The Puglia Diaries

The thrills and spills of a British Council Language Assistant in Molfetta, Italy

Buon Anno 2014

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2013 sailed away with rain and reminiscence on the banks of the River Thames, waiting for London’s giant firework display. It’s been a special year for me and my friends, the beginning of our hotly anticipated ‘Year Abroad’ or the start of the final year at university. I always thought 2013 sounded odd and ungainly as a date, but it has turned out to be a wonderful year in terms of events, exploring and meeting new people. I went to the USA, where I took part in a beautiful wedding and spent three days exploring New York with kind new friends. I also saw Pisa, Amsterdam, Rome and Naples. Then of course, I moved to Molfetta and felt part of a new place and gained an insider’s perspective on a new culture.

The time has gone terrifyingly fast. I can remember the anticipation as I boarded the train from Bari to Molfetta that very first boiling day. I can still feel that mix of excitement and fear of the unknown as I looked out of the window at the sea on one side and olive groves on the other. And now, in a blink of an eye containing a thousand images and faces and feelings, it’s 2014 and I’m ready to return, explore and face the wide future ahead of me. But before I do, I’d like to recap my highlights and achievements in Molfetta so far:

1)    Getting better at my job

When I first arrived, I was pretty daunted by the pressure of preparing and delivering a successful lesson. Over the past months I have developed a better sense of what my role is in the school and started to really enjoy my rapport with the students. Well, when I say rapport, what I mean is that I like making stupid jokes and seeing if they understand what I’m saying. Sometimes they do, and that makes for a good atmosphere. Other times, I look like a fool but at least they learn English from it. It’s all part of the process. I also enjoyed doing lessons with 10 year olds because I could use drawings of a haunted house to teach them place prepositions.

Goals for 2014: Keep learning and maybe give some more one-on-one lessons or conversations. Oh and try to memorise some more names, although with 250+ students that is HARD.

2)    Seeing new places

As I mentioned earlier, I have had quite a lot of jet setting opportunities this year. There was my university trip to Pisa in February, which was both lovely and instructive, and a four-day stay in Amsterdam in June. Then of course I enjoyed the French summer in Toulouse before heading off to the States. My year abroad in Puglia has allowed me to see a new place almost every weekend, like Bari, Alberobello, Trani, Bisceglie and Giovinazzo locally, and Rome, Turin and Naples further afield. I feel extremely lucky to be in such a fantastic region and will soon put together a ‘To See’ List for the coming eight months.

Goals for 2014: cf. this To See List, which is still forming in my brain

3)    Language Learning

The whole point of the Year Abroad, as I was reminded by a rather tedious university questionnaire, is to make progress in Italian, in speaking, reading, listening and interacting with people without feeling like a complete idiot. I’d say I’m pretty comfortable now with my level of Italian: obviously I make mistakes, but I can have a spontaneous conversation without blanks and even make jokes sometimes. I cannot wait for the day when my Italian will be good enough for puns and innuendo. Seriously though, being integrated in a family, a group of friends and the staff at school is really improving my Italian. I wonder if I’ll go back with a Southern accent.

Goals for 2014: Try to read more Italian books or magazines. I do own Dante and Petrarch’s works but they have just been chilling on the shelf so far. Memorise some swear words.

4)    Being independent

I moved out of my family home when I was only 17, which seems quite young to me now. I’ve travelled through a selection of airports alone, and generally feel that (apart from buttering bread) I can cope as a human being. I still make the odd stupid mistake but living in a new country without familiar people and places takes courage and I feel proud of my three months so far. Of course, it all depends on the situation, and I have been extremely lucky with the people I have met. Instead of being scared of the future, I feel confident that I can go places and meet people without self-destructing.

Goals for 2014: Not to leave my debit card in a supermarket again. Be safe, and streetwise.

The last I saw of Molfetta in 2013 was a beautiful pink and blue sunset, with a solitary fisherman on the water. I went to say a nostalgic goodbye to the sea because that’s what the Christmas period inspired in me. You may have noticed I’m a sentimental person at any time of year though, so you can no doubt expect more outbursts of feelings on the old blog later on in 2014. Keep reading to find out how I get on with 5 months more work in brand new classes, planning my summer and making the most of my time in Puglia. Happy New Year!

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Author: Elly Cooke

Recent graduate of English Literature and Italian from the University of Leeds. Book lover and part-time Italian speaker.

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