Isn’t it strange how whenever you’re in a foreign place, you, for a second, think you see someone you know? Like why in the hell would my co-worker be in this exact mall in Italy? Or ‘Yeah, sure that annoying girl from my college is here with a huge group of people (as if that many people would ever want to travel with her to Europe).’
There’s something very revealing about looking for the familiar in an unfamiliar place, searching for a piece of home in a sea of unknown faces and experiences.
But before I talk about Italy, I should probably recap the going’s on in the mundane life of this gay teacher.
Since I’m horrible with updating this blog, the last time I wrote I was still teaching the same classes I had been teaching for the past 20 weeks. This half-term, we assessed all the students in order to re-group them into classes based on their ability.
From what I’ve seen in American schools, this isn’t really common? You have your Honors students, Advanced Placement (AP) classes, and maybe even a remedial class, but for the most part, it’s a free-for-all in terms of ability range. For instance, in the same classroom, you can have one student who already has a strong understanding of algebra and another student who still uses their fingers for multiplication.
What’s fun over here is that it’s fairly common to have students split up by ability, i.e. the really able kids are in top set, set 1, and the very low ability students are in bottom set, set 5 or 6 depending. Even though this grouping hierarchy was already in place, it was evident that there were some incongruences in the different year groups.
The whole point of this long-winded explanation is that, this term, a lot of my classes changed. In some classes, students, who I had never taught before, were added to my roster and, likewise, some students, who I taught all year, were moved to a different class.
It was a little emotional having to give up some students I had build a rapport with all year, but on the flip side, it was a fresh start with a lot of classes. Any mistakes I had made thus far, these students would not know about them and it was now an opportunity to not make them again. The set change appropriated a lot of the aspects of a new school year, which was advantageous for someone like me, who now has real teaching experience under their belt.
In retrospect, I did make a lot of positive strides this term, especially with my new classes. It is sometimes so hard to see progress and improvement when you’ve had a lousy day, or, in my case, an ineffective lesson, but progress seems to be a blend of successes and failures, in which you grow from the failures and continue to try to expand the successes. Sometimes I feel like I’m writing an Alcoholic Anonymous’ pamphlet with how much I talk about progress and silver linings.
Dun dun dun, yes, if you haven’t heard already, I will be back in the States come August.
I’m coming back for a lot of reasons, none of which are because I hate Luton or my school, I love it here and care a lot about my students, it’s just that something is missing. In order to explain it, I have to backtrack a bit.
My family moved out of New Fairfield around fall of 2013 and for the last two years of college, I lived in a five bedroom house, where I was only close with one other housemate. Here I am, again, living in a five bedroom house, with people I’m not close with. It feels longer than it actually has been, but I’m tired of not having a home base, somewhere to hang my hat at night. Being that I am in a foreign country, it’s difficult to establish a sense of home in a place you know you’re not going to be in long-term.
I know coming back to America isn’t going to perfectly remedy this circumstance, my friends are all over the East coast, and my family is all over the States as well, but they’re all within reach. The likelihood of establishing a life that can support me long-term is a lot higher in the place I’m familiar in, that I grew up in. That’s the main crux of why I want to come home, but other factors include friends, family, money, food and the ability to drive.
When I first made the decision to come back after the school year ends, it felt a bit like a cop out. I went through all this hassle and thought I’d be here for multiple years, only to bail after one? Then, after toning down my critical side, I thought about how it’s pretty damn gutsy that I came here in the first place. I applied for this all on a whim, but when I realized I wanted it, I made it happen. Come August, I will have lived in a different country for nearly a year, put a few more notches in my ‘Trekking to Different Countries’ belt, and a year’s worth of growth as a teacher and as a person.
As far as Italy goes, it was a bit hectic at first because I didn’t properly prepare, which seems to be a thing I do in anticipation for jet-setting. Whether it is for short stints, or longer durations, when it comes to travel, I keep procrastinating planning, and thinking about the trip, to avoid anxiety and excitement, a very odd habit that I plan to kick for my next voyage abroad (Paris in May).
But as I was saying, Day 1 I didn’t have a SIM card, had no way of contacting my Airbnb host, due to the lack of SIM card, was not properly dressed, didn’t have the right amount of Euros to buy tickets for shuttles and trains and it was all just very Stressful being that I was confused and anxious, at night, in a foreign country.
I calmed down after chatting up these two British women on the train from Pisa to Florence; I knew as soon as I saw them on the platform that I’d cling to the mom-vibe they gave off. They were both well past middle-age, the younger of the two was a special ed teacher, while other woman didn’t provide her occupation (presumably retired?), but she did share she was a pescatarian, which I learned is someone who is basically a vegetarian, but they are also down with eating fish. All in all, nothing significant was said or exchanged, topics of conversation included teaching, America, travel, it was just a much needed distraction.
The entire time I was conversing with them, I wondered if they had seen the latest season of Grace & Frankie because they are the actual target demographic for that show, whereas I, a 20-something gay, white male, am only a target group that sometimes is a result of aiming for the first (think Golden Girls).
I eventually made it to my Airbnb, super late and very frazzled, due to having spent 20 minutes looking for my host inside the wrong apartment complex also having to use my phone to make international calls to get a hold of said host. She was actually one of the most considerate people I’ve ever met, maybe it was to compensate for the fact that her apartment was the size of a closet, but regardless, she earned her five-star review
The following morning, I had time to kill before meeting up with my New Paltz friend, who is studying abroad in Florence, so I hit up the Mercato Centrale Firenze. There, I read my book and people-watched, like the quirky love interest I am. My main observation of Italian people is that so many of them aren’t Italian? Before coming to Italy, I was made aware that Florence is a very tourist-heavy city, but I had no idea there’d be Americans left, right, and center. I am literally one of the two Americans at the school I work at, to hear the sweet, nasal-y sound of American accents was refreshing and surprising.
felt like such a food blogger taking all these
Later, I met up with June (pseudonym) and we basically spent the next two days eating, traipsing, and lounging around Florence. We hung around a lot, because I’m lazy, but my time in Italy served as a reminder for how much fun I have rooming with someone I like and how much I love doing aimless things with people I go back with.
June is still in college and the apartment she’s living in is set up very much like a dorm, so it was also very reaffirming to have some college-y experiences now, even though I’m in the early stages of the Adult phase in my life. Having to create meaningful connections from scratch, as well as being consumed by my job, has really neglected and minimized my ability to loaf around with a someone I have been friends with for a while.
I just love taking dumb pictures; please take note of the mom putting a Minion in the Pinocchio face-hole.
As always, it’s been an interesting couple months where I frequently try to take the most out of this experience in England. Things don’t always turn out how I picture them going, but that’s all part of the game, isn’t it?
Until next time.