Thursday, August 5, 2010

Ch. 17 - Florence, Verona, and...Boston?

With the job successfully completed, I set my sights on the actual "vacation" part of my trip to Italy. In hindsight, the work with the kids and the staff helped me polish up my rudimentary Italian skills. These basic skills would help me in the coming days.

Florence is nothing short of grand. Boasting a gigantic footprint among the hills of Tuscany, it is an amazing and storied metropolis. I was anxious to get around and explore the vias, piazzas, and other points of interest. I had booked a two-night stay in a hostel nestled in between the large duomo and the Galleria Accademia, so I was satisfied with my relative location in the city. It was certainly a lot to try and absorb, so my few days there felt very rushed. I was also able to see the majestic statue of David; it was every bit as impressive as I had imagined.

Verona, on the other hand, is not known for its soaring domes and world-famous statues. It is best known, of course, as the home to Romeo and Juliet. It was not only this pair of star-crossed lovers that attracted me there, though. Its geography proved to be the selling point for me when I made the decision to buy a train ticket and a Bed&Breakfast reservation. I was glad Verona made it on my itinerary, in the end. I lament, though, that I didn't have a second night to stay. While there, I was happily reminded of several places in Spain that still hold a dear place in my heart: Segovia, Albarracin, Toledo, and Avila have that special "old meets new" magic just as Verona does.

As I write these words, I'm currently stranded in Boston's Logan International Airport cursing Mother Nature. Needless to say, I'd much rather be someplace else. Sorry, Boston. It's nothing personal.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Ch. 16 - A Whirlwind Week

A lot has happened since my last posting a week ago. It would be foolish to try and condense it in a witty narrative. Instead, I'll write them as easy bullet points:

- My work-issued laptop died. It was its time to go. Besides, I might get lucky and get issued a nicer, newer, faster one when I get back to Alexandria.
-Exhaustion is finally setting in. I will now happily embrace a multi-day recovery period when I get back home.
-It's been rainy for the past 2 days, and it's really put a--wait for it--damper on our outdoor activities.
-The "Russian Mafia" left camp, except for Vladestruction. Some of them were sweet, but they were all spoiled. Oh, well.
-I tore Vladarth Vader a new one yesterday for getting my bookbag wet on purpose. A fat lot of good it'll do in the long run, but I think he'll stop and reconsider his actions before trying to mess with me again.
-I talked with a camp counselor from a neighboring organization on the beach two days ago. She seemed really happy with her job. I felt insanely jealous.

I have nothing more to write. I'm fairly tired after today's rainy field trip to Venice. I was doing well until I sat down in my seat on the bus. Lights out!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Ch. 15 - Beachcombing

Today was my "day off", which roughly translates to "sleeping in until the kids go on a field trip and getting back on the clock when the kids arrive back at dinner time" in English. I used my time wisely by falling asleep on the beach.

During my waking moments, however, I was privy to some of the finer examples of fashion, trends, and other intricacies that Italian (and, perhaps, European in general) beach customs has to offer. Take for example the following sights I witnessed while awake:

1) A tanned, round Kenny Rogers in a Speedo who spoke German.
2) An older woman using cross-country ski poles while strolling along a sandbar (No, she wasn't wearing skis.)
3) Now, ponder these five words: cowboy hat and a Speedo (more on this guy later).
4) A line of kids from a different camp doing the long jump from the sand's edge into the shallow water. It was pretty hard to *not* stick those landings, as one might imagine.
5) Many, many man purses worn by...wait for it...Speedo-clad men.

Back to #3 on the list. Imagine for a moment a cross between Burt Reynolds and a skinny Gary Oldman. Have you got that mashup in your mind yet? Now, put him at around 50 years of age. Then, add several years of recreational tanning. Next, put a black, straw cowboy hat on him and make sure he's wearing a navy blue Speedo.

That was my day. I kid you not. I'm glad--in a way--that I wasn't hallucinating, because I wouldn't have been able to share this little insight and slice of cultural joy with you. Sure, I got a bit too much sun but it was worth it. Besides, I can't unsee what I saw.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Ch. 14 - Gelato Time on My Hands?

Gelato is one of those things that I had never sampled before, but now I have a point of reference. Gelato is so impressionable on some people, that it is often what they think about nearly all the time. Case in point: a camper here named Nick included the word "gelato" in his Skype handle. Now *that's* dedication to gelato. His favorite flavor is "Puffo", which is blue and he says tastes like cotton candy.

In Trieste, I sampled a concoction made with Nutella and chocolate chunks. A bus could have hit me after that first taste and it probably wouldn't have bothered me too much. I look forward to sampling more flavors in my remaining time here. I have to admit, a really good cone of gelato lives up to its reputation of being unique and enjoyable. Of course, now the dilemma becomes: where will I be able to get some comparable gelato once I get back home?

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Ch. 13 - New Nicknames...

...for my favoritest little Russian:

These might be the most appropriate nicknames so far. Ugh.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Ch. 12 - It Was Bound to Happen

So...... I bought a man purse. It turned out to be a bit of a necessity, in a roundabout sort of way. Originally, I only wanted to get a wristwatch. That purchase soon gave way to the rationale that a murse was a good idea. The notion to buy a wristwatch came about from the need to deactivate my cell phone; side note: international roaming charges are a complete bear.

As a result, it was deemed necessary to get a murse. It's rather subtle: black ballistic nylon and lots o' zippers. It is *not* a "European Carryall" a la Seinfeld. It is, however, proving to be a useful addition to my wardrobe full of cargo shorts and guayabera shirts. Let's face it: I love pockets. Also, it couldn't hurt for me to get a bit more organized.

Ch. 11 - Waka Waka

My concept of Purgatory has changed a little since working here: I imagine a place of perpetual 90+ degrees Fahrenheit, about 95% humidity, and Shakira's "Waka Waka" on a continuous loop while a cold, 2-liter bottle of water is floating about 8 feet above my head. If you are unfamiliar with Shakira's latest dance hit, check it out here:

I hear it, on average, 6 times a day. Most of the kids around here know the choreography and lyrics. It's like the Macarena, but not as obnoxious.

On the other hand, Shakira is really pretty. And, her hips don't lie.

Ch. 10 - No Humidity? Seriously?

Today is the first day that is actually--in a meteorological sense--pleasant. The classroom doesn't have great ventilation, but it's rather nice outside. As I write this, the kids are taking a language placement test. It's pretty ridiculous, since some of the kids will have taken this test for the 3rd or 4th time. Apparently, the Italian version of this test is full of errors and is in no way an accurate measurement of one's proficiency level. Oh, well. I just work here.

Some of the kids--both veterans and newcomers--and I played Tombola last night. It's basically BINGO, but with a slightly more complicated prize-winning structure. It was a hit with most of the kids who came along. One girl got really into it and asked the head Tombolera (I just made that term up) if they'd be offering it as an activity again later in the week, so I guess she'll be coming back for more.

In other news, I've begun searching for hostels in Florence. Taking a cue from my Dad, I'm anxious to poke around this very famous city after my job here is done. I'll be doing a little homework on the city itself, and I find myself getting more and more excited as each day passes.

Also, tomorrow is my mother's birthday! As usual, I hope everyone is treating her well. Some kids are finishing up their tests, so I'd better get going. Ciao....

Friday, July 16, 2010

Ch. 9 - Special Case(s)

There's a "special" child--the Italians might call him pazzo --named Vladimir, who is a small Russian boy who's here to learn more English. (Mostly) Because of his "antics", I have begun compiling a list of nicknames for him:

a) Most staffers refer to him using an Italian diminutive, calling him Vladimirigno.
b) We occasionally call him by his own familiar nickname, "Vova".
c) Sometimes I just call him "scimmia", which is Italian for "monkey".
d) One of the other campers called him "Vladimort", in honor of his resemblance to the Harry Potter villain.
e) I also call him "booger".
f) Since he's small for his age, I also have referred to him as "Vladimini".
g) My personal favorite, though, is "Vlad Pitt", because of his passing resemblance to Brad Pitt.

He is a force to be reckoned with, but I keep telling myself that we're up for the challenge.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Ch. 8 - 50% Completed

*insert that sound one makes when the index finger rapidly moves vertically across the lips, producing a 'buddabebuddabebuddabe' sound*

Hi! Sorry, but I digressed there for a moment. Tomorrow (7/14) we'll be going to Trieste. Prior to going there, I'm afraid I'll have to punch my "Ignorant American" card by admitting that I know very little about this city. In fact, my only real point of reference is that it was mentioned in a James Bond film. So... I'll be taking some photos of some historically-significant things and then learning about them later.

Our new guy, Tom, is an interesting fellow. He'd been living in Padova/Padua for two years and got the call from the head office about the vacancy that needed to be filled on short notice. He plays guitar and seems to really enjoy working with kids in a summer camp setting. More on him later; gots to get my beauty rest. Ciao!

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Friday, July 9, 2010

Ch. 7

Hmmm… Where to begin? OK, since I last had some free time, there have been a few significant occurrences: We went on a field trip to Venice, and one of my fellow staff members was “let go”. So…

I require a bit more time in Venice, I think. Its small vialetos remind me of the back alleys of Madrid and Toledo in Spain, and the knowledge of having so much water around one’s self is both alien and beautiful. Unfortunately, there were many tourists and it was hard to appreciate the city for what it is—historically rich and significant as well as artistically- and culturally unique. So, maybe I’ll hit it up again on my way home…

In the meantime, a bit of drama had been in the works. On Friday, July 09, one of the English teachers was relieved of her position. Since I’m no Dougie Downer, I won’t go into details. Suffice it to say that these kinds of situations are often difficult and awkward, but—in the end—the bottom line is the welfare of the children. The boss has a new guy coming in on Sunday; a young feller from the U.K. Keeping my fingers crossed….

Vid-termission No.1

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Short Photo Break

Here are a couple of shots: the beach, and some campers relaxing.

Ch. 6 – What Does a Typical Day Look Like, You Ask?

Here’s the basic structure of my summer so far:

7:00-7:30am – Wake up/Get up
7:30-8:00am – Wake up the ragamuffins
8:00-8:45am – Breakfast (walk to, eat, walk back) or “Colazione”
9:00-10:15am – English Lesson #1 (with teens)
10:15 – 10:45am – Break
10:45 – 12:00pm – English Lesson #2 (with kids and preteens)
12:00-12:45pm – Lunch, or “Pranzo”
1:00 – 3:45pm – Varied sports or arts activities, (soccer, pool, tennis, crafts, etc…)
4:00 – 5:00pm – Water park break (at the on-site pool complex called “Acquagio”)
5:00 – 7:00pm – Varied sports activities or beach
7:00 – 7:45pm – Dinner
8:00 – 10:00pm – Evening activity (outside movie, disco on the piazza, karaoke)
The teens are able to stay up until around midnight.

So, it’s a pretty long day. But, I get one day off a week, so that’s not such a bad trade-off. Also, I’m learning a good amount of Italian. The English lessons are turning out to be an interesting mix of book practice and the more familiar Second Language Acquisition model that I’m used to.

Each week we’ll have a slightly different group of kids. Some of the kids’ truer personalities are coming out as of late, so we have to be careful; after all, familiarity breeds contempt.

Though it’s not really a vacation, it’s actually fairly relaxing in a bit of a surreal way. Though I haven’t looked through my photos yet, I plan to do so on Sunday.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Ch. 5 - The First Full Day

It’s hard to know where to begin telling what it’s like here. I’m not sure I have a good grasp of it yet, but a general idea is forming. In no particular order, here are some common themes that crossed my mind today:
- Kids are kids, wherever you go.
- Teenagers are teenagers, wherever you go.
- I really, really don’t like working with teenagers.
- Summer here is somewhat similar to summer back home in D.C.
- Are we going to come up with a reasonable, sensible schedule?
- My feet hurt.
- Hmmmm…it’s been about 10 minutes since I’ve had a drink of water; that might explain the hallucinations.
- The sand on this beach is perfect.
- I really, reaLLY, REALLY don’t like working with teenagers.

More to tell later.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Ch. 4 - Getting Acquainted...the Fast Way

There’s hitting the ground running, and then there’s what we did today. I was picked up at Marco Polo International—the Venice airport—by David, the main boss of MB Scambi Culturali. In a moving van. He had laden the truck with materials and supplies from Padova (“Padua”), and picked me up along the way to Lignano. In the truck with us rode one of the Italian teachers, by the name of Eleonora (though a different Eleonora that lobbied to hire me), and were followed by the immediate program director Roberto, and another English teacher from Philadelphia named Lynette.

On the road, David, Eleonora, and I got to know each other using an interesting hybrid of English, Italian, and Spanish. David’s English is exceptional, Eleonora’s Spanish is excellent, and I began to pick and choose how I’d phrase my own statements. Then, we actually got here: Villaggio Adriatico, AKA, Villaggio Sportivo Getur (read: "Jay Tour").

The resort itself used to be a Catholic Church-run getaway, but it's not so much that anymore and more of a uniquely European community vacation destination. It caters to families and privates groups alike, and it can accommodate several hundred guests.

After a very quick lap around the grounds, we began unloading the van. There was a lot to wade through, and we found ourselves in a very tight office space. Very tight. That is to say, we had to get fairly creative with organizing our materials MacGyver-style. Also, we had to consider a little thing called "planning".

Ch. 3 - Friday Morning

Now, most people in my line of work are used to getting up early. But, that’s during the school year. And, it’s usually not at 4:00am. A “get-to-know-each-other” meeting was announced Thursday afternoon, so I set my alarm to have a date with Skype early the next day.

The meeting mostly consisted of the previous director (“Nick”, a jovial-sounding gent from England) providing background information and fielding questions from me, the incoming director, and two other teachers. It was only slightly surreal, and it might have seemed normal and professional if I weren’t a bit sleep-deprived. Nick did a good job giving us a feel for the pace of daily life, general obligations, anecdotes, and other handy bits of information. We ended a little over an hour later, so I decided a bit more shuteye was in order.

After putting the finishing touches on my luggage—read: once I took my clothes out of the dryer, I began packing—it was make some last minute purchases. The aforementioned Nick hipped us to beware of Lignano’s particularly ravenous brood of mosquitoes. A bit of Off here, some Stride gum there, and I was relatively set to go; go visit my parents, that is.

My nieces Lily and Naomi are staying with my folks through the 4th of July, so I was able to hang out with them all for a bit before heading to Reagan National Airport. My dad was kind enough to chauffer me to the airport while my mom stayed home to wrangle the little ones.

I’ll spare you the airport-y details, except to say that I enjoyed relatively smooth baggage and security check-in procedures. I now felt that I was officially on my way.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Ch. 2: Difficolta Tecniche

My contact at the Scambi Culturali requested a Skype interview for Wednesday, June 23. I thought, "This'll be near perfect, since I'll just be packing up my classroom, and the kids will be gone by then." In anticipation of a Skype conversation with Eleonora in Padova, my brother P.J. helped me figure out camera position, audio, lighting, and other technicalities that I wanted to sample ahead of time for comfort's sake. By the evening of Monday, June 21, I was feeling relatively confident.

Tuesday, June 22 was the last day of School Year 09-10, and the kids and I were all sorts of wacky. While the students were enjoying each other's company during lunch that day, the Conversation gadget in my Skype window blinked at me. It was Eleonora. I looked up at the students. They were busy being soon-to-be-fifth-graders, so I decided to engage in a quick chat session in an effort to show Eleonora my interest level and accessibility at school.

She requested a change in schedule for the interview. She and the screening committee at the Scambi Culturali needed a candidate before Wednesday. I knew that there was going to be a farewell staff luncheon followed by the final staff meeting of the school year, so I let her know that I'd need about 2 hours before I'd be available to talk. She agreed, and the schedule was set; I'd be ducking out of the staff meeting, but it was for a good cause.

Back in my room, after the staff meeting and lunch, was when things started falling apart. For some unknown reason, my Skype connection at school decided to become completely uncooperative and otherwise discombobulated. I sent Eleonora a quick email explaining I'd have to leave school and connect from home, so we postponed the interview another half an hour. I was in a huge panic at this time, thinking, "Great. Now she'll think I'm just some idiot with no technical know-how and is, at worst, wasting her time." Needless to say, my speedometer was dancing a mighty samba as I very carefully made my way as quickly as possible.

All in all, the interview itself went well. About halfway through, unfortunately, my camera decided to die on me. That didn't seem to faze my interviewer, so we continued. At the end, I felt pretty confident. She had even added that she was really going to lobby to the screening committee on my behalf, and that she was hoping the other four candidates didn't bring what I did to the table.

A few hours later, I received a confirmation email, and the hunt for reasonably priced airfare was on!

Ch. 1: Asking the internet to pinch me

Having never been to Italy, I was understandably filled with trepidation.

But, wait... I'm getting ahead of myself. In fact, as of this writing--at 12:42 p.m. on Thursday, June 24, 2010--I'm not even *in* Italy. Yet.

Dateline: My classroom, a few weeks ago. Also, at my home. And in the car.
I got to thinking about how I'd spend Summer 2010, and it occurred to me--little by little--that it might just be possible to (1) make some money (2) doing something I know how to do fairly well, and (3) in a place I've never been before, but have always wanted to visit. So, I did the next logical thing: I procrastinated like the lazy doofus that I am.

Eventually, however, I got back into the job hunt and ended up sending out about 10 applications/job inquiries. One outfit in England preferred an E.U national, so that was one shot down. I got a whiff of interest from a Language School in Spain, but I read over their program and wasn't that interested (though I am madly in love with Spain), so I decided to drop that one. Most of the others didn't bother to follow up.

Insert frowny face here.

Then I received an email from a Cutural Exchange organization in Padova--a.k.a. Padua--Italy. The liason there seemed interested in my C.V., and sent along a questionnaire as a follow-up. While they were perusing my answers, I decided to look more closely at MB Scambi Culturali, the organization that seemed interested in getting to know me better. More about that in a later posting, perhaps. I now found myself faced with a webcam interview!