WEP Italia Camp Counselor – The experience of a lifetime

When summer 2018 ended, I always said to myself “I want to make the most out of next years summer and do something different from what I’ve always usually done”. I then began to think of what I could possibly do; what would really interest me and benefit my career as well? Inter-railing seeing as all my friends have done it (near enough all of them)? Get a full-time job and make money that will go towards getting my first car, not to mention that it’ll help with my CV accreditation as well? Both ideas seemed great at first, but I wanted the good life; to get both sides of the deal, travelling and developing my career. My older brother Tony gave his thoughts on the situation and said to me “why not do CAMP Italy with me this year? 2 weeks of teaching and travelling around Italy, It’s a win-win situation for you!” So, I did, Tony and I went to Bardonecchia in the north west of Italy, 30 miles west of Torino to teach Italian children aged between 7 and 14 how to speak, understand and improve their English. 

We started our official first day as camp counselors on 8th July meaning we’d have a day to prepare ourselves for the teaching methods, which counselors would get what students to teach and rules and safety operations for the kids. So, the night before I got stuck into my first ever teaching experience, I could not sleep; the thoughts going through my mind of messing up and the sheer pressure I was putting myself under to give these kids the best possible experience of their summer camp. At times during that night I was questioning myself saying “what the hell am I doing here? This is already too much for me!” even though the camp coordinators (Ester, Lucila and Jasmine) explained everything brilliantly and always had their door open for everyone, I still couldn’t quite get to grips of the whole idea of me being a teacher; Unease and unrest to say the very least. Next thing I knew it was morning and time to take a 3-and-a-half-hour lesson for the intermediate class.

First 20 minutes or so into the lesson were a disaster I thought personally. I started the introduction for the class by saying the usual stuff, my name is…, I’m from… etc. and then asked the children to tell me their name and a fact about them in English. Big mistake! These kids barely knew how to say hello my name is … in English never tell me a few facts about themselves. Luckily, however, Diana (another counselor) came into the lesson and set the tone for the rest of lesson. She understood the best way to teach kids learning and developing another language; kinesthetically. It was like a huge mystery for me but then I saw the correct manner to approach this lesson; by bringing energy to the lesson, act out the word I was describing and take my time, I had to remember that I wasn’t talking to my mates back home over here.

As the days continued during the week, the more comfortable I felt teaching Federico, Alessandro, Sofia, Danielle and Flamine. I felt good for myself and more importantly for the kids’ education and their summer experience; that they were getting better teaching standards for something that is brilliant, and quite popular, to have for an Italian kid (2nd language). Within 2 or 3 lessons, their confidence improved, their grammar and pronunciation skills were correct, and they had more enthusiasm to engage more with questions I had asked them, making me feel really proud, as if to say I had taught them well.

I will always be grateful for WEP Italia giving me this fantastic opportunity to advance my teaching experience, but I will also always be thankful for them allowing Tony and I to travel around both Italy and southern France during our 2 weeks teaching abroad. During the 14 nights in the great weather, we visited the Italian cities Rome, Torino and Milan and as for southern France we took a very quick day trip to Cannes, Monaco and Nice, Yes, all in 1 day! We were exhausted travelling back to Bardonecchia, but you have to seize the moment when it presents itself to you and we made sure we did. Seeing the Alps, the Colosseum, and the Monaco scenery were some of the highlights of the trip. These were places I never thought I’d ever see, places that I always wanted to see, yet I I’ll never forget those views I saw, ever!

A Picture of both Tony and I after playing a crazy football match with Christian Camp, another summer teaching camp based in Bardonecchia. This is solely because when the town held the winter Olympics in 2006 many hotels, villages and hostels etc. had to be created to hold all the competitors, media and fans and ever since then, Bardonecchia has been home for Italian summer camps. The story behind us playing together is quite something. Our WEP students were playing a game and I was sitting down embracing the view of the forest park in the alps and then someone, whom I hadn’t saw before or were able to say I recognized him sat beside me on the huge log. We then got talking and next thing I saw were a few of his pupils, from his camp, coming over to sit down with us as well. Next thing I knew at least 20 pupils were crowding us! I felt like I was a celebrity… for 15 minutes at least; good while it lasted. And from there, they suggested we played a match, we did, they won sadly but that was the least important thing to get worked up about! 2 teaching camps came together and created a memory that all involved will never forget! Some things just write themselves.  

This entire experience, from start to finish, was scary, exciting, nerve-wrecking, funny and just pure brilliant. I would highly recommend doing a summer camp for any need and anywhere; it’s a great chance to make new memories, new friends and actual learn more about yourself. But most importantly, yet rewarding, you will be helping children, teenagers and kids from all parts of the country or Europe etc. gain a new lifetime skill and experience. Surely, I don’t need to say anymore after that do I?

Connlaóth McSherry is a final year Bsc Communication Management & Public Relations student at Ulster University. He can be found on: Twitter – @ConMcS and LinkedIn – Connlaóth McSherry