Three weeks ago marked the beginning of exchanging my 'Hello's for 'Ciao's and 'tea please' for 'limoncello por favore.' You may not believe it, but I am not talking about walking around South England spouting attempts of speaking the Italian language, I am actually currently residing in Italy. Palermo in Sicily to be precise, and for the next three months I am going to be living and working out here - at an organisation that seeks to help refugees and asylum seekers from all over the world. Doing good while eating carbs? I call that a success, if only I included this in my job search criteria sooner.
So why now, and why Italy? To answer the 'now' question, I saw an advert placed online offering work and job experiences in Spain, Italy, France, Ireland, and Germany. As Italy has always been a personal favourite of mine (and I'm not just being biased because of the cuisine - okay, maybe a little), I have always told myself that I will find work in Italy and live and earn some money somewhere, somehow in my boot-shaped dreamland. While having the desire and instinct to go and live abroad are often the hardest elements initially, actually finding the work, accommodation, exact location and attempting to learn the language is another thing altogether. Cue the Leonardo Da Vinci programme, angel choirs singing, and an array of bright lights shining down...a few CVs, covering letters, and an interview later and I was on - counting down four weeks before trying to pack three months' worth of possessions into a bag not exceeding 20kg (thanks for that Ryanair)
If I had to describe the last couple of weeks in a few adjectives I would have to say that the past 20 days have been insane, surreal, amazing, challenging, rewarding, difficult, and enlightening.
I opted to work at Centro Astalli; a non-profit centre that helps refugees from all over the world to find jobs, teach them English (this is where I come in), French, Italian, gain practical skills in sewing, or technology based contexts, while providing daily opportunities to see lawyers, doctors, and counsellors if need be. I always feel a little guilty when I attempt to explain (in Italianglish) that I am only here 'per tres mesi' for 'lavoro' to gain a bit of life experience in a foreign country out of choice, when I am talking to people who are in Palermo because they don't have a choice. I have only been here a number of weeks but I already feel my eyes are being opened to life outside of South East England.
What is the Leonardo Da Vinci Programme? Quite simply, Leonardo is an EU funded and instigated programme which supports Mobility Projects: European work placements for graduates and school leavers. Forgetting the jargon, it means that I came out to Italy knowing I had an Italian host company waiting to help and support me whenever I needed, accommodation all sorted, and flights booked and paid for. The catch? There isn't one - well not one that has come to light just yet. In less than a month I have met people from Ghana, Bangladesh, Ecuador, Nigeria, Morocco, France, Hungary, Spain, and Brazil, and I could not feel more at home, despite being away from the comfort and familiarity of the UK.
I am learning more than just what defines a cappuccino and what the hype about espressos is all about (as a coffee-hater pre Leonardo trip, I am now addicted to espressos...), I am learning that living and working abroad is not as terrifying and alien as some people may believe. It is difficult at times with the language barrier, though more hilarious for the shop keepers laughing at my appalling attempts at trying to gesture what a towel is, but it is giving me confidence in finding work when I return to England. I didn't come here for a holiday or to 'find myself,' but rather I am here to improve upon my life adventures, and to experience Italy as a native would, not just visiting the tourist sights before retiring off to a local hotel/B&B. I have danced under the stars until 7am, received a free Versace coat from work, laughed with people who have an awful lot to cry about, and used so many gestures that I am now a knockout at Charades.
Since graduating I have felt in employment limbo...now, four months later, I am working on a rota that provides me with an array of work requirements on a daily basis, and I am feeling immersed into the company, even if being exposed to a new language and trying to learn as much as you can in a short space of time can be incredibly energy-absorbing. In my Graduation ceremony, the Vice-Chancellor of Durham University urged myself and my fellow gown-clothed peers 'Don't let your degree get in the way of your education' and he is right. Having a degree here isn't a requirement, but it gives me encouragement. Leonardo welcomes graduates and school-leavers alike: all you have to tick is the box that you are 18 years old and over.
I may be teaming carb-eating with grammar learning, mixing teaching English with data entry, and combining breakfast serving with Sicilian men swerving (as a blonde haired/blue eyed 22 year old, you get used to it after a while) but I am gaining more confidence each day, growing as a person, and all the other cliches that you read/hear about, that are nonetheless true.
I do not know what the next couple of months are going to bring, but if they have as much to do with the coffee i've been drinking, the spaghetti i've been eating, and the warm, friendly, and genuinely brilliant people I have been meeting, then I say 'Amonì!'