If you search the synonyms of ‘experience’, the following words crop up: action, involvement, maturity, participation, patience, practice, struggle and understanding. Last summer, after another breakup, I decided I needed to spend the summer away; I needed an experience. Something more than just the instant gratification of seeing the most places possible- which is highly individualistic. I wanted to invest in a collective identity. To integrate in a whole different context. To suffer through language barriers and cultural differences. To learn to adjust and restrain. To be able to quote Nick Miller and say “Maybe I don’t have to do it that way when I get home.”
One problem: I had just less than £100 to my name.
I looked into summer work and that’s how I came across the camp industry. Having already gained my TEFL certificate (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) the year before in Vietnam, I found I was eligible to teach English in camps across Europe even with the absence of a degree. While working at a summer camp, your board and food would be provided by a host family, the son or daughter of which would be a student at the camp. Therefore all you have to pay for are the flights. I had enough to just cover the costs of a single ticket. I’d worry about the return later.
I applied to positions in France with American Village, Germany with Sprach Camp, Spain with English Summer, and Italy with Lingue Senza Frontiere, The English Camp Company and BELL – Beyond English Language Learning.
I decided to go with BELL because they were able to offer me 4 two-week long camps (8 weeks total) while the others only 2 or 4 weeks. Each camp paid around €450 (£370). The first 3 camps were one after the other, following a week of training, from June 17thto July 26th. Then there were 3 weeks where no camps were running through lack of demand. The 4thcamp ran August 19thto 30th. Later on I was asked if I could do a 5thcamp at a private school, which I happily accepted. This ran straight after the 4th camp from September 2ndto 14th.
After the first 3 camps I had been given the opportunity to teach children ages 4 to 12 years old which had earned myself over a grand. I had lived locally across 3 different regions in towns I may not have otherwise visited (Teramo, Massa di Carrara, Baricella). I had experienced real insight into Italian life. I learnt to eat, speak and kiss like an Italiana- something a guide book can’t teach. There are times of course when living in someone else’s home isn’t always easy, but with struggle comes a new opportunity to learn and experience. Not sure if summer a camp is for you? Check out my post 8 Reasons you should be a Camp Counsellor/Tutor this Summer.
I used the entity of my earnings to fund the month of adventure that came after, saving just enough to get the train to my host family the Saturday before camp 4 started (which was later reimbursed by the company). I then used my final salary on a shopping spree in Bologna (where I was living with my host family), bought my flight ticket home, and put the rest towards a romantic weekend- my last weekend in Italy- with a special guy we will refer to as Mr Italy.
This passage sums up my trip perfectly, written by my beautiful friend Jessica (@jessicadiana – Instagram) who I met at camp, plus a couple additions from me:
Basil infused hands, crisp dry laundry hanging from the line. The explosion of encompassing jasmine. The sound of espresso cups clinking in the cafés into their tiny dishes. Extraordinary conversations with ordinary people. Biscuits for breakfast. Waking up to the sea and falling asleep to the breeze sneaking in through the window. Late sunsets and freezing ocean dives after heat exhausted days. Churches compelling enough to enter. Vanilla gelato melting onto your sticky fingers. Coconut granita, steam from fresh pasta, and arms wrapped tightly around your waist. Morning cappuccinos, and afternoon nutella sandwiches. Cliff dives, cold showers and wine after a hard days work. Long trains, longer walks, and laughs that are forever remembered.
1. Campania (Sorrento, Amalfi, Ravello, Capri, Pompei, Mt Vesuvious & Naples)
The Start of my Solo Travel Across Italy: My First Hostel Experience: Sorrento (Sant’Agnello)
Crispy hot arancini. Watching Sicilian teens have a dance-off in Mondello. Getting chatted up (and stalked) by a Palermitan. Delicious seafood and drinks with new Italian friends. Sunday at the Temples. Massage on the beach. Cable car to the castle of Venus. Swimming in the warm turquoise sea. The kindness of strangers. Lunch with a stray cat. Horse-drawn carriage rides. Stargazing outside the hostel. The 3-hour bus ride East…
More arancini. Exploring Ortigia Island. Night out with a couple Irish girls and their vodka. Looking for a bar and finding the ballet. Dinner on a budget. Staying up to 4am on the cubes with new friends. Girls in the bunk next to mine from the same home town as me. Jumping into crystal clear sea. Watching newly-wed couple walk hand in hand across Piazza del Duomo. Exploring the tiny side streets. Gazing out over the harbour. Being the only ones dancing. Getting kissed by Mr Italy. Scrapping plans to climb Mt Etna just to spend one more day with him…
4. Rome 3 nights
The Pantheon. Piazza Navona. Fiat’s yellow, red, black. Castel Sant’Agelo. Touring the Vatican. The eternal pine-cone. Michelangelo. St Peter’s Basilica. The Spanish Steps. Trevi fountain. Countryside views along Via Appia Antica. The underground world of the Catacombs. Vespa’s colouring the road. Ivory covered bridge with a history. Campo de’ Fiori and Trastevere. Exploring the Jewish Ghetto. Sitting in Capitoline Hill and people watching. Spending hours in the Roman Forum. Taking in the Colosseum. Staring in awe at the statue of Pieta. Trying to work out how the Indian busker levitates. Hydrating with free, ice-cold water from a nasone fountain. Almost crying in the Sistine Chapel. Taking time wandering around. Listening to fabulous street musicians. Buying art from a stall. Taking the train north to Firenza…
5. Florence 2 nights
Climbing 414 steps up Giotto’s campanile. Queuing for the Uffizi for 3 hours. Taking in the beauty of the architecture. Making friends with a German busker. Being drawn for free by a street artist. Sitting down by the Palazzo Vecchio drinking a beer. Infatuated with David. Watching artists paint on the ground. Haggling for leather at Mercato di San Lorenzo. Taking a stroll over the Ponte Vecchio. Buying parma ham and dried porcini at the Mercato Centrale. Breathing in the river air. Train to Venice with under €100 left in my account…
6. Venice 3 nights