2016 was the first year that I didn’t spend my British summer in Italy. Gosh.
To begin with, the weather was not kind. With the average temperature at a measly 14.9°c and fairly consistent rain, my British summer in central London did not try to make me feel at home. The PhD year is a bit strange anyway. Just like other academics, you have your 21 days of annual leave but unlike other students, you don’t really leave. Term finishes; the stressed undergraduates celebrate the ending of exams with summer balls; halls of residences slowly declutter its students and the library empties. And yet, there’s the occasional doctorate student milling about campus (in this case, it was me!). Come May for the previous 5 years, I was packing my bag, arguing with myself about which 10 dresses I could avoid taking to lighten my 80l backpack, and anticipating the heat and the cheese. As a note, if you are ever having this argument, I do have some sound advice on my travel blog. Come May 2016, I was completing my Certificate in English Language Teaching for Adults slap bang in the middle of Oxford Street and looking on to the summer of work in dingy London.
Now, I don’t mean to say Greenwich is dingy. It is far from “gloomy and drab” but shuffling onto the Central Line at 8am in mid-August was not the exciting travel I was used to doing. But at this point, I was in my first year of my PhD, an unexpected and inspiring position to be offered straight from my undergraduate degree. My supervisor took a jump of faith for me and I wasn’t planning on swanning off for another summer to give this up. Completing year 1 of my PhD was a mountain to climb in itself, regardless of the lack of suntan, dose of Italian and good wine.
To keep my busy schedule nicely filled, I worked at Oxford House College, an international English language school, where I met an amazing group of teachers and cultivated my interest in second language teaching alongside the acquisition process (the broad topic of my PhD research). I also attended my first international conference as a PhD student, which deserves its own blog entirely (TBA).
Despite being primarily London-based this summer, I was lucky enough to return to the quaint Neapolitan island of Procida for a week get-away. This was the place where I spent my first summer (out of the 5) in Italy. It was an emotional rollercoaster to get on the far too old ferry in Napoli port and speed out of the harbour towards the picturesque coloured houses. The endearing embrace from my host mother was warm and familiar as was the heavy, gasping air. Just as day 1 in 2010, we unpacked our bags and changed, sauntered clumsily down through parched gardens, the lemon orchard and down a rocky path to the sea. That day in 2010, my host mother took my hand and swam with me. I followed her round the rocks as she took a knife and popped off a bed of mussels clinging to a rock. We collected them in a small net until the sun set, returned home, pinching a lemon along the way, and cooked pasta with fresh mussels. And people ask why I love Italy? This day was very much the same. The heat was a beautiful old friend that hugged me as I lay on the rocks, the sea touching my toes while clamorous Italian filled the background. What added to this was having my loving partner beside me, sharing my passion.
Although this romantic get-away turned into an Italian, family holiday with lunch at various houses and dinner with the entire island together in the port, old friends and people who I’m sure I never met, coming to me and kissing my cheeks, it was better than I could have imagined. I dearly missed 2 of the girls who I spent most of my time with in 2010 and who returned to England with me that very summer. It was indescribable to see them again. Tim and myself did get to spend some time alone and fried on the beach for a few hours. We also ate far too much amazing food and speculated wild plans for our future – it’s the sort of place that feels like anything is possible. Far too short but magical and a reminder of how 16 year-old me could cope for a summer away from home. It’s Italy, it is home.