What does one do at 2am when you can't sleep and there is no one interested in waking up to entertain you? The answer is how I ended up in Rome.
That night I went Internet wandering and chanced upon a site advertising a six-week TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) course that included an apartment in Rome. Everything was provided in the course fee, even transportation from the airport.
I had always thought it would be nice to see Rome some day, although it was not on my top ten list. While I didn't have any real desire to teach English, taking this class seemed an ideal way to land in a foreign country and quickly and easily become part of city life. Who would care if I attended classes, or not?
On a sudden impulse I completed the application and authorized a non-refundable payment through PayPal. The whole process took less than five minutes.
The next morning I realized I had committed myself financially, and after the initial buyer's remorse wore off, I decided to make the best of it. A month later I was standing in Fiumicino Airport with my name written on a sign hoping someone looking for me would actually show up.
Two young women arrived, gave me a map of the city, directions to my class, which started in a couple of days, and dropped me off at an apartment. So far, all had gone according to plan, and as it was late by my internal clock, I simply went to sleep.
Eventually, hunger woke me the following day, and after showering and blowing a fuse with my hair dryer, I walked out into the city carrying my map. Why I bothered with the map is a mystery because I never can resist taking a circuitous route even to visit friends. It wasn't long before the map was stashed in my backpack along with my "home" address written on a piece of paper.
Not only did I not know where I was going I did not know where I was. So I just wandered up and down hill on cobblestone streets taking in my surroundings with my mouth agape in wonder.
I came to a high stone wall that curved off to the left. With no other plan I just decided to follow it around and see where it led. For the first 15 minutes, I saw very few people, but as I continued the road began to get more and more crowded, confirming my initial thought that there was something of interest hidden behind this wall. If only it would ever end. Then, suddenly it tapered down, ending in a row of columns that opened up astonishingly and gloriously.
I was standing in St Peter's courtyard. Vatican City! Pavarotti had just died, and loudspeakers were playing selections of his arias. People were sipping cappuccino at outdoor cafes. I was in Rome. I was in love.
As it turned out, I enjoyed all of my classmates who were much younger than I and were from various countries. They took me out every night, and while I could not keep up with their drinking, I could dance as long, and laugh as loud, and walk as far.
As many of them had traveled extensively, they implanted a desire to visit countries I had never before considered. The classes were not difficult; they started late, ended early and were interrupted by a long lunch break. No one could be as thrilled as I was to wake up each day and step out into Rome, the Eternal City. As the days went by I began to consider immigrating.
Most of the other students had some understanding of Italian, but I struggled to learn how to say more than ciao. Surprisingly it was not that hard to come to an understanding with most people despite language barriers, but I did want to try to learn and use a few words.
One day, as I exited a subway station, I ran into the two young Mormon missionaries from Utah I had met the second night of my stay. They were with a large group of people, and the station was packed with workers returning home. As I spotted them, one called out, "Come sta?" (how are you) to which I enthusiastically replied, "Io sono belissimo," (I am wonderful). Or at least that was my intent. But the crowds leaving the subway all turned to look at the woman proudly exclaiming that she is a beautiful man.
Tips: Transitions Abroad
>> From Jean Abrams: Found your article on learning to teach English in Rome very interesting and something I might like to do. Can you tell me which company you went with? Editor's Note: I have not been able to reach the author, but the Transitions Abroad website (see above) covers the topic more extensively, which should help you make a decision.