An Interview with Mercedes Bleth; English Teacher in Italy
Teaching English in Italy is not just about gaining experience in a classroom; it’s an unforgettable, full cultural immersion adventure. With school starting back up in just a few months, we caught up with alumni teacher, Mercedes Bleth, to ask her what she enjoyed most about her time teaching in Italy, and why she traveled after graduation instead of jumping into a career.
Q: What inspired you to Teach in Italy before settling into a career?
I visited Italy with my family in 2010. I was 16, and fell in love with everything about the country – the food, the culture, the people, the way they moved through life at such a different pace than me.
I made a wish in the Trevi Fountain that I would live in Italy after I graduated. During college, I took four semesters of Italian classes in preparation, but as I got more and more involved on campus and with my major, my Italy dream faded as my mindset shifted to a more career oriented goal.
However, when I worked at a summer camp last year, I was forced to slow down and think about what I truly wanted — what I had always wanted. I came back from camp, applied to graduate a semester early and found the Teach in Italy program through a study abroad advisor.
How important do you feel experiencing another culture and country has been to your personal growth and career path?
Personally, I think it was a healthy experience that gave me time to think. It wasn’t for “finding myself” but rather, remembering myself. I went to a competitive university and studied within an even more competitive major. I constantly thought, “how did she get that internship” and “I bet his resume is so much better than mine” when in reality, I didn’t even want to do what they were doing.
This program allowed me time to breathe after college and to detach myself from comparison. I got a job with the company I interned with during university three days after returning from Italy.
I’m now interviewing for job positions in different cities throughout the States, and the fact that I’ve not only lived abroad, but also taught abroad and lived in a country that spoke a different language, is always a key topic in my prospective job conversations. I don’t know exactly what I’m doing or where I’m going, but I don’t feel stuck. I feel at my peace with all of my decisions.
What are a few of your favorite memories that stand out from your time teaching in Italy?
I looked forward to mealtime with my host family every day. I was a competitive dancer and swimmer in high school, so family meal times were rare, and during college, eating alone is the norm. Mealtime in Italy is very fellowship based – it’s considered strange to eat alone. I loved eating every meal my host “mamma” prepared and learning to communicate with our jumbled mix of Italian and English (we called it “Italienglish”).
The friendships I built with my host family, the teachers I worked with in my schools, the fellow assistants (shout out to Louise, Tyler and Dan), and my new Italian friends are the best (and only) souvenirs I took away from my travels. (Partly because I spent all of my money on aperitivo and aperol spritz’s).
There are so many moments that are special to me … among them: staying on a houseboat Airbnb in Genova, watching the sunset on Mount Vesuvius, seeing The Tallest Man On Earth in concert, skipping rocks into the Mediterranean with my host sister, hiking the Cinque Terre, having a real Italian Easter celebration in my hostel in Positano, riding on the back of an Italian boy’s moped and sitting around a dinner table with a group of Italians, Americans, South Africans, Brits and Canadians.
If someone wasn’t sure about traveling because they were worried about starting their career after graduation, what would you say to them?
One of my favorite quotes is: “I want to find myself in every corner of the globe. You want to find yourself in the zeroes on your paycheck.” (Maggie Adams)
Honestly, there’s nothing wrong with either. (And if you find a way to do both, will ya let me know?) But I don’t think you should settle on the second type without giving the first a fair chance.
This program is a good compromise to think about it, because three months isn’t a long commitment and it’s not going to hold you back from establishing a career. It’s just long enough to give you the super unique taste of life abroad to determine if you want to start that career, or continue traveling. Hint: you’ll probably pick the latter.
What inspired you to get out of your comfort zone during your travels?
Luckily, my parents are constant voices in my head, echoing, “get out, see it, taste it, feel it.” On top of that, music is a big influence in my life – some songs that always hit me with desire to explore include: The Breeze, by Dr. Dog, Wake Up by Arcade Fire, and Cannons by Youth Lagoon.
Any additional advice for anyone wanting to teach abroad before starting their career?
Just one: be brave. It’s going to be scary and it’s going to be tough and at times you will look around and think, “What the hell am I doing here??”
But then, as you’re walking through the city, you will see one of your students and they’ll drag their parents to you so they can show off all of the English they’ve learned. It’s one of the best feelings in the entire world.