I’m not quite sure what’s going on or how I feel these last few days. Ever since work finished I’m going through a whirlwind of emotions, happy, sad, anxious, confused, it’s a bizarre rollercoaster I’m not sure how to get out of.
I will take some time to think about it and reflect, but for now I’m trying to enjoy my last week in Italy (for the foreseeable future).
So… last Friday I finally made it to a graphic, gorgeous little village near Reggio where I live, Scilla. And this week’s short and sweet video is all about my daytrip there. Thank you to my fellow teacher friends for an awesome day and special thanks to Fanni for the comic effects!
What a week. One of the most stressful of being a teacher. New classes with a small business group, formal observation, trying a dogme lesson, my birthday I couldn’t even celebrate because of work, a conversation club on Friday evening.
I also managed to book a flight back to Cyprus for July, but whether it will materialise it’s anyone’s guess.
To cope with all the stress I’m trying to focus a day at a time and try and enjoy the present as much as possible (sometimes it’s not that possible).
So I thought for my weekly post and video to put this little activity I wrote about a while ago into a little video.
The rest of the details is on the video. Skip to 3:04 for the activity if you wan’t to go straight in.
I’m not sure if anyone other than fellow teachers would understand just how exhausted I feel today, on a Sunday after a week of 6 new courses (on top of my existing ones), using a platform that doesn’t allow pairwork or groupwork, 6 hours of pure pain, mainly just talking for the majority of the time, soul-destroying, plus invigilating and marking and lesson planning and anything else that comes up on a normal week.
But at least we are now allowed outside and I managed to go for a walk by the beach on Friday, which was awesome.
So this week’s video is mostly footage of the outside world that I almost forgot it existed! I can’t wait to go home, enjoy my summer and seriously consider if teaching is for me. 40 days to go.
I desperately needed a haircut. I couldn’t even look at my hair. Everything happened so fast I didn’t get the chance to have my hair cut before I moved to Italy and the last one I had was early in the summer in Southampton (I miss the UK so much more I dare to admit sometimes).
Of course it wasn’t about the hair. It was all about self care and I’d started neglecting myself, pretty dangerous for me, it lets the depression and severe anxiety demons creep in and slowly take over without me realising until is too late, so I had to get my hair cut. Urgently.
I’m not sure if you remember where I live now, it’s a small city where very few people you come across speak English, so even the thought of attempting to book an appointment I found intimidating.
But self-preservation prevailed and I wouldn’t let my very poor Italian get in the way. (My Italian hasn’t improved much since, in case you are wondering.)
If you asked me what the most common expression I’ve used so far during my first three months in Italy was, it’s not ‘scusi’, or ‘per favore’ but..
‘Non parlo Italiano’.
It’s my opening line most of the time. Oh no, I actually first speak in English, as I often forget they won’t understand me, then I notice the baffled expression on their face and I explain.
So here’s how I managed to get a (decent) haircut with minimal communication but plenty of awkwardness.
Eleni- ‘Hi, I’d like too…, oh sh**. Non parlo Italiano, parle Inglese?
Hairdresser- Mmmm, no… (waves at one of the other hairdressers who knows a bit of English apparently).
El- Taglio (cut). Pointing at my hair. ‘Un po’ (How the hell do you say ‘trim’ in Italian?)
H-Si. Quando? (Yes! Finally a word I know!)
El-Sabato, matina (morning)?
H– (After checking their appointment book). Mm, tredici? (1pm, Italians tend to follow the 24hr format).
E– Si, si, grazie!
Pheew. First step done. I managed to book an appointment!
Saturday (haircut day)
I couldn’t remember if the appointment was at 11am or 1pm. In my head numbers were mixed up the minute I left the hairdressers two day ago. Full time teaching does that to you, messing up your brain. So I went at 11am, just to check. The hairdressers burst into laughing. I thought I’d attempt to go food shopping since I got up anyway, but the supermarket was way too busy for my liking (Damn, I could have stayed in bed a little longer).
I walked in. I had no idea what to say or do. The place was full of customers chatting away. I felt paralysed, mute. I couldn’t let any words out. I didn’t know how to. I could understand some of the conversations but I couldn’t take part. A horrible feeling.
That’s how my students must feel… I kept thinking.
After about half an hour wait (which I was ‘lucky’ as quite often you wait way longer, I was told), I was summoned on the chair.
The stylist asked me how I wanted my hair. I managed to explain (thanks to Antonella, Elena and Google translate) that I just wanted a trim and layers but not too short.
I was terrified. What if she gives me a horrible haircut, what if I end up looking like a pencil?
We didn’t speak much after that. She couldn’t speak English, I couldn’t speak Italian. She made an effort, which I appreciated, she asked me if I was a student, thankfully I knew how to say ‘I’m an English teacher’. My second most used expression (‘insegnante di Inglese’).
An hour later and after a lot of miming and gesturing (and a few word exhanges partially thanks to similarities between Greek and Italian), I left the hairdressers relieved I didn’t look like a pencil, it was actually a decent haircut and cheap compared to UK prices (12 euros).
But it was the most awkward hairdresser’s experience I ever had. And kind of funny at the same time. I had a little giggle afterwards. It’s fascinating how we humans manage to communicate even when we don’t speak the same language, although sometimes we can’t communicate even if we do speak the same language. The irony.
A month later and I’m none the wiser when it comes to Italian. My timetable doesn’t allow me to attend Italian lessons anymore, though I’m still learning from my students, who feel incredibly proud judging by the huge smile on their face every time they teach me an Italian word.
I’m not sure I’d like to stay in (Southern) Italy after my contract ends, but one thing I discovered is that I love living somewhere I’ve never lived before, being thrown into the deep, learning how to… well how to adopt and survive in another country, another culture, another life. That’s something I definitely want more of.
For now, I’ll enjoy the rest of my stay at this little, odd town that is Reggio Calabria.
Four months ago I had no idea what or where Reggio Calabria was. I’d never heard of it before and also until four months ago, I’d never taught anything to anyone.
Fast forward to now and I’ve been living at Reggio for just over two months. I haven’t seen much yet and what I think of it so far it’s not an accurate representation (more on that another time). I’ve been mainly working, teaching a wide range of ages and levels, from large classes of 9, 11, 13 and 16 year old school children to one-to-one with a 50 something old doctor and a 14 year old teenager.
But I haven’t just been teaching. I marked and invigilated tests, I had the chance to organise and be part of different events, I filmed and edited a couple of promos for the school, I am now presenting at a conference next month and organising an event as well for February.
It’s been a crazy two months as you can probably guess. Rewarding, challenging, stimulating.
oh my God.
It’s exhausting. I feel mentally and physically drained. And I honestly wouldn’t have survived these two months without my fellow teachers.
Teasing Nour on a daily basis, having a laugh with Katie (my favourite face) and Hannah (creative genious), exceptional A-class sarky humour with Vince and Bry, chats outside with my Italian spirit twin, Antonella, giggles and random convos with Shannon, talking TV series and films with Matt, reminding Alexei his Greek, reminiscing life before teaching with Kate on our way to Telesio, travelling chats with Maria, singing along with Mariah and Nuno, giggles with Fanni, making a serious effort to tease Lisa with Beatles and Christmas songs, talking Christmas filims with Jen, stealing precious little moments to chat to Lucie when I see her, all sorts of random convos with Suzanne, Italian lessons with Anna, brainstorming ideas with Helena and comforting each other, making James laugh (I love making James laugh), chats with Cesca on our way back from externals, having a laugh with my favourite reception team, Carlo, Elena, Domi, Franci and little catch ups with the bosses Marco and Patrizia when they pop in every now and then.
So thank you EVERY ONE!
Thank you Patrizia, James and Lucie for offering me the position and making me feel welcome from day one and most of all a huge thank you to this beautifully weird, fun, unique bunch of people. I would have genuinely quit by now if it weren’t for you.
What is Pasta Grannies and why on earth do you feel the need to thank them? You might wonder.
Well, that’s how it all started a few months ago and I weirdly wouldn’t be where I am today if I hadn’t discovered it.
I came across the Pasta Grannies Youtube channel just a while before and ever since that moment I kept thinking how awesome it would be to do something similar in Cyprus (with my own twist) and then maybe in another countries, but start from home, document my little island’s customs and traditions that have been passed on from generation to generation through our love of food. That’s what Vicky Bennison so beautifully has been doing on the Pasta Grannies channel.
So about a year ago I twitted Vicky with my idea and she replied with this:
That’s when I had an epiphany moment. Why not find a why to do it now? Why wait? Originally, I was to try and film every time I were to visit Cyprus but a few months later, I had another epiphany. I’ll save up for a few months, then quit my job and go back to Cyprus to attempt this. I even came up with a name for the channel and a theme song.
I decided to give teaching a go first (it’s funny how I ended up in Italy out of all places) but I haven’t given up on that dream yet and if it wasn’t for Pasta Grannies I might have still been stuck in an office, so thank you Vicky and Pasta Grannies. Thank you for the inspiration.
Pizza, cheese and wine every day, wandering on little cobble streets, gelato for lunch, pasta for dinner, music everywhere, slow and relaxed life, Italians are never in a rush, everything is easy. The Italian dream. That’s how most imagine living in Italy is like. But is it really?
I’ve been living at Reggio Calabria, a small town down at the bottom of the Italian ‘boot’ for over a month now and let me tell you what I’ve learned so far.
Oh my lord I thought bureaucracy was awful in Cyprus after I’ve lived in the UK for 10 years, but so far Italy is the winner by a mile.
Setting up a bank account is a nightmare, especially if you don’t have a permanent address or if you do but it doesn’t ‘match’ your nationality.
First of all, you need a translator as nobody speaks English (more on that later), then you have to physically go to the bank, which still happens nowadays (although with most large banks you can set up an account online, at least in the UK), so fair enough. But, be prepared.
In order to open an Italian bank account you need a ‘fiscal code’ first (the equivalent to the NI number in the UK). To get that fiscal code you have to fill in a form and apply, in person of course, at ‘Agenzia delle Entrate’ (Italian tax office). Therefore first step: Get the fiscal code (then an Italian phone number, -see reason below-, and then go to the bank to open an account). You will also need some official documentation (if there’s a mismatch between your address and nationality) stating your NI number.
Also, it’s highly recommended to get an Italian phone number before you get an account. The bank I’m with will send you your PIN through SMS for free OR you have to pay an additional 5 euros (to the 23 euros fee to set up the account) to send it to you through the post.
Bear in mind that for some providers e.g. TIM it takes 24 hours for the sim card to be activated, so I’d suggest getting the SIM card a few days before you head to the bank in case something goes wrong (which can easily happen).
Sorting out the internet is not straight forward I found. The flat I live in doesn’t have a router, I don’t even know if it has a landline set up. The only option was mobile internet. I got a MiFi device (mobile wi-fi) for 40 euros and a data SIM card, 14,99 for 50 GB a month. So far so good, though TIM customer service is not the best, topping up after the first month didn’t work and I was overcharged and when I asked for a refund I was asked to send a fax (we live in 2019 for God’s sake, who uses fax?).
Non parlo Italiano. The most common phrase I’ve used so far. Living in a small Italian town has its perks but also means that very few people, even in shops, speak English. My advice: learn Italian as soon as physically possible. (PS TV is also in Italian, everything is dubbed, thank God for Netflix).
Renting is cheap compared to other Italian cities (I pay 450 euros for rent plus electricity and gas), though salaries are generally low. Financially it would have been much better to share, but I’m too old and fussy.
Rubbish collection, when, what, how? In a huge contrast to bureaucracy and archaic systems in place, (as well as horrendous traffic) Southern Italians are keen on recycling, which is awesome, though ever so confusing. Some days are only for organic/food waste collection, others paper and cartons, then multimateriale (cans, plastic etc) and indifferenziato (still unsure what that is) and each bin it’s a different colour. It took me a while to get used to it and remember to regularly check the schedule.
Local cuisine is as great as you’d expect. I don’t have much free time as you might be aware if you read my previous post on the life of a newly qualified EFL teacher, but so far I’ve tried the local pizza and Sicilian arancino and canoli. De-li-cious.
Food shopping can be expensive, if you don’t live near a Lidl. I pay more than I thought I would on groceries and some things you’d find for a pound or less in the UK (or Cyprus) you pay 3-4 euros here e.g. baked beans.
Amazon Italia is not as good as Amazon UK. Most products are more expensive than expected and the range is limited compared to Amazon UK.
The Chinese shop is the place to go for a rather random but large selection of affordable items from Christmas decorations to stationery.
What dance/yoga/art… lessons are you talking about? I’m not sure if this is due to location or the size of the town but for whatever reason, other than shopping and an escape room I recently discovered there’s not too much to do in the city in terms of hobbies, not that I have time anyway, but I’d love to have the option. Plenty though outside the city (or if you take the ferry to Sicily). If only driving was easy in this crazy country!
Drugs are ridiculously expensive. I paid 14 euros for Nurofen Cold and Flu!! I had no idea that you can get the same drugs but ‘unbranded’ cheaper. Of course pharmacists avoid telling you that so you buy the most expensive ones, so make sure you ask for Tachiflu instead or Tachipirina (paracetamol) or take some essentials with you.
Public transport is not the best around here, so be prepared to walk,-don’t even think about cycling, even if the town was not that hilly, you will almost certainly be hit by a car-, or if you drive you’ll have to get used to risking your life daily getting hit by another car and endless hours stuck in traffic-. Italians are infamous for their terrible driving and that is actually very true. Please remember, very rarely cars stop at crossings, check carefully before you even attempt to step on the street.
Other little things I discovered:
Certain cities e.g. Palermo (where I stayed for two nights) charge City Tax for hotel stays, 1-3 euros per person per night depending on hotel stars.
Haircuts are dirt cheap. I paid 12 euros for a decent haircut.
Some things are difficult and/or expensive to find in a small Italian town e.g. kettle, Chocolate Digestives, avocados, WHERE THE HELL ARE THE AVOCADOS?e
Italian time is similar to Cypriot time ie noone is in any rush, expect delays to the hairdresser, supermarket, meetings, I won’t even comment on post etc.
People are a bit nosy and loud but quite friendly, caring and always offer to help, which I love. Some of the kids in my classes, although they only know me for a month, they give me a hug every time after each lesson, one girl drew a little sketch of me and I had plenty of fun conversations and laughter with my older students.
All in all it’s been a mixed bag so far but I love the experience, getting to know a city by living in it. I’ve only been here for two months, I’m sure I’ll find out more as time goes by and when I do I’ll post an update.
I hope this might help anyone considering moving to Southern Italy. Feel free to share your experience on the comments, I’d love to hear how it’s been for others!