a teacher present to make sure everything goes smoothly, but I really enjoyed it, and the classes seemed to pay attention, which makes me think that they enjoyed it too. I wasn’t sure about teaching when I first applied for the assistantship; I’ve always thought of it as an option, but I didn’t know if I’d enjoy it, or if I’d actually be any good at it. Now it’s seeming more and more like something I could see myself doing.

Okay, so I just did a word-count, and I’m getting close to 2000 words. How is it that I can knock out that much without trying when it’s drivel, but when it comes to writing essays I struggle from one word to the next? Anyway, if you’re still reading, thanks for sticking with me. I’ll write again soon.