My first day of teaching classes in Italy was last Thursday. If I could pick one word for it, I’d say nerve-wracking!
I am teaching English at the high school in Bra, a city of about 30,000 people in northwest Italy. In and of itself, it is a daunting task- teaching English to non-native speakers without a teaching background or any proficiency in Italian myself. Yet, here I am, ready to take on the challenge. I’m always up for a challenge.
One of the English teachers (or professors as they call them here in Italy) gave me some good advice on my first day. She told be to just be myself and to speak English. Be myself. What a concept?! I have learned this lesson before, the importance of being yourself and how there’s an ease, a confidence and a simplicity in just being you.
Back in college (aaah the yester years!), I was in a beauty pageant. Think Miss America or Miss Universe but on a much smaller scale for university students. While I don’t consider myself a beauty pageant type of gal, the prize for the winner was a $1,000 scholarship. Sign me up! As soon as I found out that scholarship money was involved, I was all about it. I was paying for college on my own so I was always looking for scholarship opportunities (but what average college kid isn’t looking for money to pay for school?!)
The categories were interview, opening dance number, swimsuit, evening gown and on stage question. Contestants had a few months to prepare leading up to the big day. I got a new one-piece swimsuit, borrowed a gown from a friend and practiced my answers to all the questions. I was prepared but still nervous (really nervous).
The night before my pageant I got the news that a friend of mine had won a different pageant that she was competing in. I was so happy for her but also not surprised at all. My friend was kind, smart, beautiful and well-spoken. Of course, she won her pageant. I had no doubt that she would.
Then, I paused.
Why did I not have the same confidence in myself that I had in my friend? Why was I so certain that my friend could win but I was uncertain that I was capable of doing the same? Why didn’t I believe in myself?
The realization was eye-opening. From that moment, I made a deal with myself. I would just be me. I promised that I would not try to outshine the other women in the competition or mimic their talents or beauty. I would simply be myself and own that. I would be confident in my gifts and abilities, and I would own my weaknesses. I would bring this confidence to the table. I would be myself, freely, wholly, authentically, and I would trust that it was enough.
Twenty-Something Advice (for Anyone): “Be yourself- freely, wholly, authentically- and trust that it is enough.”
I ended up winning the pageant. When I think back on it, I know that my changed perspective is what helped me win. For one of the first times I can remember, I believed in myself. I decided that me, just as I was, was enough. I didn’t try to be anything or anyone else. I silenced the voices in my head that said who I was wasn’t enough.
So far in my time in Italy, I have found this wisdom to be true- to just be myself. Otherwise, what am I doing? I have strengths and weaknesses, but I am always open to learning, growing and improving. There’s beauty in my gifts and talents, and there is grace for the areas where I lack.
For my first week of classes, I did a Powerpoint presentation about myself and life in America. Since I have lived in five states in the United States, I thought it’d be a good way to teach them more about America by highlighting the differences throughout the country. The seemed to really enjoy the highlights of the states! I played a little Jay-Z and Alicia Keys to represent New York (because that’s a classic vibe.) I talked about country music and Oklahoma and the endless sun of California. They seemed most intrigued by the concept of Chicago deep-dish pizza and what hash browns are.
My first few classes were harder to break the ice with. I wasn’t sure if they understood me or if I talked too slow or too much, but it got easier as the days went on. I realized if I just be myself, my teaching experience can be not only good, but fun!
That’s my plan for the rest of my time here- to just be me, 100 percent myself, to love that and own it. Having the confidence to be myself frees me, and I believe it may help someone else do the same.