Spending a year abroad is an integral part of any language degree, but I wanted to do something different from the usual attendance at university. I had been keen to find out what teaching was like for a fairly long time, and saw the assistantship as the perfect combination of teaching experience and improving my linguistic skills.
I taught at a liceo classico: a secondary school with a focus on learning Greek and Latin, and I taught 14-19-year olds and fellow members of teaching staff on an extracurricular basis.
Day-to-day, I conducted discussions of linguistic issues and literary texts in class, including poetry, plays and extracts from novels, plus meetings with my mentor and extracurricular courses in the afternoon.
The most enjoyable part about teaching for me was performing an adapted version of Romeo and Juliet with a group of second-, third- and fourth-year students in a local theatre to the whole school and parents. I have lived with three families in different towns along the Ligurian coastline, and been involved in a variety of extracurricular trips and activities (including local festivals and charity dinners), as well as taking part in lessons at Genoa University on an informal basis.
My language skills have certainly improved. My working knowledge of Italian is much better than when I finished second year because of the exposure to everyday life, with all the vocabulary that is involved. I would recommend getting to know the other teachers at the school so that you can sit in on their lessons, and even join them for lunch, as I have been invited to football matches, translation competitions and the opera simply by getting to know my colleagues better.
I had never been to the opera before coming to Italy, and have seen two great performances of Rigoletto and Lucia di Lammermoor at the Teatro Carlo Felice in Genoa. I've also used my free time to travel extensively throughout Italy, shuttling up and down the peninsula on a variety of increasingly rickety trains with a very competitively-priced One Country InterRail pass, popping up to see the duomo at Milan one weekend, the carnival at Venice another, tootling over to Bologna for an Assistants' reunion the next, before rounding off my eight days of criss-crossing the country with a four-person bicycle ride around the Colosseum!
I would recommend the assistantship to others. If you've got an urge to try teaching, don't think twice - an assistantship is the best way to really get to grips with the culture of your chosen country, offering opportunities to improve your linguistic skills, earn a good wage and spend your free time travelling.
My advice for future assistants would be to make the most of every opportunity on offer. If you have a passion for a particular area of English, ask your mentor and have a bash at teaching it; if you've got an idea for an extracurricular project, no matter how audacious it sounds, suggest it to the headteacher and you could end up making fireworks.
As a result of the assistantship, I have confidence in my abilities to learn another language, get to know new people and achieve whatever goal I have in mind, no matter how ambitious it may seem.