By: Kevin Nye
In learning about teaching abroad, you might hear that it’s a great way to meet new people. I was personally not as excited about this part, as I figured most people would just be my students and that would be that. The other thing you hear is that it’s a great way to see the world, and that was more up my alley, so I enrolled in the International TEFL Academy’s Online TEFL Certification program in May of 2014, and shipped off to Milan, Italy in September to see the world.
Then I met some great people!
Let me explain: As a group, the peoplein Milan are terrible at making you feel welcome. On the day of my arrival, I was wheeling two suitcases down a sidewalk, and people would be standing in the way. When they saw me coming, they looked me in the eye, blew cigarette smoke toward me, and continued to stand in the way. It was not a good way to get started.
They also don’t clean up after their pets, don’t throw out their trash, and spray paint on any flat surface they can get their hands on. If you think you’re going to see an orderly process when entering or exiting the subway train, you’re out of your mind.
However, individually they are some of the nicest people in the world, and they just might give you the shirt off your back if it seems like you need it.
One of my students was a 7-year old boy with a three-year-old sister. Their mother was usually home during my lessons (I was there twice per week) and she would incessantly offer me things to drink or munch on during the lesson. If I said no, it was almost as if I was making a personal attack on her, and she implored me to say yes. When I agreed, she lit up.
But there was more. When Christmas came around, she didn’t give me a card or a little trinket as a gift, even though I arrogantly half-expected something like that. Instead she knew how much I love chocolate, and she bought me a chocolate fondue pot, for no reason other than being polite. And then she mentioned that they would be visiting their winter home in Switzerland over Christmas break, and if we would like to come for a few days, there’s a detached suite that we (my fiancée and I) could have all to ourselves.
And she wasn’t the only one like this. My favorite student was a 25-year-old college student finishing up the Italian equivalent of an MBA. We met at least twice per week and would usually just talk for two hours and that was good enough. He came from southern Italy and his father’s farm produced olive oil, so I was the proud recipient of a 1.5 liter can of *real* olive oil. Later, he gave me a pen and a key chain from his father’s company. These last two were pretty small gifts, I admit, but they pale in comparison to the best thing he did for me.
Over spring break, he invited the two of us to stay at his home in southern Italy. When it turned out that their guesthouse had a heating problem, he got us a free room at his friend’s bed and breakfast, where we were allowed to come and go as we pleased. Again, that was for free and included breakfast.
On our second day in the area, he proceeded to take us on a long drive around the region, showing off the rock formations off the coast, the summer resort towns, the historical significance, and one of the biggest national parks in all of Italy—Gargano.
These people just never stopped being wonderful on an individual level – family members were offering us clothing as the weather was unseasonably cool; friends were offering us their food; and even the animals seemed to really like us.
Still, the strangest thing to happen involving people came on Valentine’s Day. We were taking a trip to Verona because we had heard that they do some lovely things on Valentine’s Day, such as give out free chocolate. The train from Milan was very crowded and my fiancée noticed that the girl seated next to her was speaking English with someone. A conversation struck up, and after about twenty minutes, the girl mentioned that one of her friends on another train car was actually from Ohio, where I’m from.
Well, things carried on and when we got off the train I actually bumped into this friend from Ohio. It turned out that, despite being 4500 miles from home, we grew up a mere nine miles from one another and had mutual friends. Of course.
The world really is full of some incredible people, and there’s no way to meet all of them. But getting outside your comfort zone and going someplace completely different from where you’ve been is a good place to start.
I'm Kevin Nye. I grew up in the Cleveland suburbs before moving to Chicago where I worked for a software company and did comedy for fun. When selling software became too daunting, I took the easy way out and moved to Italy with my fiancee and no job to teach English. It worked.
For more on Kevin's experience in Italy, check out his Q&A: