"I had traded a comparative Atlantis for…one local newsagent, one local café, and one local pharmacy"UNSPLASH

The year abroad. The jewel in the crown of every MMLer’s degree. The opportunity to travel to anywhere in the world. Paris, Berlin, Milan, Madrid are on the itinerary of many, keen to get a look at big city life abroad. Others choose to carve their overseas experiences in more off the grid places.

Three weeks before I was scheduled to head off to Milan University, something stopped me in my tracks. As a city boy from Manchester, brought up by Thursday nights at Factory, Funky House, and Fish Fingers, I realised that I’d never lived rurally. I plan to head to Moscow University in 2022, and so, being the Maverick that I am, I decided to teach English in Sogliano, rural Italy.

“I felt like a Fortnite player dropped into a random world and forced to navigate it for myself”

And rural it was. The village where I was based was a far cry from Manchester. I had traded a comparative Atlantis for…one local newsagent, one local café, and one local pharmacy. I felt like a Fortnite player dropped into a random world and forced to navigate it for myself. And navigate I did.

My living setup and lifestyle is, to this day, rather difficult to explain. Essentially, I was given a 40 hour per week contract, teaching 5 to 12 year olds, but from numerous different schools. This entailed getting a company car and driving around the entirety of the Sogliano area. Some days I’d drive up to two hours, going from school to school in what was a massive, blue Fiat Ducato. Picture me, a foreign man, parking this large van, right outside various schools in rural Italy…

"It must have been so beautiful. So romantic. The countryside must have been incredible."

I’ll be honest. I didn’t fall in love. Not least because I didn’t meet a single person between the age of 18 and 35 throughout my entire stay in this village. Adding insult to injury, I hated teaching. My god, what a ballache. Having attended a private school (cue the backlash), I had, in large parts, idealised the profession. I longed for nothing more than to sit in discussion groups with those interested in my subject. My friends have always said that one day I’d return back to school to teach, and before this experience, I wouldn’t necessarily have disagreed with them. Now, I would.

“If you can successfully teach a group of Italian five-year-olds English you deserve a Nobel Prize”

I found the job fun. For about two weeks. If you can successfully teach a group of Italian five-year-olds English you deserve a Nobel Prize. There’s only so many times I could sing nursery rhymes, or count to ten, before I wanted to gouge my eyes out. On a similarly frustrating level, I hoped that my twelve year olds would be inquisitive and desire to learn more about English traditions, customs, and our monarchy. Instead, I was forced to respond to questions such as “Do you play Fortnite?” and “Do you prefer Mcdonalds or Burger King?” The answer, by the way, is Mcdonalds for the Mcflurry, and Burger King for the chips.

Teaching over 600 children in a week, I lost all sympathy for them as individuals. They became little more than an hour’s drop in the ocean of my compact 40 hours per week timetable. I didn’t care for their improvement in English. Perhaps, this, more than anything, indicated to me the overwhelming disparity that exists between schooling experience. I look back fondly on my time at school. Many of my sixth form classes had less than ten students and often felt like a discussion group. We felt capable of doing anything, and our teachers constantly encouraged us to do so. A world apart from my unfruitful attempts at teaching seven-year-olds the names of English cities.

While in Sogliano, I lived with a couple of different host families. On a daily basis, I genuinely don’t think I’d ever eaten and drank as well as I had done there. These families treated me like royalty, as we drank wine in vineyards, and ate delectable dishes. It sounds great, doesn’t it? Practising your Italian as you twirl another forkful of homemade spaghetti. And it is great. But I’m also twenty-one. And I hate being simped for. Italians have a real ‘Mammone’ culture, and they will do absolutely everything for their guests, especially if they’re relatively young. Being hosted, the least I could do was help out around the house, whether it be washing the dishes, or cooking (my Brexit cuisine of beans on toast warms the heart quicker than the pallet). But the family wouldn’t let me. How kind of them. Is it selfish for me to want to do something in the home? Believe me, I’m not a particularly altruistic person. I’d never bake someone a cake for the thrill. However, not being allowed to lift a finger strangely felt like I was deprived of a certain level of autonomy.


Mountain View

My year abroad in a country that doesn’t exist

Without getting too deep, being plonked in the middle of a random family’s dinner table forced me to think about my future family values. What do I want my relationship with my wife and kids to be like? What type of father do I want to be? I’d never really thought about these types of questions before. It was living with a family that isn’t my own, that I became more aware of the complex interrelations between parents. Who takes the kid to school? Who does the kid turn to when they stub their toe? And how does the kid’s relationship with the parents affect the parents’ relationship with one another? So many questions. So few answers. I’m not a parent yet. Do I want to be? I don’t know. It seems the year abroad has opened up my horizons in more ways than expected.

Returning home brings with it the inevitable question “How was your year abroad?” At risk of sounding like a pretentious twat, my response is as follows.

I hated it. Retrospectively, I’m glad I’ve done it. Would I do it again? No chance.