Taking Italian Classes at the Scuola Leonardo da Vinci in 2020, the year of a pandemic, is definitely a distinctive experience.
Whereby, I find that taking a language class in another country is a very special experience at any time and a grand opportunity for everyone. Not only can you practice what you have learned right on the spot – which will hopefully be an encouraging encounter. It also grants you the opportunity to experience life from a whole different perspective.
Evidently, if you are young, just finished school, or prepare for studies or a job where the language is required, studying Italian in Italy will be this exciting, eye-opening yet mind-blowing adventure. As they say: When in Rome….
If you are older – like me – going back to school for some time and living with a guest family will beam you back to your high school years. Just like it’s never too late to become an au pair-girl, you’re never too old to be a freshman – or, in my case, a freshwoman; and a fresh woman I am…
Hence, taking Italian Classes at the Scuola Leonardo da Vinci in Italy will be either a maturing process or a rejuvenizing experience.
Either way, you’ll have the time of your life!
When in Rome
Everything is Different
2020. The year that will go down in history as one of the worst pandemics ever.
After I had come back from a careless tour through Argentina, things were changing quickly and drastically. People got sick. People were dying. Actions I had never heard of before became my everyday routines. It was hardly allowed to leave the house. We had to walk on designated trails in parks. Everybody had to wear a face mask – something we had always made fun of when we saw Asian tourists.
There were even new expressions. I now had to social distance.
In this apocalyptic situation, never had I thought of being able to travel beyond the closest supermarket.
But then, in Summer, things got a bit better. Not good. And by no means normal. But better.
I was still wearing a facemask and practiced social distancing.
But I was allowed to do so in a wider radius. I was allowed to travel. A bit. Italy included.
Still hardly believing in my newly recovered freedom, I hesitantly booked flights.
Then, back from Naples.
In the six weeks before my trip, the airline re-routed my flight home from Naples. They simply changed my direct flight into one with a four-hour stopover in Düsseldorf. I then re-booked it completely.
Now, I would travel back from Rome and, sadly, skip Naples altogether. Special times require special measures.
When changing my return flight, I hadn’t realized yet that I didn’t have an outbound flight anymore.
My flight to Rome had been canceled without substitution.
I hadn’t read the mail they sent me. Simple as that.
Only as I tried to check-in online 72 hours before supposed departure, I realized to my biggest surprise that there was no flight to check in.
Panic-stricken, I called the airline. After an eternity on hold, listening to some whipping rock music, a very relaxed dude re-booked me to Milan. That’s actually almost 600 kilometers from Rome.
But at least it’s Italy.
Special times make you special humble
By the way, for hysteric callers like me, they really should change this energetic muzak to something more soothing.
You rather might wanna put on some Enya, guys.
Fortunately, after a couple of stays, Milan is quite familiar to me. Hence, I didn’t lose time. Right after I landed, I took the coach to the central station. There I bought a train ticket from a machine literally minutes before the departure, paid an exorbitant fare for the last-minute-purchase, raced to the platform like a madwoman, and hopped on a train to Rome.
Nothing Has Changed
I knew my way to school. I had been here eight years ago.
Eight years is a long time, but you don’t forget the moments that touched your heart.
It had been my first language course abroad. The first one of many more to come. I was over 40, nevertheless, I’d felt like 14.
It was high school all over again.
I had stayed with a – very quirky, though – guest mother and went to school every day – before exploring this eternal city.
I had been a good girl for throwing a coin into the famous Trevi Fountain. Hence, I’m back. The legend is true, after all.
There he is. An elderly gentleman in a suit. Wearing his white hair kinda longish. Smoking cigarettes in the hallway. Greeting the students Buongiorno. He’s the concierge. I remember him. From eight years ago.
The school is still in those old historic structures, obviously. Never built for housing a school. Hence, while the rooms are pretty spacious, the halls are extremely narrow. We all have to be careful. There is this pandemic, after all.
Consequently, there are fewer students than eight years ago. It’s five of us in my slightly advanced course.
Also, eight years ago, they didn’t take my temperature every morning. As a matter of fact, never have I ever had my temperature taken as often as in Italy in the summer of 2020.
At the school, they do it with a small pistol that they point to your forehead. It feels kind of creepy being shot every time I’m entering a public building at first. But I’m getting used to it.
At school, you are also requested to disinfect your hands before entering. And, no question, we all have to wear masks.
It’s unnerving wearing a mask during language lessons. There are important elements of communication missing. You don’t see mimics, you cannot really emphasize, you don’t hear everything as clearly as you should.
Forget about reading lips.
One day, I accidentally wear a really tight mask made of extremely thick layers of cotton. As I speak, my classmates get only muffled sounds. I feel like gagged.
Only our teacher is wearing a silly transparent face shield so that we can make out what to repeat after him.
It’s very uncomfortable, nevertheless, it might save lives.
When Italy Gives You Lemons
On my first day of school, it’s raining.
When I was here eight years ago, on enrollment day, there had been large groups of students of all ages from all over the world. United colors of….Scuola Leonardo da Vinci. In 2020, about eight newbies are waiting in line in the warm drizzle in front of the office.
Our slightly advanced class consists of five. On the one hand, this small number of students makes learning efficient and individual questions possible. On the other hand, they, obviously, had to put people together who would belong to different courses.
Slightly advanced can mean very different levels. But understandably, they cannot grant the luxury of custom-made individual classes. Hence, we mangle through the course.
However, although I’m a bit more advanced than most of my classmates, I still learn something new and I take the chance to deepen my knowledge. If you’re willing, you can always profit from a class.
Also, on three afternoons, I have private lessons with Rosanna, a short, extremely extroverted babbler from Naples.
No mask can muffle Rosanna’s voice. She calls me Bella despite the fact that she never gets to see my face.
Learning with energetic Rosanna makes me regret my decision of having canceled the last weekend in Naples.
Despite her energetic attitude, she manages to finally make clear why the verb changes in the past in combination with an indiretto.
You have no clue what I’m talking about, right? This exactly was also my problem till now. With Rosanna’s help, I’ve got it.
Moving Up to Florence
What a Difference a
Day City Makes
After an instructive and inspiring week in Rome with my time thoroughly shared between my Italian class in the morning and tons of cultural education at landmarks’n’museums in the afternoons, I hit the
road rail again. The following week I’ll obey the same routine up north in Florence: Italian in the morning, cultural glory in the afternoon.
Surprisingly, Florence is a whole different story. I remember it being more serene and sophisticated. Well, while it’s definitely beautiful – to say the least – it’s far from being serene right now.
There are many more tourists here than there were in Rome. Consequently, it’s busier, pushier, fuller. Locals are much less friendly than they were in the Eternal City.
Funny, according to what I remember, it used to be the other way around. Somehow, in 2020, everything seems to be upside down.
To see the iconic exhibitions in Florence, you definitely should make a reservation well ahead.
Also, the school is very different from the one in Rome. Yes, they are also taking my fever and I have to sanitize my hands – and even my seat after class. But it’s far more business as usual.
Simply because there are far more students.
Classes are bigger and, therefore, they are able to adjust them to the students’ needs.
Also, instead of private lessons, I’m taking my mandatory additional classes in the afternoon with a small group of other students.
Actually, I liked both.
Eat, Pray, Learn
Also, my housing situation is very different.
In Rome, I was renting a room at an elderly lady’s spacious apartment. We shared the kitchen, but I even had my own bathroom. Although it was not a designated family stay, we did chat a bit and shared a laugh. She, being highly educated and sophisticated, kept correcting my Italian which I actually appreciated. I think talking to her helped me smooth away some of these wicked little errors that you make automatically and subconsciously so that it’s really hard to get rid of them. Only if another person is ready to pester you time and again, at some moment, your subconscious gives up and henceforth you say it correctly. Well, signora Paola was a real language-trooper and very ready to fight my subconscious to the end.
As I get to Florence, there is another student at the flat waiting for me. She’s in her fifties and in a difficult place in her life. Hence, she decided to take a break and learn Italian in Florence. Of course, this reminds me immediately of Eat, Pray, Love.
What is it that makes women at difficult points in their life choosing to learn Italian? I’ve never heard of anyone learning Danish, Polish, or Arabic when in distress.
Since she’s been there already for two weeks, she, understandably and annoyingly, occupies two large rooms while I’m moving into a tiny, dark maid’s quarter resembling rather a cell. I think of Savonarola, the scandalous Dominican friar who lived in a small cell at the Convent of San Marco. So mine is a very traditional Florentine housing situation, after all.
In The Middle Of The Action
Although I feel much less comfortable in this flat than in my Roman room, it certainly has its pros. First of all, it’s a five minutes walk to school. Then, it’s a five minutes walk to the world’s famous Duomo.
It’s also a five minutes walk to David hanging around at the Galleria dell’Accademia. I bet you can hardly mention a point of interest that’s farther than fifteen minutes from the doorstep. Definitely a huge plus.
Besides brushing up my Italian to a level that makes me quite happy, I get to see most of what I had on my list. However, many places such as the legendary Palazzo Pitti are still working on a limited schedule. Since it’s open only in the morning, I actually have to skip class to visit. Didn’t I say it’s like high school all over again?!
Then, at some places like the Galleria dell’Accademia or the Convent of San Marco, entire rooms are closed. That’s very disappointing, however, understandable. And isn’t it a great privilege to be able to travel in these difficult times, anyway? So I’m grateful for what I get to see.
After another far too short week, it’s time to say arrivederci to Florence, too.
Italy, you have been so good to me. A true highlight in 2020, the year that will go down in history as one of the worst pandemics ever.
Back to School
So this was my third Italian course at the Scuola Leonardo da Vinci. The first took also place in Rome, and for the second one, I stayed in Milan. Since they also have schools in Siena and Florence, this time I chose to divide my stay between two cities.
Scuola Leonardo da Vinci is very experienced and professional. They offer a wide variety of different classes for all levels. There is also the possibility to take extra classes, so-called intensive respectively super-intensive courses. Since I participated in a special program organized in Germany, I was obliged to do super-intensive. This way, I’ve really learned a lot, especially since their extra classes in the afternoon were rather designed for conversation.
To Each Their Own
Although six lessons per day is a lot, the school’s out by 2 p. m. which gives you enough time to explore what the cities have to offer. If you take just the standard course, you’re done by noon which, of course, is even more relaxed.
Normally, the school offers also classes with a special focus such as Italian cooking, art, or fashion. However, since right now it’s still a bit slow, I don’t know about that.
Another nice offer is their Learn and Go-program where for three hours, you explore the city with a private teacher. You can do that alone or with up to three people.
What I find very touching are their Discover Your Origins-courses specially designed for descendants of Italian migrants around the world. We all know that notably the society in the United States, as well as Argentina, was shaped by migrants from Italy. So these courses are definitely a great way to explore your roots.
You guys know that also due to my own background the (hi)stories of migration are very, very close to my heart.
Work Hard, Play Hard
Also, during my former stays, there was always something on after school like a guided tour of an exhibition or a church or an Aperitivo in the evening.
As a determined solo-traveller, I always appreciate these little encounters and opportunities to socialize despite having my personal space’n’freedom.
Well, this time in Rome, there was no cultural or social program. I think it was because there were so few students. Consequently, I enjoyed my casual chats with my landlady signora Paola even more.
In Florence, however, was at least a bit going on. Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to join the guided tour of the San Miniato al Monte, but I participated with great pleasure in the Aperitivo organized by my teacher Antonella.
The Full Package
If you are interested in taking Italian classes, but you’re insecure about how to organize your stay, don’t worry. The friendly and efficient ladies at the Scuola’s office are accommodating and can arrange literally everything for you – starting with an airport pick-up if you wish.
After a placing test, they advise you which class would be your best choice and help you with every little detail.
If you don’t want to arrange your housing yourself, you can choose from a variety of reasonably priced lodging options. Either you pick a real homestay where you’re kind of living with the family. Or you just rent a room at a local’s home or an individual apartment. There you have your private room, obviously, and often even an en-suite bathroom. However, you share the kitchen and the communal area either with other students or with your host.
If you want to splurge, they also can arrange a hotel stay.
I must say that especially at my rather advanced age, I kind of enjoyed this whole highschool-exchange-student-situation a lot. Having a guest mother when you’re 50 plus is sort of hilarious.
Of course, I went out for dinner more often than at home – it was an Italian vacation, after all. Nevertheless, the option to enjoy the day’s first, self-brewed coffee in bed or just preparing a quick salad in the evening instead of dining out was very convenient.
But that’s just my personal choice and I think it also depends on how long you are staying.
For two weeks, these arrangements were perfect.
How to Get There And Around
Due to the current situation, you’ll have to check how to get to Italy. Air companies are offering much fewer flights – and according to my experience, even confirmed flights get shuffled around as the company pleases. You have to stay pretty flexible which can be a bit nerve-wrecking.
Travelling in Italy, I took trains. Worked like a charm.
This being said, I don’t remember train rides being as expensive as they were this time. While regional trains are still quite reasonably priced, the fast trains are a rip-off. I paid almost 100 €uros to get from Milan to Rome in three hours and then over 40 €uros to get from Florence to Rome in one and a half. I could have bought a ticket for about 20 €uros but that train takes something like seven hours.
On the other hand, the trains were absolutely on time, clean, and safe. Actually, there are seats blocked to grant social distancing and every passenger gets a kit with a facemask and some hand sanitizer.
Between most places, trenitalia has an amazing number of connections and their website makes it very easy to find a suitable route and book your ticket right away.
Within the cities, there is a comprehensive system of public transportation – as basically everywhere in Europe. It’s actually pretty cheap – usually, a ticket is about 1,50 €uro. Still, if your final destination isn’t really far from the city center, it might be even faster to walk. In Rome as well as in Florence, the city center isn’t that big and most points of interest are easily reached walking.
Actually, in Rome, apart from one morning when it was pouring, I walked to school past all those amazing sites like the Fori Romani, the Vittorio Emmanuele II Monument, and the Piazza Navona every day. It took me almost half an hour – but what an inspiring half an hour that was!
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* Disclaimer: On this stay, Scuola Leonardo da Vinci granted me a small discount on my super-intensive course. However, all opinions on their service are mine and were by no means influenced by my cooperation partner. The provided links are a service to my readers. There are no affiliate links in this post.