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.”


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.

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.

If people aren’t laughing at your dreams, your dreams aren’t big enough.

“For once you have tasted flight you will walk the earth with your eyes turned skywards, for there you have been and there you will long to return.” – Leonardo da Vinci

I went through school not knowing what I wanted to be when I grew up. I had five years of secondary school. That was loads of time to decide, and even if that time ran out, I had two years of college. And even if that time ran out, I had three years of university. I think that may be why I stuck university out. I knew I was getting progressively more out of my depth; that was obvious. But I reasoned that if I could just stick it out another six months, year, two years, until I graduated, I would miraculously know what I wanted to do with the rest of my life, and I could set off in a purposeful direction.

Of course, I graduated without so much as a toot on a kazoo. In fact I think a majority of my coursework never left the University’s collection office. It took over a year of two low level jobs and a persistent girlfriend wanting me to throw it all ‘away’ and leave the country. Then, and only then, did I even begin to realise what I wanted to do, starting to formulate a plot for the rest of my existence.

Returning to the UK long-term has all but disappeared as an option. I remember when my catalyst of an ex-girlfriend had the same realisation, that what is ‘out here’ is so much more rewarding than anything that was ‘back there’. In hindsight it marked the beginning of the end, but I was so caught up in my own existence, busying myself waiting for her return, I couldn’t fully appreciate what I take so for granted now; the view conveyed by Da Vinci above.

So what’s new? I’m here for another eight months, which is realistically nothing. I’m already halfway through the difference between this and my last stay, and that flew by. After that, I fully intend to return to northern Italy and repeat my excellent experience teaching English to the Italian youth. And then…

That was where it stopped. I had the best part of a year ahead mapped out, and it was enough. Until I started to dream a little. What prompted this dream was simple. I was asked what my plans were after I was finished here. I had no concrete idea so it was, more or less, spontaneous; what I would do if I had no constraints, but then all the best dreams are, aren’t they? By the time I’d finished the conversation, they started sounding less like fantastical dreams and more like solid, realistic, doable plans.

I return to the UK, albeit only long enough to pass the tests to allow me to ride a motorbike. I buy a motorbike with the money I’ve earned working, tutoring, doing whatever, while passing these tests. I pick a country in need of an English teacher for the next six months to a year, preferably one that prefers experience over qualifications, as that’s what I’ll have. I jump on my motorbike and head in that direction, sightseeing along the way. I teach in the aforementioned country for approximately a year, or until the summer. I spend the summer months travelling, experiencing the locality and further afield. I find another country in need of an English teacher. I repeat the cycle.

And there it was, the next few years of my life planned out in almost an instant. Funny old life, isn’t it?

Jack out.

Ninja-English and other stories…

I took German at GCSE (secondary school) level, by which I mean I studied it for three years alongside French, and then ‘specialised’ in it for my final two years. I use that term loosely, as the reality was that I had to choose one or the other, and I preferred my German teachers to my French. One was a true German with a passion for ice hockey, and the other was a middle-aged, slightly eccentric Englishwoman who had a reputation for getting overly stressed by her overly infuriating classes. I think the prevalent rumour was that she once got locked in a cupboard by a particularly ruthless class. In hindsight she was in some ways like the late Mrs Krabappel from the Simpsons. But I digress.

I took German, and got an A grade in it in fact, and thought I had a fair understanding of at least the basics. Approximately six months into my ‘specialisation’ an exchange trip was organised, as every year, between us and a German class taking English. It was not long after I stepped off the coach in a generic German town that I realised, despite my prowess in the classroom, there are only so many times you can tell someone your name, age, and where you are from before you start coming across as crazy.

When I finished my studies in school was the last time I considered learning a foreign language before coming abroad became a realistic possibility. However that experience had ignited my curiosity of a second language, which working on the campus of an extremely multicultural university only stoked; coming into contact with people from all over the world who had English under their belt as a second or even third language can be quite a catalyst for not sitting on your ass as a speaker of the most widely spoken language.

As I mentioned last time, I have been with this second host family almost exactly two months, making a total of eight overall. In this time I have mastered as little as I can get away knowing and have come to realise something, as have my new host family over recent weeks; that it is not the language taught in school, adult colleges, or textbooks that is what you need to know but, as they term it, the ‘ninja-language’, what you pick up from hearing people in conversation, things that make little or no sense through literal translation, and things that nobody would ever think to teach to a class of students.

We were having a conversation at dinner the other day about how confusing ‘text’ language was in Italian, how the number six can have a face value of ‘the number six’ and it is pronounced in the same way as ‘you are’ it can mean this too. A quick Google on my part brought up a list of ninety-two similar abbreviations or initialisms in English text messaging, some of which my host mum found hilarious, confusing, and non-sensical almost simultaneously.

Apparently, ‘ninja-Italian’ also exists, though I almost don’t dare enquire further about it. I suppose I will have to eventually, but I tell myself it can wait until I’ve mastered all the verb tenses. All seventeen of them.

Jack out.

A change of direction…

As you may, or may not know, I am just approaching the two month mark in my second stint as an au pair. Still in Italy, but this time a little further south in the beautiful region of Tuscany. My ‘radio silence’, for want of a better phrase, hasn’t been through lack of writing material, the opposite in fact. I’ve been infinitely busier here than I ever was last time round. Not only am I doing the ‘standard’ au pairing, which on one hand feels a lot more like what I expected au pairing to feel like, but on the other is rarely standard in any sense of the word, but also attending four to six hours of Italian lessons a week, and now leading four hours (on average) of English lessons every week. I have a grand total of two mornings during the week, in addition to weekends, left to my own devices. However I’m not complaining, as I’ve all but doubled my salary, which has allowed me to make good use of trains, buses, and my old but surprisingly good-quality camera

I’ve had a few busy weekends already; if you cast your mind, or browser, back to a recent post you’ll find I mentioned a highly driven travelling buddy. As it transpired they were also a highly whimsical travelling buddy, and through reasons that aren’t worth regurgitating, cut all contact a few weeks ago. Nevertheless, this hasn’t stopped my seemingly rampant exploration of the area I find myself in, and the country in the whole, and I’m currently gearing up for an in-depth exploration of Florence, while attending a weekend-long tattoo convention there.

However, despite the busyness on the home front, had I been posting with the same frequency as previously, I would have been repeating myself on numerous occasions; same shit, different day as the saying goes. Which left me with a dilemma; I have two more prominent aspects of my experience this time round, namely the travelling and exploration, and the teaching. There are a million and one people writing about their experiences travelling. Heck, I started following one on Twitter just this week. So that leaves teaching, which is the direction I hope I will be, and see myself, going in in the not too distant future. All in all it makes sense and, as Italy is seemingly notorious for poor levels of English and teaching on the subject, I may even fill a niché, and this blog may get the audience it… ahem… needs.

Jack out

Ninja edit: As if to prove my point that every man and his dog is writing about travelling, a friend of mine has just started her own blog. Check it out, she knows what she’s talking about

The twenty-first post of the expedition – the transition from composer to producer

About a week and a half ago, it struck me that I only had three weeks left of this spell in Italy, and I resolved to not sit around and waste another day doing nothing until I left. Saturday, admittedly, I sat around doing nothing, save for eating lunch and dinner. However I think I have most certainly earned it.

I’ve just been reading back through the first few posts of the expedition, specifically when I discovered there was a summer camp in need of teachers, and talking about it with such hope and expectation. Hopes and expectations that it easily exceeded.

In all it was two weeks of camp, of which I helped with the latter due to other commitments. I was called the weekend before with the final details, and invited to sit in for a couple of hours during the first week to get a feel for the whole operation. I turn up on the Thursday morning, get introduced to the other teachers – two Irish girls that are over for the fortnight, and sit in on the warm-up activities. Before I know it, I’m fielding a question-and-answer session with about thirty Italian children. They seem to take to me quite well, and I sit in on one of the groups having an English lesson with one of the girls.

Lunchtime rolls around, but before I can escape to get something from a nearby supermarket, I’m accosted by one of the camp organisers. “You’re a natural,” she says. “How would you like to stay for the five full days until 4 next week, instead of the four days of 2pm finishes?” In an instant, the week ahead transformed from an almost unknown entity into something I may have a reasonable chance in being good at. It took me a moment to process this new information before I could answer the question being asked of me, but I was more than happy to oblige.

For the next day and a half before the weekend, I proceeded to study the girls teaching methods, having not taught more than one person simultaneously before in my life. The weekend rolls around and, almost at the end of my first stay in Italy, I’m invited on a night out in Milan, from which we don’t get home before sunrise the next morning. Then I’m up a few hours later to go to the lake with them and the camp organiser that thinks so highly of my abilities.. It’s only Sunday evening that I manage to get a proper night of rest, and even then I’m up at before seven the next morning for the crucial first day of the next week.

Each day in the week that followed was a mixture of triumph, chaos, struggle and relief as each day came to a close, none more so than on Wednesday when a trip to a local park by train almost had a catastrophic ending when we missed what we thought was the last train home. It wasn’t, and it was just another little adventure as far as the children were concerned, but for the teachers, kittens were almost had.

Friday was another long day, with the weeks work culminating in a show put on by the children, followed up with aperitivo at a trendy bar for the teachers and assorted helpers, after which the youngsters of the group, of which I was the oldest, reconvened in the centre of town, crawling around bars until the small hours, thus completing with some sort of symmetry what for me was an amazingly rewarding and inspiring week, and a great way to (almost) finish my stay in this small Italian town.

Jack out.

The twentieth post of the expedition – the new album after months of anticipation

I usually say that those that live in the past live lives full of regret, that those that live in the future live lives full of worry, and only by living in the present can one be truly content with the one’s life. However it seems I have, momentarily at least, been able to achieve somewhat of a planetary alignment with regards to my future, in that I am ‘looking forward’ to tomorrow, the next week, the next month and the next year with equal amounts of excitement, anticipation, mystery, and amazement at what will they will contain.

I am on day two of five of my first ‘proper’ venture into English teaching in somewhat of a structured and coordinated capacity. I am putting every ounce of Italian I have learnt in the preceding months to very good use in controlling a group of approaching forty young Italians, and, along with two Irish girls who are making what could have been an otherwise nerve wracking week go by all the more enjoyably, taking this proverbial bull by the horns for a week of sports, study, and amateur dramatics.

In two weeks I will be about to spend my last night in Italy for about two months. What has been normal for the past six months will soon be but a fond memory. I will be in the grip of the old familiar, save for one crucial factor – me. There will be the essence of the person, bright eyed and bushy tailed, who left into the unknown many months ago, but the core flavour, the roots and the tips of the personality will have undergone a fundamental change. Almost exclusively for the better.

In a month, my sister will return from her holiday in Sweden, and this is easily one of the things I’m most looking forward to before I return to Italy. A year of university under her belt, along with a year of relationship, I will almost struggle to recognise the young woman that will step off the plane. Almost, but not quite.

And then in a year, I will have all but finished my second venture into this fledgling au pairing career, have a little more experience of teaching my bastard-child language under my belt, and will be seeking out pastures new for a second time in as many years. Of all, this is probably the scariest period of the foreseeable future, for the simple reason that it is the furthest I can forsee. I have no doubt that, given time, the fog-of-war will be gradually lifted, but that will be then, and this is now which, as I said, is when I should be living.

Jack out.