My hamartia.*

I’m a sickeningly hopeless romantic. I’ll gladly, and only slightly sheepishly admit that. At the slightest suggestion of reciprocation of someone I’m in any way attracted to, my mind starts going at a million miles a minute on both lanes of the highway; she’s probably not interested in me; this would be a nice date to take her on; I don’t think she finds me funny, at least not in a good way, and so on. I’d probably make a good member of some disaster response committee – running through every possible scenario all at the same time.

I have jut realised that this tendency to get carried away with the future manifests itself into any time I go job hunting as well. I uploaded a profile on to one of these recruitment websites as soon as I completed my TESOL course, and no sooner had I clicked ‘submit’, I was contacted by a school in deepest Sicily. And sure enough, my mind went into overdrive; I felt myself wanting a job in Brighton, just to stay in the country a little bit longer, but I also started looking up apartment prices and the cost of living, so I’d be ready to go once I moved out.

Inevitably what happened was they wanted someone with experience in teaching towards specific exams. Experience which I didn’t have and, at two days notice, wasn’t likely to gain before I started, so I politely declined the position. That was a couple of weeks ago, and I’m currently waiting on the outcome of my second interview, again for a last-minute start in dear old Sicily. I’ve been promised a response by the close of business today, which could be any time until 10pm tonight, but to me, no news really is no news this time. I’ve learnt from a fortnight ago.

As yet there isn’t anyone around to test if my hopeless romanticism is still as wreckless…

Jack out.

Hamartia (Ancient Greek: ἁμαρτία) is a word most famously used in Poetics, where it is usually translated as a mistake or error in judgement. In modern discussions of tragedy, hamartia has often been described as a hero’s “tragic flaw.”

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Time to really apply myself.

Following on from my last post, I am now almost a week out of completing my course, and as such I have been looking for EFL teaching work for a few days now. In the past few days I’ve applied to jobs in Spain, Italy, France, South Korea and the United States, and it really is a blast from the past.

What I mean by this, and this is something I’ve written about before some years ago, is the job application process is pretty much exactly the same as when I was applying for anything with a paycheck straight out of university having completely bombed my degree. There is a long list of hurdles you need to jump over before you’re even considered. I have a relevant qualification, but as I found out when one school contacted me not twenty-four hours after I uploaded a profile to a website, I need knowledge of the exams my hypothetical students will be taking. Or I need two years post-certification experience. Like I said, I have sent off half a dozen or so applications since the beginning of the week and, as before, it seems that none of them are in any rush to reply to me. In all honesty I’m not surprised at this.

It’s not all doom and gloom like last time though. I actually did well this time, and have a very relevant set of new skills in a very applicable area of the country. Two of the biggest tourist towns on the south coast, with probably the highest concentration of English language schools outside. Which probably makes you wonder, why haven’t I applied to any of the dozens of language schools nearby? Well, I actually went away from writing this and applied to half a dozen schools that had some sort of vacancy or invitation to apply despite no actual current vacancy. And therein lies the problem – it’s just turned October and most of the students are scurrying home to the warmer climes from whence they came. This leaves the teachers that are working less in-demand, and no requirement for any more, even less so ones fresh out of the training machine with a glint of hope and optimism in their eyes. In short, I’m expecting the same response from these applications as the ones I made for the unskilled jobs I applied to three years ago – radio silence.

As for the rest? Well the fantasy is that as an English speaker I’m much sought after. As one that’s been trained to explain the language to others, even more so. We’ll see.

Jack out.

Tiny footsteps. Tiny, tentative footsteps…

So the day has arrived. Today was my first day of teacher training!

In an ideal world, with infinite time, I’d like to blog daily during what is a very exciting time, but with the sheer volume of work I’m expecting, I just don’t think that will be practicable. So, in no change from the usual regularity with which I post anything, I’ll be operating an “as and when” schedule.

I figure that after the first day I’ll have the lightest workload of the course, so here’s something. What a day! I’ve been dumped in with what seem like a very nice bunch of trainees, and the confidence boost I’ve already received from somebody starting a sentence aimed at me with “well you seem to know a lot about…” cannot be understated.

I’m already having to plan a lesson, albeit of only thirty minutes. The one-hour goliaths will be towards the end of this and, for me, the beginning of next week. There is such a diverse range of backgrounds, from former civil service, to one woman who already teaches in Laos, and you can really feel the wealth of experience each person brings to the mix. Even me and my ‘dangerous hobby’ of motorsport watching.

I’ll write again when I can.

Jack out.

Return to form.

Five months of silence, and I still claim to “like writing” on my Instagram page. I guess the real reason I haven’t posted since March is that I’ve been without a means of posting since I got back to the UK in early April. That, and I slipped seamlessly back into the same job I had before I left for Italy many blue moons ago. And thus have had nothing I can, diplomatically at least, write about.

I’ve lasted, what, not even five months in that job the second time round. Not because my skill was seriously overestimated when I was offered it with minimal hesitation before I was even back in the country, and that I am, in fact, much worse at it than anyone seemed to remember. It’s more the fact that I got from my adventure in Italy something quite important; some semblance of direction where previously I had been wandering absentmindedly through life.

It’s probably quite good timing that my first post in so long is at the start of my last week in this job, on the eve of the second interview I’ve had to attend to get a place on a TESOL course, and two weeks away from the start of a course I’ve already been accepted to once. It really takes me back to the week before I left for Milan, unsure of what the next months had in store, and the last train ride back to Gallarate from that grand metropolis, buzzing from those same months and apprehensive about the next.

Getting a second interview on what is usually a one-interview interview process is not an easy thing to accept, but I suppose practice makes perfect. I did, after all, do very well by all accounts in the interview for the course in my hometown. I was offered a place and thoroughly looking forward to starting, perhaps with the small reservation about staying at home for another month. That was until the courses was unceremoniously cancelled due to lack of participants. Luckily, a course with identical dates, for the same qualification, and which I applied to through the same website, was available in the next major town along the coast. Did my previous acceptance onto the course have any weight? Did it heck. After a Hollywood-esque last minute application and tentative wait over the weekend I did today manage to arrange an interview for tomorrow, the format of which sounds incredibly familiar.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

Jack out.

One Moment, One Chance [Poem]

If we met by chance,
By fate, by design.
If we never met,
But you gave your time.

If together we’ve been
To the limit and back.
If I’ve took your hand,
And you had my back

If we’ve shared a moment,
A room, a kiss.
If we’ve exchanged a glance,
A joke, a wish.

If I’ve told you something
I’ve never shared,
And you understood,
You heard, you cared.

If we’ve been apart,
And still you remain,
As loyal a friend
As I can ever claim.

If you read this through
And think it seems
A little familiar,
You know what it means,

To affect a life,
With a positive force.
For you I am thankful
For guiding my course.

To where I am now,
To where I will be.
And I’m here for you,
As you are for me.

The last post of the expedition – the tell-all fit for the tabloids

In the last two months I have gone from staying in Italy until June, to staying unless I screw up again, and now to being back in England by the end of the week. Strangely enough, or not, I’m not too unhappy. Why? Normally I’m not one to bitch or whine in a public forum but I think now I can safely, and freely, say that the only two things about this au pairing experience over the last were the friend that I made, the teaching experience that I gained, and the extra money I (briefly) earned that allowed me to see so much of this spectacular country.

I had a hunch back in the autumn that I wouldn’t see out my scheduled time here, that it was just a case of who got tired of whom first. I remember back in September, when I asked about the possibility of taking a Friday off to spend a three day weekend with a new friend in Rome, and how it seemed like such a big deal, only to be told later down the line that if I wanted to travel Friday afternoons and Monday mornings to get a full two days in wherever I was going, I could. This was only one element of the laughable hypocracy that has peppered the last three months out here.

Let me enlighten you on some of the episodes I’ve witnessed in the intermitting period. A few months in my host mum was seeming like one of the more pushy people I’d yet met. At first I thought it was just helpfulness, but no. It was actually just being pushy. Sometimes blindly so.

I had tried to get in contact with a handful of au pairs that would be living locally to me, before I came out, to help with socialising and seeing the sights. I did find a couple, including a particularly reliable one who I went on three weekend trips with. When I was telling my host of these planned trips before I came out, she used her network of au pair host families to find an au pair doing the same trip I was, on the same weekend. It was the au pair I had discovered.

A few weeks in, she was still using this network to find other au pairs who lived locally, or that might have been interested in visiting my host town. This was great as I’d not found any. Not that I needed to, having been busy with the one I mentioned previously.

One evening, she suggested yet another au pair I contact, although this one had contacted me hours earlier.

The next afternoon, as we were driving home from running a couple of errands, she told me she thought I needed to get out and meet locals, and that it wasn’t good only meeting up with English speaking people, and how girls, as in the au pairs she’d been putting me in touch with, were unreliable.

Which is all well and good, until you remember she had put me in touch with a number of these ‘unreliable’ girls, and that the nearest central bar is a ten, maybe fifteen, minute drive away.

One Saturday evening she had prepared what appeared to be a ragu sauce for pasta, en masse, in a pressure cooker. The next morning it was still sitting on the stove so, presumably in an attempt to avoid the inevitable ‘why has nobody put this into jars?’ interrogation from her later in the day, her boyfriend dutifully puts half an hour aside to do just that.

If he thought he had avoided the wrath, he was sorely mistaken. She comes downstairs and into the kitchen, and the first thing she says is something along the lines of, “Where is the pan with the sauce in it?”

“I put it in jars” he replies.

“Did I ask you to?” she retorts. I didn’t catch the rest of the rant that followed as I was too busy trying to resist laughing. This is a woman who routinely complained about things that have not been done, and here she was complaining about something that had.

I only recount these specifically as I wrote them up for a previously anonymous blog I started up to vent when such ridiculous events occurred. If my memory was better I would have dozens of stories to tell.

And maybe that is the reason I’m not particularly down, dejected or otherwise deflated that this experience has been so unilaterally bad. I repeatedly remind myself that in a few months and years down the line, they will just be hilariously cringeworthy episodes in an otherwise enjoyable au pairing experience. It’s all about the ‘long-game’ mindset I’ve had since I started to falter in university, helping me nudge myself ever more closer to the perfect course through life.

Jack out.

Risk.

I never considered myself much of a risk-taker. Three years ago I was content with sitting out my failing degree, and two years ago I was content with working a forty-hour week and still not being able to afford my own place. It wasn’t until a little over a year ago that I finally took my first risk. I did something that had no obvious immediate benefit, for no other reason than because I was finally sick of being content with the mundaneness of my existence.

More precisely a year ago, I was gearing up for the second risk I had taken – going to Rome for a few days, to meet a friend who may or may not have been too busy to meet me some or all of the time. It seems silly, in hindsight, calling it a risk. Nowadays I’d just call it a bit of travelling, but back then I had to resist drawing parallels between myself and Columbus, I felt epic. Of course I wasn’t, but the feeling became addictive. Doing something new, or unpredictable, with no thought for the consequences, so long as they wouldn’t be harmful. This was the first time I had stayed in a hostel, and it was the most enjoyable and social hostel experience I’ve experienced so far. I met some really interesting people and even found one or two to explore the city with.

I’ve been to many other cities since, and dare I say it I’m almost becoming accustomed to the novelty of it. I am still taking risks, in that I’m meeting up with new au pairs and seeing cities that I wouldn’t have seen otherwise, but now I’m starting to notice risk-taking seeping into other areas of my life. I risked being thought of as unusually chatty by a stranger on my way through London last week on my way home from the airport, and got rewarded with a very enjoyable evening with that same stranger on my return through London back to Italy a week later.

There is no telling where some of these risks will get me, but I am definitely becoming less adverse to taking them. My only concern now is that I don’t become labelled as cocky or arrogant, as I only really want to take chances for what they’re worth.

Jack out.

All’s well that ends well

Wow, what a week this has been. First off, Early Saturday morning, I got some pretty sad news from back home. It was only ever a question of when, not if, but the suddenness with which it happened was still a shock. I’m counting my blessings that I’m away from home, and that my somewhat fatalistic nature kicked in which helped me handle it well.

Saturday itself, I had been invited to go to Pisa with some friends, and decided to go ahead with that, hoping it would take my mind off things. It was very much the right thing to do. Travelling has always been about more to me than the new places you find. I’m also after the people that deceive you in how long you’ve known them for – weeks and months that seem like years or even lifetimes. The moments you realise you’ve found another one of these people, that seem to instinctively know what to do in your times of greatest need, but can also share your most ridiculous laughs in your times of greatest goofiness, are the defining moments of life. Saturday was one of those moments.

On Sunday morning, still buzzing from this day out, followed by an evening in a natural hotspring with the same group of friends, I awoke to find an email waiting for me. In contrast to the news I received but twenty-four hours earlier, this was a message that I had wondered if, not when, it would arrive. I’m never one to go into detail unnecessarily, but it was the message a part of me always hoped to receive and, being of the opinion that life is too short to hold grudges, I accepted the apology within.

Sunday, again, I hung out with the life-changing friend from the previous day, and by the late afternoon I was both emotionally and now physically spent. I haven’t really been able to catch back up on my sleep up until this point, but I’m just ploughing through the days until I can relax for my birthday trip to Bologna this weekend.

Jack out.

Growth

It was boxing day yesterday, although it isn’t called that in Italy, it’s Saint Stefan’s day. I’m guessing he was the patron saint of boxes. The highlight of the preceding day was my host mother asking to clarify Cockney rhyming slang in relation to the ‘Barry White’ entry in the book of English slang and idioms that was my gift to her. For those interested, it means shite. The low-light was that I spilt the cognac filling from one of the chocolates in the gift from my old host family. I spilt it on my tablet’s keyboard.

However, that was yesterday, and today is today, and the new year is less than a week away. Now, normally at this time of year my mind turns to the mythical new year’s resolutions. What objective should I set myself for the year ahead? I then realise I never make them, can’t follow through on a promise to myself to save my life, and resolve to bring in the year with an early night.

In fact, glancing back to my posts of this time last year, I was too wrapped up in the mysterious adventure that lay ahead to write about any aims or ambitions I may have had. Quite rightly so, and in hindsight, I would have been severely limiting myself had I set any targets.

So should I do the same this year? ‘Why break the habit of a lifetime’ is my instinctive response. But then if I hadn’t broken the habit of a lifetime, in being content with the status quo, even if it wasn’t particularly beneficial to me, I wouldn’t be sitting where I am now, either literally or figuratively.

The obvious answer is therefore no. This year I will make them, and I will base them on what they would have been had everything this year been the result of ones I made a year ago.

1. Make the most of every negative situation that is thrown your way. Your girlfriend entices you out of your comfort zone, out of the country, and then, fairly promptly, leaves you. Don’t get me wrong, there are no hard feelings; it’s easily the best thing that happened to me this year. Partially as I made the best of what could have otherwise been a lame-ass situation. It was the real kick in the butt I needed to properly immerse myself in the country I was now in, and I was also now free to move around as I desired, which I hope to fully take advantage of in the next couple of years when I become some sort of nomadic teacher.

2. Do something you wouldn’t have done a year ago. Tomorrow I’m travelling half a day across the country, to somewhere I’ve never been before, to meet somebody I’ve never met. No way would I have done that last year. I was far too content with the here-and-now. You wouldn’t have been able to have convinced me of the point of it.

3. Do something you couldn’t have done a year ago. I found out today that there is a gym nearby offering kick-boxing lessons. For as long as I can remember I’ve been thinking it would be interesting to start some sort of combat sport or martial art, but never got round to actually researching it. Again it’s all part of the being part of the status quo that I’m continually trying to shake off. This discovery is perfectly timed for me to start a new hobby in the new year. I haven’t got the first clue about kickboxing now, but by this time next year? Watch this space.

4. See somewhere new. This one is a little easy, as I’ve practically organised it already – going to Finland when I visit home over Easter. All I need is my Finnish friend to confirm her hospitality and it’s a done deal. But I think that would be a good thing to continue yearly – hopefully this nomadic teacher thing will make it achievable by default.

Jack out.

The ‘Interrogative Point’ of Teaching English

There are very few things I don’t like about living in Italy; tripe, but then that’s available from any good butcher’s the world over; the lack of interest from women, but again that’s something I can get, or rather not get, anywhere in the world; and the quality of teaching of English in its schools.

The first two, I can do nothing about. However the latter has been and, presumably, will continue to be a constant concern of mine for the foreseeable future. At the moment, it’s who makes the better English teacher – a native English speaker; a fluent, but non-native speaker; or somebody with a good theoretical knowledge of the language.

From what I’ve heard from products of the Italian school system, both those currently in the mix and those that have served their time, while English language is a compulsory part of the sentence in Italy, its quality is dubious; a teacher that is not native is a rarity. I’ve experienced several instances in both of my stints au pairing of evidence of poor quality teaching.

Case in point – one of my children returned from school triumphantly clutching an English test with a perfect 10/10. I glanced over his work and spotted at least three errors that hadn’t been annotated or seemingly noticed. Another case in point – just last week I spotted a pluralising ‘s’ needlessly added to an adjective. I questioned it and the response was, “but [the teacher] said!” I wasn’t surprised. Third case in point – one of my children was explaining something funny he’d seen online, the punchline of which was a question mark. He mimed it in the air and called it an ‘interrogative point’. I corrected him, as usual, and he replied with the expectable “but my teacher says it exists in English!” I explained that while the individual words he used did in fact exist, and yes, I had understood, through knowing the Italian name for what he had just gesticulated, what he meant, that it was called something completely different in English. This also supported my next thought quite nicely.

This is primarily why I think having somebody knowledgeable in English, but ultimately sharing the mothertongue of the students, is on balance a bad idea – mistakes like this won’t necessarily be picked up upon. I wouldn’t dream of trying to teach Italian at a primary or secondary school level, no matter how good I became. I would never be able to pick up on nuances and I wouldn’t have the instinctive ear for something sounding convoluted or wrong that I do with English.

However, having taught to two groups of Italians, there is a definite advantage to having some knowledge of the students’ mothertongue. How much of a knowledge, on the other hand, is another matter. Too much and you allow students to become lazy and talk to you in their own language, knowing you’ll understand. I see this happening in my lessons all the time. Conversely not enough and you can’t teach effectively; in the rare instance a bridge cannot be built somehow, you have to rely on other students to plug the gaps. My Italian teachers know just enough English to help the struggling students along, but not enough to hold a conversation. Or at least they’re not letting on that they do.

Jack out.