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.

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.

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.

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

Whatever They Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not

Throughout college and university I was a horrible procrastinator. Xbox, TV, going outside, you name it, I’d rather do it than an essay or assignment. If you go back far enough into the depths of my archives, every other post was written to delay something academic. Sure, it bit me in the ass like a police-trained attack squirrel, but I developed my writing style at the same time, and I know which I’m finding most useful now. As it transpires I’m finding English much more interesting than computers, and that seems much more suited to where I’m going in life.

Which brings me to the subject of tonight’s post – it seems I’m still using writing to procrastinate. In a little over thirty-six hours I’ll be on a plane to Italy for the second time in nine months, and I’ve spent the best part of the evening trying my hand at fiction writing. I’m in a real dilemma as to whether I’m almost finished with packing or not. On the return leg in July, I barely managed to keep my hold bag below twenty kilos, and my carry-on was so fat it had to spend the trip down below too. Now, being a little conservative with my clothes, my worldly possessions more or less now fit in the one bag. I can’t help feeling I’m missing some obvious, massive thing. Maybe I’m being a little too conservative with what I take.

However this is all slightly beside the point, in that my concern is more what I’m doing to procrastinate, rather than the task I’m avoiding. The eagle-eyed reader will have noticed I said I’m trying my hand at fiction. When you consider I’ve spent the best part of the last eight months writing (somewhat) factually about my experiences living abroad, you’ll understand why I’m as perplexed as you may be. The venture, currently, is under the encouragement of a new lurker on these pages, a fan of my writings, possibly even the first self-diagnosed case. At the moment I’m in two minds about posting anything on any form of publicly accessible forum (i.e. here). If I do, I fear things may get even more bipolar than they already are. Watch this space.

Jack out.

The Italian job, part two.

In just over a fortnight I’ll be in Siena. In just under three weeks I’ll be on a long weekend in Rome. In four weeks I’ll be spending the night in Venice. Three weekends, three of the more beautiful cities in Italy, and a highly driven travelling buddy thrown in the mix* will be sure to make the first month of my return to the great land of pasta infinitely more intense than the first time round.

Not that it wasn’t intense the first time round of course, as any regular readers will know. Only this time it will be less about becoming accustomed to a new career and country, and I’ll be able to dive into the deep end of culture and fellow travellers.

This is the off-season, of sorts, although I haven’t switched off entirely. For the past week I have been 300 miles away up north seeing a couple of friends I met back in Italy. A couple of weeks before that I was the other side of London seeing one that I left here when I went away, and I guess that’s what living hundreds of miles away and having to make friends that aren’t necessarily on your doorstep does to you. It really shrinks your world. The highly driven travelling buddy I mentioned earlier? She’s based a good two hour drive from me, but when you can get half way down the country in mere hours on the super-fast train network, distance suddenly becomes insignificant.

Jack out.

*Top tip for getting a highly driven travelling buddy: find someone that is already extraordinarily motivated, and then dangle them out of their comfort zone for an extremely restricted period. They’ll want to do everything all at once.

The twenty-third post of the expedition – the final salute to the lifelong fans

As an epic mid-summer storm descends over this small Italian town, limiting my ability to go outside, it seems like the perfect time to write the last post of this expedition, before I go back to the UK in a couple of days.

Not that I was planning to go out anyway – if my au pair friends haven’t gone home or moved on to a different place, then it’s a normal working Monday for them. I’m only at a loose end as my boys have gone on their annual getaway to the coast. We said our goodbyes on Friday, and I’ve used the weekend to its fullest.

I think that’s the main difference between now and three months ago, when I was making the choice of whether to stay or leave. As I said at the time, I chose to stay on as I felt that I hadn’t squeezed everything out of this small pocket of Italy, and I was absolutely proven right. Now feels like a much more natural and organic time to go.

I have discovered some incredible friendships in the last three months, perhaps more so than the first three, that have really moulded my time here and turned an average experience into one I’ll cherish for a long time to come.

But alas, those friends are going or have gone, and a new breed are just starting to arrive and find their feet where others have gone before. In the last few days I’ve started to feel like a wise old owl, giving out advice and being generally omniscient about au pairing.

As for missing it, yes and no. I’ll miss all the fun and adventure with the various people I’ve met over the months, but like I said, if they haven’t left already they’re doing so soon, so even if I could, I wouldn’t want to stay here any longer.

After touching base in England for two months, I’ll be itching to be the newbie in Siena, exploring and learning, full of wonder, about a new area and a new routine.

Between then and now, though, it seems this rain will keep me indoors. Maybe this storm is nature’s way of helping me acclimatize to the British weather again. See you in England.

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.

The seventeenth post of the expedition – the one with the punny title

Yesterday I made a joke which, for once, I wasn’t the only person to hear. A friend and I were sitting in a local park which just so happened to have a flag similar to the St. George’s cross flying on a nearby pole. ‘St. George’s cross,’ I said, motioning towards it. ‘I have no idea what upset him, but there you go’. Now this particular friend, while she doesn’t have English as her first language, speaks it well enough, and usually laughs at the appropriate time when I try my own special blend of humour. However this one took a little explaining of the ambiguity of the apostrophe-‘s’, but, nevertheless, she subsequently gave a reassuring laugh.

Along this train of thought, it’s a recent realisation that perhaps this fondness for wordplay, extended metaphor, poetry and double meaning that I’ve displayed numerously online were the early manifestations of an interest in language, which seems to have culminated in where I am going in the next few months. In theory, I’m still participating in an English language summer school in the town I’m living in at the end of next month, followed by a couple of months in England to rest and reset. And then it gets interesting, as simultaneously to staying with a new family in Tuscany for the duration of the next academic year, I’ll be continuing my fledgling career as an English tutor, with two colleagues of the mother of the family I’ll be staying with. And there’s nothing quite like a challenge for a man as doing more than one thing concurrently.

Jack out.

The sixteenth post of the expedition – the album with a meta-title

I’ve recently started trying (note – the emphasis is on this word) to teach one of my Italian friends some English before they go to America and Canada later in the year. I can only think poor them however, as they’re certain to get lambasted by the north Americans they encounter for speaking with a British accent, and then by me when I see them next afterwards for having picked up the American one. However this is slightly besides the point of my post.

As I said, the emphasis is on trying, as somewhat paradoxically it’s frustratingly difficult to teach your mother-tongue unless you’ve had formal training in the process, as I’m slowly finding out. Yes, I learnt it at some point in the distant past as well, but I’ll be damned if I can tell you when that was, and even more so if I can tear it apart and explain its nuances and caveats at a moment’s notice.

Take this example that almost flummoxed me today – we were translating our way through an Italian song, and came across the Italian turn of phrase that translated to ‘the beat of the eyelid’ – as in a single moment in time. I instinctively knew the equivalent English idiom, but it took me a couple of attempts to remember it correctly, and a further one or two corrections to get the phrasing right.

Consequently, it has become almost instinctive to challenge anyone that claims to speak ‘perfectly’ in a language. It’s probably the basis for my reserved response when anyone asks how my Italian is going. I’m very much inclined to say ‘fine’, or ‘good enough’, despite what the natives tell me. It’s like one of those mysterious lines your maths teacher tried to tell you about in school, the one that always approaches the axis but never actually reaches it. Heck, I’ve been speaking English for over two decades and still haven’t got that nailed down in places, so I’m highly wary of proclaiming anything other than ‘abbastanza bene’ (well enough) in Italian.

On the flipside of the linguistic coin, though, is the ever present ability to gain more knowledge, and really dive deep into the language below the words and definitions. I don’t know to what type of person etymology (the study of word origins) is interesting, but I seem to be one of them, and it certainly provides a nice backdrop to learning a second language, to discovering even more about your first.

Jack out.