By Chloe Stout

27 November 2014 - 04:39

'It's important to grasp opportunities with both hands.' Photo (c) Moyan Brenn, licensed under CC BY 2.0 and adpated from the original.
'It's important to grasp opportunities with both hands.' ©

Moyan Brenn, licensed under CC BY 2.0 and adpated from the original (link no longer available).

Being the only young English person in a quiet town in a foreign country can be a daunting experience. University student Chloe Stout, who recently started an eight month stint as an English language assistant in Italy, explains why it's essential keep in touch, stay busy and be positive.

I’ve been in Italy for a month and a half now. That means I've got six and a half months to go. Although I'm enjoying my experience as an Assistente di Lingua, it would be a lie to say that I have found it easy. I live in a small coastal town in the eastern Italian region of Abruzzo, and while my school has been incredibly welcoming and kind to me, there isn’t really anything or anybody else around. Here are a few ways I've coped when it seemed that all may be lost, or not actually there to begin with.

Keep in touch with home and university

Homesickness, I've discovered, can come as a real shock. So keeping in touch with home has to be at the top of the list. Skype calls with loved ones can be a great way to fill a few hours on an otherwise dreary afternoon and something as simple as being able to speak your own language can make you feel better more easily than you’d think. Catching up on everything going on at home with friends and family will make you still feel part of the loop, especially if you’re up to date when you make a visit home.

It's also important to keep in touch with your university. It's important that they know if you're struggling, so they can offer advice and even be a metaphorical shoulder to cry on -- they do know what they're doing. It's also good to get things off your chest. They say a problem shared is a problem halved, but your university (dare I say it) will probably know better than friends or family what you're going through -- after all, it’s likely they’ve dealt with this before.

Look for opportunities nearby

A good starting point is at your school. Are there any after school activities that you can help with, or even participate in? Do they do any excursions that you might be able to join? It’s unlikely that they’ll tell you flat out no. If you live near a biggish city, it’s likely that they’ll have Erasmus groups. Join in on Facebook and attend their events. It’s a great way to meet other younger people, especially living in a town where the only young people are those who go to the school you work at.

Be positive, say yes 

As well as looking for opportunities, it's also important to grasp them with both hands. Obviously this comes with a 'proceed with caution' warning but for the most part this is what you should be doing. Being the only native English speaker in a small town means you are likely to be in high demand for private lessons. Not only is this a great way to meet people but you can also earn a bit of extra cash. Other opportunities are sure to arise as well. Teachers are likely to ask you to go for coffee or lunch with them, which I’ve found can make you feel welcomed -- so say yes.

Keep busy, break up the day

Working only mornings means that I often find myself at a loose end in the afternoons. Making plans usually solves this. It might be something as simple as a chinwag with your best friend over Skype or something as mundane as taking a trip to the supermarket. Breaking the day up like this can make time go that little bit faster. It might sound a bit clichéd, but having something to busy yourself with can take your mind of things like homesickness, and getting out of the house and into the fresh air really can do you good.

Get out of town

This might seem contradictory to the point of the article but leaving your town really is good for you. Not only is it good to get out and explore your new area or country but booking weekends away to visit friends gives you something exciting to look forward to as well as the opportunity to see new places. Taking a trip into the city to meet other students or to attend an event can be priceless.

Furthermore, if living in a small town really is too difficult don’t overlook moving somewhere else. Commuting is always an option, and with British Council placements only being 12 hours a week, it is definitely doable. Living in a city or even a larger town will give you more opportunities yet by working in the school you will remain a vital part of the tight-knit community in your smaller town. It's the best of both worlds.

Summing up

Being the only young English person in a quiet town in a foreign country can be a daunting experience. However, it's also a once in a lifetime opportunity. To be able to integrate yourself into a small community, albeit in a totally different language, really is something to be proud of. Not only are you able to experience a completely different culture and way of life, but you learn to be independent. From simple day to day tasks in a foreign language to pushing yourself to join new groups all alone can release a new found self-confidence and independence. It may seem difficult at first but hold on, stay positive and embrace it.

Find out more about becoming an English language assistant. The deadline for applications to teach in China and Spain is 21 February 2016, and for all other countries is 17 January 2016.

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