Along with four other British volunteers, I spent five weeks in Italy helping out at a children’s summer camp by Lago Maggiore. I was based in Arona (not far from Milan) and in exchange for working was put up for free by a host family who helped me fully immerse
myself in Italian life.
The experience was challenging: differences in culture and climate together with the language barrier meant that I sometimes felt homesick. But it was so worthwhile. The children on my camp were aged 3 to 6 and were absolutely charming. At that age, a child’s main priority is to play. The difficulties in communication didn’t matter to them as long as they could have a run-around.
Eventually, communication wasn’t such a problem anyway. After five weeks I managed to learn a good deal of Italian given that I didn’t speak much English over that period. As someone who studies Italian at university, this was the most rewarding thing of all. To feel
myself conversing in a foreign language showed me how important language-learning is, and that it’s not impossible!
Culturally the experience was very enriching. Living with a family meant that I was introduced to Italian cuisine the real way. Pasta and pizza were in the picture, of course. They showed me some of their favourite recipes, which I have taken home with me as a token of my time in Italy. I learned about the importance of family and friends. There were always guests round, bringing the house alive with laughter and vibrant chatter. They included me in their excursions out, in their games and in their conversations, so before long I felt that I was really starting to fall into the Italian way of life myself. The family introduced me to their favourite Italian films, music, books, the list goes on.
The project included a week where we were free to explore Italy for ourselves. I chose to see Milan and Turin. I was able to meet up with two other volunteers and travel with them. We visited historical sights and museums, which were very interesting, but were also
happy wondering around, not looking for anything in particular, soaking up our surroundings.
There is so much I gained from my trip to Italy, but most important of all is the fact that I have come home having made friends. Two young Polish women were working on my camp with me and due to the fact that we spent so much time together, we were really able
to bond. Now back in the UK, I am still in touch with them and hope to go and visit them in Poland at some point over the coming year.