Jaclyn Drapeau - 2014 Program Participant

Two friends eating at a restaurant in Italy

Italian food is the best.

Why did you decide to apply for an international program?

I have always had an incredible longing to visit many countries in Europe which house incredible beauty and history. During the latter half of my senior year in college, I decided to procrastinate on writing a research paper and research backpacking through Europe and other such trips instead. I thought that traveling would be the ultimate present to myself; I could celebrate my graduation by seeing Europe.

Unfortunately, I quickly realized that all my friends were married, and I had no travel buddy willing to go with me. I wanted to travel so badly, but I was under the impression that it would be incredibly difficult to go abroad alone. Also, though I was considering teaching, I wasn’t ready to commit to more school for something that I wasn’t sure I truly wanted to do.

During this crazy time, I came across the teaching assistant/language tutor opportunity from InterExchange. It seemed like the culmination of all my hopes and desires: a program that would provide me with a little teaching experience and the opportunity to travel. Actually, it seemed too good to be true because it offered more than just the opportunity to travel. Because I would be living in Italy for three months, it also offered true intercultural experience, not just a ten day blast through the past. It was exactly what I was looking for, so I decided to apply.

Why did you choose InterExchange?

As I stated above, I chose the program through InterExchange because of how much it offered. I would get to live with an Italian family and truly experience the culture. I would have the weekends free to run around the country. Forgive the cliché, but it sounded like a once in a lifetime opportunity.

Naturally, I wanted to be smart and careful about going abroad. InterExchange had great reviews and offered support to its participants. My parents even researched the program themselves and had to admit that it looked like a smart choice. InterExchange also had Italy as a choice for the teaching assistant program, and Italy was a country that I dreamed about seeing in person.

View of Florence, Italy

One of my favorite cities: Florence

What was your favorite part about the location of your placement?

When I first read that the program placements would be in the Marche region, I thought, “Where is that?”, and honestly, that is the reaction that every American I speak with has. We all generally know about the big-name cities, like Rome, Milan, Florence, and Naples, but anything beyond that is unknown to us Americans for the most part. That quality is my favorite part about the location.

I like to say that Marche is the little-known gem of Italy. It is indescribably gorgeous with its lush green rolling hills, ancient hill-top towns, and proximity to the Adriatic Sea. I am so thankful that the program places us participants in that region, because I’m not sure many of us would see much of it unless we happened to pass through it by train. There are so many events, restaurants, and sceneries to take advantage of in Marche. Its’ beauty cannot be overstated.

What made your program experience unique?

I haven’t participated in any other programs. But I don’t know of many programs that give you up to a  ten week stay and place you with a family that gives you room, board, and cultural experiences. They also place you with an Italian school that could have students preschool-age up to middle school-age. They typically place their participants all over the Marche region, also providing them with contact information for other tutors who are nearby.

How did local staff support you throughout your program?

They emailed us every so often to ask how things were going. The head representative in the area also tried to meet up with every participant. I learned that I was within walking distance of the InterExchange and International Experience “headquarters,” if you will. If I had ever needed anything, I knew where to go, but things went very smoothly.

What's one thing you wish you would have done differently?

I wish I had cooked more with my family! I love culinary arts. My family would tell me about certain dishes, but we never got around to making them. I didn’t really bring back any recipes from my family. I have since looked things up online, but it would have been nice to learn from them and build a better connection.

On the topic of connections, I also wish I had networked a bit better with the Italian friend I made that spoke English. It was hard for me to travel around Fermo because I didn’t actually live in Fermo, but in a suburb at the bottom of the hill. The ride situation was difficult at times, but had I only tried a little bit harder, I might have experienced more.

Girl holding a glass of wine in Tuscany, Italy

Wine in Tuscany

Describe a day in your life in Italy.

I’ll describe a Wednesday since that was my long day at the school. Most days, I had to be at school by 9 a.m., which meant that I had to be at the bus stop 8:35 a.m. On Wednesdays, it was a little different because my first class wasn’t until 10 a.m. After taking the bus, I would get to school by 10 a.m. and head to my first class, where I would either teach on a PowerPoint presentation on some aspect of American culture or language or follow whatever the teacher of the class had for me to do. Some teachers were content to translate, if needed, while others had me act as more of a supplementary aid.

I had classes until 1 p.m., when we headed to the cantina for lunch. Wednesday was the only day that I stayed at school for lunchtime. I would take turns eating lunch with one of two classes; the other class would be sure to remind me that it was their turn the next week. After lunch, I would meet a couple of Italian teachers for a quick coffee (espresso) from the machine before we all headed to our separate classes.

I had three more classes after lunch, so school didn’t end until 4:45 p.m. on Wednesdays. After most school days, I usually took the bus home, but on Wednesdays, Maura, the head English teacher, always drove me home to Campiglione even though she lived in Fermo. I can’t describe to you how much I loved this lively lady. She also has a love for food, and would often take me for pizza or gelato after school. When I got home, I tried to squeeze in a run, but I usually left my running of those incredibly torturous hills for Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays.

Afterward, I would sit at the table and chat with my host sisters and play games in English (they were BIG fans of “Go-Fish”). Other days, we would go play at the park near their house. Dinner usually came around 7 p.m or later, and we all would eat while sitting and talking or watch the news or game shows. Then, we all retired to our rooms, and I would use that time to research for school or my upcoming travels.

What did you enjoy doing on your free time?

Oh, definitely the traveling. I loved my work at the school, but I lived for the weekends when I got to explore other cities of Italy. I thoroughly enjoyed meeting up with other girls at train stations or in our destination cities, finding our hostels, and setting out into the city until we had to go home on Sunday. Traveling has left me with so many memories, hilarious, frustrating, and lovely.

What was your housing like? What did you like best about it? 

I live in a house with a family: a mother, grandmother, and two little girls. The father visited often, but did not live there (this is an atypical placement situation). The house was in a quiet little neighborhood that existed to house people that worked in Fermo, so it was not very far away if you had a car. But I had to rely heavily on the bus system, which made getting around and traveling harder than it otherwise might have been.

What I liked most about my accommodation situation was that the grandmother lived with her family, which is common in Italy. I appreciated seeing how close the children were with their grandmother. Some of my favorite memories are the conversations I had with Nonna, who spoke no English. Sometimes, I would be the only one home to have dinner with Nonna, and I got to practice understanding Italian while finding out more about her.

Now that you're home, how has your time abroad impacted your life?

I wrote a lengthy blog post on this subject soon after I came home because of how much I felt I had gained from this program. Not a day goes by when I don’t think of Italy and the people I met there. Different experiences pop into my mind daily, and I am forever being reminded to be thankful for the opportunity I had to fly across the Atlantic and have the time of my life. I’m in a grand transitional stage in life right now, and I firmly believe that going abroad was the best decision I could have made to start that transition off.

The trip was about learning in so many different ways. It is impossible to experience what I did and come away without being profoundly impacted.

A view of Marche, Italy

View of Marche from the school

I learned five important things:

  1. I am capable of more than I ever thought possible. Being abroad alone forces you to be extremely independent, and I’m more confident because of it.
  2. Travel is not a bug that you have to get out of your system. People talk like it is; like it’s something you do once, and you won’t want to do again. False. I’m a traveler, and this traveling and intercultural experience only serves to make me crave more traveling and intercultural experiences.
  3. I struggle with who I am, but appreciate it at the same time. I came across many personalities in a three-month span. In my experience, it seemed like a vast majority of the young people that traveled abroad had big, extroverted personalities. I had always wanted to force myself to be more outgoing, talkative, and attractive. I learned that being introverted doesn’t mean I’m not outgoing. I also learned that being reserved is a good thing, and I don’t want to change who I am.
  4. I’m good at adapting. For someone who doesn’t like change, I do surprisingly well at it. Actually, I would say that I thrive in it. I’m no longer afraid of change, because I know it means adventure.
  5. I am inspired to continue learning. During my time at the school, with the family, and around Italy in general, I was inspired around every corner. I came home wanting to dust off my piano skills, continue learning Italian, and read more about Pompeii. Because of my experience teaching there, I am now a substitute teacher while I work on applying to graduate schools.
I haven’t forgotten my resolutions. Italy impacts me months after I left her. I also left Italy having made lifelong friends. I still keep in contact with my host family. I am also in touch with a couple of my traveling partners; we talk all the time. I could go on and on. I am so fortunate to be able to have had that once in a lifetime opportunity. Never once have I regretted my decision to apply for this program and experience Italy. On the contrary, I’m plotting my return.