“Every moment that I lived in Grottaferrata was special, and it was one of the most beautiful experiences that I have lived.”
– Ioana, Marketing Executive at HLI
My colleague Ioana did her first ever full-immersion homestay in mid-January in Rome. Ioana is originally from Romania and she already speaks three languages – Romanian, English and French – and uses all of them daily! However, she has never studied any language in a private teacher’s home in full immersion. She loves Rome and Italy is one of her favourite places with its history, museums, food, culture… She also told me that sometimes she misses Romania and Italy actually reminds her of it with the open-minded, happy people.
“I didn’t have any clear and concrete expectations, I just let myself go and enjoy my homestay programme”, she explained, “I have been doing this [work] for so long that I have learnt just to be the [booking] manager without putting myself on the other side of the story.” When Ioana’s host and tutor Graziella asked about her expectations on the first day, Ioana did not know what to say. But, after the first two hours of lessons, she did realise what her goals were: to be able to have a simple conversation in Italian and to use some fundamental grammar such as the most common tenses.
“I could understand 60% of the conversation but I don’t know the basics, the grammar, so I can’t make myself understood because of the missing verbs”, Ioana reflected. Graziella evaluated her level through conversations on the first evening. In fact, Ioana says that she kept evaluating her throughout the stay, always ready to help: “We never stopped talking and she never stopped evaluating me. All the time when we were in the car she was asking me questions of my day.”
Ioana’s programme, HLI 15 hours Classic, consisted of full-board accommodation and 15 hours of one-to-one Italian lessons with her host. She had 3 hours of one-to-one lessons per day from Monday to Friday and the rest of the time she was in full immersion. Her studies consisted of sit-down lessons structured around different methods: learning grammar, completing online exercises on an interactive website, working from a book, listening to songs, doing quizzes and so on. “I loved the way she structured the lessons”, she said, “I have never had any one-to-one language lessons before and I found this the best way to learn a new language. Graziella constantly adapted her teaching methods to suit my progress and level. The lessons were very interesting and were based on my interests and hobbies.” She tried to only speak, read and use Italian throughout her stay, and even avoided communications with her parents and friends to ensure a total immersion.
She would recommend the same programme to other independent adults. “I think it is a very balanced programme. You can do 3 hours and then you can have your day. For me, three hours is enough, four hours maybe, too”, she said, “I didn’t book activities with the family because I am an adult, I preferred just to go visit on my own. However I have to admit that the family did activities with me, and they joined me almost every day. They went out of their way. They took me to Rome, visits, friends, cinema, shopping, museums. Everywhere!”
Her only regret is that she only stayed one week instead of two. When she started to properly assimilate the new information and to use it in her speech, it was time to go home. The automatic response process in Italian was interrupted. Regardless, she is very happy about the progress she made. She feels much more confident now that she has a better understanding of the structure of Italian. “I never understood the students saying they would only like to do conversation, no grammar”, Ioana admitted, “but how can you have a conversation? No one would understand if you just have the words! That’s the basis of every language; grammar.”
In the middle of the stay, she went through a challenging moment: “I had that kind of breakdown, like, oh my God, I cannot find words to speak”, she recalled. To help her out, they changed the schedule so she could catch her breath. She spent the morning alone at a museum, without talking to anyone. “We had lessons starting at 3 o’clock and that was perfect. I was reborn. I felt like I was even much better than before”, Ioana confided. Even with this kind of difficulty she never wanted to give up and she always felt welcomed by her tutor: “She gave me a chance to live like them. The second day I asked her ‘can I have a bit of water?’. She said ‘you are home, you gotta take it from the fridge’. She gave me the chance to be a part of their family.”
Being an HLI team member, Ioana also had the opportunity to meet our Local Organiser Anna and three other host families during her time in Rome. She was very touched by their kindness and warmth. “They showed me pictures of students they hosted, even in 2000, that they are in contact with. Like Anna who hosted my Swiss student and then her husband came from Malta because my student described Anna and her husband needed to meet them. He flew from Malta just to meet them! It blew my mind”, she marvelled and continued: “Maria was showing me a photo of a Japanese student she hosted about 15 years ago and she came back with her daughter just to show her daughter to her! I think this is what teaching is about. To share your knowledge and inspire your students.”
I asked her about the kind of insight her experience gives to her work and she replied that she understands now more than ever that every experience is unique. Her number one advice to students would be to let go of any expectations and let the family guide them. “I said yes to everything and I let myself go. I could have done something else but I was there to study so I let myself study. I didn’t think about anything else”, she said.
Ioana has very fond memories of her stay in Rome. When I asked her if she would do this again she replied: “Yes! Definitely, I would like to do it again. When I am going back to Rome, I am going to invite my teacher to dinner because she is amazing. I am going to keep in touch. She is an amazing person and a really good teacher. A real teacher!”