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   Date: 2/22/11 Bookmark and Share

Notes From Abroad

More Than Just an English Teacher

By Laura Itzkowitz ’09

Why do so many Smithies, with majors ranging from French and Italian to anthropology and psychology, turn to teaching English after graduating?

Laura Itzkowitz ’09 and her charge, Federica.

Read other Notes From Abroad by Laura Itzkowitz:

A Day in Tuscany

Connections Between Paris and Rome


In my case, and for many of my classmates, teaching English has provided an opportunity to live abroad and experience another culture. Many Smithies return to the country where they studied abroad. Others, such as me, decide to explore a new country.

When I graduated in May 2009, I signed up for a TEFL training course in Rome and have been teaching here ever since.

Teaching English was never my career goal. It was a way to get to Rome and immerse myself in the culture. I am not a conventional teacher in a classroom. Rather, I teach businessmen in their offices and children in their homes. This has provided me the unique experience of really seeing how Italians live and getting to know my students on a personal level, not to mention getting to know the city of Rome.

Teaching English to Italian kids can be challenging, but it’s also very rewarding. I am amazed at the progress of my student Federica, whom I have taught since January 2010. Since increasing her lessons from one to two hours a week at her mother’s request, I have noticed a profound change in which we can have a more natural conversation in English.

Early in our instruction, we English teachers use fixed questions with standard answers: “What’s your name?” “My name is Federica.” After a while, we progress to questions like, “What do you like to do in the summer?” After a year with Federica, she answers at length: “I go to Sardinia with my family. I like to go swimming in the sea and ride a bike in the park. I like summer because it’s hot.”

Equally rewarding is the friendly bond I have forged with Federica and her family. A couple of weeks ago they invited me to dinner. Some might think it strange for a teacher to visit for dinner, but Federica was thrilled. She and her mother used a nice tablecloth and brought out their best dishes and silverware. It seemed the whole family was excited. No longer just the English teacher, I was an honored guest.

As I sat next to Federica, I noticed I was speaking more English and less Italian with her than with my other students. Thanks to my lessons, her parents said, she will go to a special middle school and high school where she can learn English at a more advanced pace.

I encouraged them to bring Federica to Boston during summer vacation, so she could practice speaking English and learn more about American culture.

Then her parents switched to Italian and regaled me with stories of their honeymoon in the United States, when they drove along the California coast and inland to the Grand Canyon and Death Valley. They could hardly describe the sights to Federica, as there is nothing remotely like them in Italy. Next they hope to see the East Coast. They want to learn more about the American way of life.

As someone always fascinated by foreign cultures, it’s amazing to see this Italian family so interested in my culture.

Having dinner with them, I feel like more than just an English teacher. I feel like a part of their family.

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