Ciao, I’m Oliver and I’m a final year Classics and Italian student. Unfortunately my grasp of Italian didn’t extend much further than “ciao” before going to Apulia (the heel of Italy). Being an ab initio language student, it was very daunting spending a prolonged period of time in a country when your knowledge of the language is a lot weaker compared to those who have studied it for several years.
I was even more apprehensive when I found out I’d be spending 8 months in a quiet town called San Ferdinando di Puglia, famous for two things: peaches and artichokes. I need not have worried as all my initial fears were soon forgotten and I was absorbed into rural Italian life.
Officially I worked as a language assistant for the British Council in the local secondary school where my onerous 12 hours a week primarily involved discussing British and Italian cultural differences with whole classes. Unofficially I taught private English lessons, helped with the continuous fruit harvests, ate whatever Angelina my lovely landlady put in front of me and generally enjoyed living like a local.
If you’re lucky enough to spend your year abroad in Italy, my one piece of advice would be to make the most of the really cheap and fairly reliable public transport (even if, like me, your town is too small for a train station!). You can visit any of the both numerous and wonderful Italian cities at a reasonable price. But Italy also offers so much more than that. Personally I came back with: much improved Italian, a little dialect, great friends, some Italian grandparents, even more extended family, a good tan, an appreciation of good food, fine wine and real coffee, and a larger than desirable waist line.