Pillbox

Tales from abroad: Italy

Houle announces the winners of the Mini Olympics competition during the Massa Lubrense camp final show. (credit: Courtesy of Robert Houle) Houle announces the winners of the Mini Olympics competition during the Massa Lubrense camp final show. (credit: Courtesy of Robert Houle) The writer with campers in Roseto degli Abruzzi, outside the school where the camp was held. (credit: Courtesy of Robert Houle) The writer with campers in Roseto degli Abruzzi, outside the school where the camp was held. (credit: Courtesy of Robert Houle) Houle and fellow tutors dressed up for a tutor performance of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” in Massa Lubrense.  (credit: Courtesy of Robert Houle) Houle and fellow tutors dressed up for a tutor performance of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” in Massa Lubrense. (credit: Courtesy of Robert Houle)

“Arrive in San Remo, Italy by 6 p.m. June 1 with minimal traveling luggage.” These were the instructions I received upon my acceptance as an English tutor with the Associazione Culturale Linguistica Educational (A.C.L.E.), based in northern Italy.

The organization was looking for young native English speakers from around the world to spend a summer leading camps for Italian children throughout the country. Although I have studied Italian at Carnegie Mellon for the past five semesters, the organization preferred to have students not familiar with the Italian language in order to force the children to practice their English skills. After one week of orientation aimed at familiarizing the tutors with interactive learning, we were broken into smaller groups and sent by train to towns somewhere in Italy.

At the train station, tutors were received by the camp director for that week. At that time, the tutors would be informed of their housing situation. I was fortunate to experience many different types of living situations. For my first camp, I got to live with a family in a house close to the school where the camp was held. The first night, I was introduced to the entire family — the mother, father, daughter, aunt, uncle, grandparents, and cousins — for an elaborate dinner authentic to Abruzzo.

The next week, my fellow tutors and I were given keys to a flat, right on the beach. Although I didn’t get my meals cooked by an Italian grandmother or have my clothes washed that week, every afternoon after camp was a relaxing evening on the beach with my new friends.

When I thought that I had found paradise, I was met with the biggest surprise of the summer. Week three had me staying in a five-star resort on the Sorrento coastline, overlooking the beautiful island of L’Isola di Capri. Beyond the delicious food we had for lunch and dinner in the restaurant attached to the resort, our resort apartment had a theater setup, three bedrooms, two bathrooms, and a kitchen. There was nothing better than sitting by the pool with a book after camp and watching the sunset over the water. It was all too good to be true; the organization paid for travel expenses, living expenses, and would pay each tutor a couple hundred euro each week for their work.

I use the word “work” very loosely when describing my summer experience. Each morning would begin with greeting the campers (who ranged from six to 16 years old) and a group game, song, or warm up. After that, the campers would break into their smaller “classes,” where the tutors would lead a lesson on a grammatical topic. Lunch was served in a cafeteria and lasted anywhere from one to two hours. After lunch we would once again break into smaller groups and work on “Show Practice.” Every Friday, the campers would put on a short show in English for parents and community members. The show was a great way to get each camper involved and comfortable speaking in English. I hate to admit it, but sometimes I would feel sentimental after working with an incredibly talented or endearing group of campers.
Students in any discipline would benefit from the experience I was able to enjoy. Although tutoring Italian children in English has next to nothing to do with my information systems major, I was able to fully immerse myself in a foreign culture. The tutors I worked with and befriended came from countries all around the world: England, Scotland, Ireland, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada are only some of the countries that sent tutors to the program. Eventually I adapted to talking with someone from Britain by describing where I go to “uni” and what I study.

By living with Italian families, it is possible to see the country from an Italian perspective. One week, I stayed with a top-rated chef in the Brescia region and ate the most expensive, delicious meal of my life at Vittorio’s elite restaurant with him and his family.

If you are interested in pursuing a similar experience, feel free to e-mail me at rh@cmu.edu or visit the A.C.L.E. website at www.acle.org.