About the Author: Harmehak, a student of Sanatan Dharam College, Chandigarh, talks about her journey to Italy and how she helped children learn a foreign language.
19 years of roving two nations but the summer of 2016 set itself apart from every vacation I had spent in Rome. My sister, the LC president for AIESEC, introduced to me the idea of volunteering abroad, and it took me an entire year to bring her plan into action. Having spent a year at college without any experience, I decided to spice up my vacation and add a dash of experience to it.
I applied to a number of teaching opportunities on the portal of the organisation, trying my luck with all the local committees of AIESEC in Italy. I got accepted somewhere in North Italy but being the chicken heart that I was, I wanted to secure a project somewhere around Rome. My father is an Italian citizen, so I visit Italy often for the renewal of some paperwork; with an internship close to Rome, it’d become easier for me to reach home whenever I was required for the paperwork. AIESEC has an online portal wherein more than 10,000 projects are listed. I applied for various projects of my choice, submitted the necessary details such as my educational experience, skills, resume, etc., and answered why I should be considered for the opportunity. Two days later, I received an email citing that they appreciated my application and would like to schedule a Skype interview to assess my communication skills and my suitability for the internship. This is how the interview went –
1. Have you previously dealt with children of the age group of 4 to 14 in the field of teaching?
I told the interviewer that I had been an active participant in after-school teaching classes which were held at my school to impart education to the underprivileged.
2. Do you like working with children? Are you patient?
I answered that though I hadn’t been very fond of children, I saw that opportunity as a chance to make up for this as I’d get to work with a lot of kids. I added that I was empathetic and understanding and dealt with people patiently.
3. Do you know how to swim? There’ll be water sports for kids at the summer camp, so the instructor must be someone who qualifies in this field. If yes, will you be able to provide a certificate for the same?
I told the interviewer that I had been swimming since I was four and although I didn’t have any certificate to prove it, I was pretty confident of my skills.
4. Why do you want to intern in Italy and contribute to English teaching here?
I told her that I was born in Italy but my family had shifted to India because of its inadequate education. I pointed out the low rate of the English speaking population in European countries and said that I wanted to help the Italian youth learn English.
After the Skype call, the interviewer discussed it with other AIESEC members of the Rome office and sent me an email stating ‘You are matched with Belpoggio-Cultural Summer at Belpoggio, hosted by AIESEC in Roma Tre! Exciting times ahead’; a formal invitation to join them in Italy. They were also excited to have me on board since I was going to be the first Indian intern in Rome. I applied for a visa, booked my tickets, and flew to Italy 15 days prior to my internship. I stayed with my father all this while and moved to the northern part of Italy for 40 days, the duration of my internship.
I had no accommodation planned out by my hosting LC yet. They had given a few vague suggestion but being adamant on a host family experience, I made a quick fix with a lady. She approved me as a guest and was glad to have an English speaking Indian around. However, the excitement was cut short just a day before my internship when she informed me that her company was sending her off to the USA. She was generous enough to let me stay for three days and assured me that she’d look for another family to host me.
Kickstarting the experience – Centro Estivo, Belpoggio
My dad dropped me off at the site which was on the outskirts of Rome where there was no public transport, and I had to walk 3 km every day to reach the summer camp from the last bus stop. This was my first experience as a fish outside the water and it made me cry. While 70+ kids played, laughed, swam, sang, ate, ran around me, I assured myself that I could manage it for 40 days. I visited the second host family and guess what, they had a dog! I loathed it but had to give in. I had been wanting to quit the project but two incidents kept me going. The first one was when I moved into my host’s house and met her daughters Camilla and Stella. Just one hello exchanged, and I knew I’d found what I’d been looking for; this created an urge in me to stay. Another such incident was a girl trying to strike a conversation with me in English using an English to Italian dictionary.
My host picked me up from the summer camp and we conversed with whatever we had at hand, her broken English and my broken Italian. She took me to my beautiful room, and I got acquainted with her daughters. They were excited to explore India, and I was happy to help. I also helped Stella with her English homework. At that time, the Italian team was playing in the Euro Cup 2016, and the family often called me to join them to watch the match. There were better days ahead – spending the evening with them, eating together, talking about our nations, their beach house, and our families, walking to gelato bar, and so much more!
At AIESEC, I taught basic alphabets and gave simple lessons to the younger batch and helped the older ones in constructing proper sentences and writing compositions. Apart from this, I was responsible for various other activities at the summer camp. I helped them with their art and craft classes, swimming, football, and beach ball and assisted the younger lot during the recess. I also assisted in the kitchen. I was in charge of children safety and music and dance groups along with being a sports coach for 20 kids. I dealt with all kinds of kids: fussy, shy, jolly, and unmanageable. There were kids who kissed me goodbye and there were others who never even held my hand when I walked them to the exit. In few days, I saw myself evolve from crying to sharing the amazing events I was a part of with my mother. I met with all my fellow exchange mates who were from Mexico, Greece, and the USA along with the Italian members at an AIESEC meeting. A week later, I visited the Vatican City with all other interns. Although it wasn’t my first visit there, it was surely a lifetime memory etched in my mind as the day of real cross-cultural talks. Gradually, it became a routine – waking up early and getting dressed, coming down for breakfast, going to work with my host and the two little princesses in their car, having them translate the news for me, working, coming back home and playing dominos, having after meal discussions, and much more. Also, I went from hating dogs to loving them!
The gala time-
A fancy dinner by the beachside followed by an award ceremony and the Global Village event where I changed from my little white dress into my Indian attire. Also, I had a lot stacked up to display at the event followed by a presentation which left everyone impressed. I roamed around Rome with my friends and on our last meet, they enjoyed beers and shots, and I sat with a gelato, trying to trace all the events of the past months. Once I wore a suit with a bindi and the typical Punjabi earrings at work and in no time, little girls surrounded me asking me to put bindis on their foreheads. The kids taught me the most happening summer song, my now happy song, and were overjoyed with the idea of an Indian singing an Italian song.
My Last Day At Belpoggio –
On my last day at AIESEC, I was pampered and showered with gifts, adorable drawings, an Italian flag signed by all of them, and a picture with the best kids ever. I don’t know if I miss being by the poolside with kids more or helping them paint, but I know that I don’t want to do away with all these memories. I said goodbye to my hosts, the most humble and selfless couple I had met in Italy. The exchange was a trial version of life; I went to places that remain engraved in my heart, tasted unmatchable meals, missed trains, experienced the joy of boarding the right bus, appreciated what I had back at home, made new friends, and emerged as a newer and better version of myself. I’ll always be thankful to AIESEC for giving me such a platform to encounter the beauty of life and helping me in appreciating the little chunks of happiness that we all have been blessed with.
Do you also want to do an international internship? Check out these latest international internships and gain a valuable exposure.
Editor’s note – If you also have an interesting story to share, you can now participate in Your Internship Story Contest 2017 and win cash prizes and goodies worth INR 1 Lac!