I have recently been interested in exploring other countries and cultures, specifically after my best friends came home from a semester abroad in India. I wanted something that would put me out of my comfort zone and allow me to discover how vast the world is around me.
Why did you choose A.C.L.E?
I discovered A.C.L.E. through the help of my career center at college and my own research. At first glance, it all seemed too good to be true; was it really possible that I could live abroad in Italy, live with host families, travel to different parts of the country, teach English through theatre, and receive a study grant for my work?! It was a dream come true.
I fell in love with both the professionalism of the company and their devotion to making a difference in the lives of children and young adults from around the world.
What was your favorite part about Italy?
I immediately gravitated toward the rich culture and history of Italy. Every street is filled with beautiful architecture and natural landmarks. I could spend days walking around the same city, because at every turn there was something new to find.
The food...oh the food. I can't begin to describe how incredible the food was around Italy. What made the cuisine even more special was how it differed from region to region. From pasta to pizza, I couldn't get enough.
Italy felt like home. My host families were just that, family. They were warm and inviting, and made sure that I was always taken care of. They shared with me their culture and allowed me to share with them mine.
What made your experience abroad unique?
A.C.L.E. is a company that sees the value of allowing someone to explore all parts of Italy, and they made it possible to both work and travel throughout my summer abroad. I would work in a city for one of two weeks at a time, at which time I would be moved to a completely different area around Italy, depending on where I was needed. I was able to see the beauty of both the North and South of Italy, and I had the chance to visit cities that I otherwise would not have had the privilege of seeing if it weren't for A.C.L.E. and their desire for me to truly witness all Italy has to offer.
How did local staff support you throughout your program?
The staff was professional from the beginning to the end. They made it a priority to make sure that I was well-informed and comfortable along the way. If I had any questions or concerned, I knew that I could rely on them for support and guidance. The staff does an incredible amount of work in such a short time period. They are organized and are knowledgeable about what works well to succeed in their goals. I greatly admire them for all they have down and continue to do for the organization.
What's one thing you wish you would have done differently?
If there is anything that I wish I would have done differently, it would have been to plan pre- and post- program travel plans. I left for the United States the day after my last camp ended, which I believe was a mistake. I wish I would have taken some time to enjoy Italy one last time before my departure.
Now that I am home, I miss Italy every day and think about everything I have witnessed and experienced constantly. It isn't that I think having more time to explore would have changed the nostalgia I feel now, but I honestly can say I could live and explore the beautiful Italy forever, and I wish I would have taken more time to do so.
Describe a typical day in the life of your program.
My job consisted of teaching English to children through hands-on games, songs, and activities that were engaging, energetic, and educational. Each morning the tutors would teach kids fun and silly English songs to the children in what we call a "morning circle". It was a great way to get the children motivated and moving, and provided a lot of laughs and bonding between tutors and children.
The rest of the morning would typically be individuals lessons lead by tutors based on the age level that were teaching for that week. In these lessons, children would learn about English grammar, vocabulary, etc., through specific themes for their level (for example, the levels and themes I taught were Level 1: Circus, Level 3: Courageous Knight, Level 5: Secret Agents).
In the afternoons, there would typically be large group games and activities, such as something A.C.L.E. calls "Tribal Games". During Tribal Games, levels were mixed into teams and teams competed throughout the week in various games that would earn their team points. There was also the ability to have excursions and water game days based on the desires of the camp director.
On the last Friday of camp, there would be a final show for the parents, in which the children would perform small plays and songs to showcase what they learned and loved from the week.
What did you enjoy doing in your free time?
In my free time, I was able to connect with the other tutors for an occasional (or more than occasional) gelato, spend time with my host family, who would often go out of their way to show me their city or the nearest larger city, and would spend many weekends taking day trips to surrounding cities that I wouldn't otherwise have had the opportunity to see. I had more free time than I originally thought I would, which was nice because kids wear you out fast! It was nice to able to unwind with my friends or my host family during the nights and weekends.
How did you like staying with host families in Italy? What did it add to your overall experience?
I absolutely loved staying with host families; I had the best experience staying with loving and welcoming families who wanted to show me their cultures and in turn wanted to learn about mine. In most cases, host families are the family of a child who is going to the camp that participants work at for the week. This was a great way to connect with the children in a different environment that was more laid-back and casual. In every case, I had families that were pleased to have me, and made sure that all of my needs were taken care of. They always made sure that I was comfortable and was enjoying my stay, which made me feel at home right away.
What is one thing every participant should know before participating in your program?
Don't be afraid to let go! It was scary for me, as someone who was traveling abroad for the first time, and I think that got the best of me in the beginning. I wish I would have internally accepted the experience a little sooner. It is overwhelming, and that is okay. But it is important to learn to grow from being out of your comfort zone and being put in situations that are very new.
Every day is a learning experience! When you can let your guard down enough to see the amazing places around you, you forget how scary everything can seem, and instead begin to enjoy the beauty of it all.
Now that you're home, how has your time in Italy impacted your life?
As cliche as it sounds, I see the world differently. I notice just how vastly different we tend to do or approach things in the United States. It really is a different world here. Especially with the election this year, my time abroad has made me realize how much the world watches the United States; all eyes are on us. For good or for ill, our music, movies, and our social fads are often followed by other countries. I don't think we often realize just how much we influence the world around us. I now realize the impact of we have and continue to promote our country.
Would you recommend your program to others? Why?
If you want to have the best time of your life, I recommend this program for you. I have made memories and friends for life, and my time traveling abroad and solely relying on myself in new and uncomfortable situations has led me to learn an incredible amount about just who I am as a person. Thank you A.C.L.E. for this opportunity, and for your love of sharing Italy with the world!
Andy is a senior theater major at Gustavus Adolphus College in Saint Peter, Minnesota, where he is also minoring in gender, women, and sexuality studies as well as arts administration. He has been working with children for two years and enjoys being able to combine his love for theater and working with children. Andy’s trip to Italy was his first time truly traveling abroad, and he loved it!