July 10, 2019
Grace Koepele is a senior arts and humanities major in RCAH with a focus in childhood and society as well as a minor in Italian. This summer, the Ann Arbor native traveled to Italy to teach English through theater, as well as work toward her own theater-based English teaching certificate. She, along with three other RCAH students, have been writing a summer blog about their experiences.
The second half of camp in Mogliano-Veneto brought a new wave of post-camp activities, tested limits and Independence Day traditions — both exciting and slightly terrifying.
My host family began the week with a day-trip to the Dolomites, promising a hike and lots of sheep. I cannot claim to be an avid hiker, but I do enjoy walking, being outdoors and exercise enough to think of myself as somewhat capable when it comes to these types of excursions.
At best, I envisioned a long, steady climb up some mountain in the Alps where I could celebrate the hike with a photo or two of the land below. At worst, I thought we may only climb partway up a hill while my young host brother chased sheep. Neither of these expectations were remotely close to the host parents’ actual plans.
After a lovely lunch in between two mountains, with sheep and cows grazing in the field beside us, my host parents led me to an “adventure park” in the forest next to us, where they cheerfully handed me a wristband to complete the high ropes course that curves between the trees.
If my family in the States knows anything about me, it is that I have always had an intense fear of heights. I will not step near the edge of a balcony if it is too high off the ground, let alone climb any sort of tree even part-way. Whether due to an ever-present desire to please or some buried wish to redeem my 11 year-old self’s decision to sit out of a class trip to a ropes course some 10 years ago, I do not know, but after what felt like two seconds to decide my fate, I followed my host dad inside a small hut to grab a harness and helmet before hooking myself up to a wire and beginning my ascent into the trees.
After my hands stopped shaking violently and the panic attack subsided a little, the course was actually quite fun. There were zip lines, jumping and swinging, and unstable portions, and even a stretch where I had to shimmy sideways across a wire. But, were it not for the photos and videos that my host dad, Massimo, promised to take during this horrific half-hour of playing Indiana Jones, I honestly would not be able to recall much about the first few obstacles.
While I was initially petrified of climbing and swinging (and falling) through the course, I am proud of myself for doing it and also glad that I didn’t back out and have to choose the righteous path of redemption some 10 years from now.
After I finished the course, my host mom, Sabrina, coined the phrase that has now become a bit of a mantra for me during this time in Italy — no limits. Obviously, it is healthy to have some limits, but I quite like the idea of pushing myself to really try things that I would otherwise decide are either for other people or for another time in my life.
Following this mantra, I also ate octopus for the first time in my life — this being significant because I have been a vegetarian for a few years now and am not necessarily grossed out by meat, but I do stand by the fact that I don’t love to see suction cups on my food when I eat it. Keeping with last week’s post-camp tradition of going to a friend’s pool, I also finally managed to sit (and stay on) their massively cute (and unstable) unicorn floaty!
Wednesday, my coworker Niamh and I took our two groups to Venice for a scavenger hunt full of lions, water wells, tourists and as many gondolas as we could find (bonus points if the gondolier is in the vicinity of their gondola)!
After this long day of interviewing tourists, taking photos, fending off ferocious pigeons and successfully not having to fish any children out of the canals, both Niamh and I were able to learn and use some Venetian slang and enjoy a well-earned gelato.
Nothing takes the cake for tested limits like agreeing to supervise two groups of hangry tweens alone right after you’ve told them that they must create their own pop song about how much they adore English camp before they can buy ice cream. We also agreed to share the bonus points amongst our teams from Niamh’s human re-enactment of a gondolier with their gondola (my idea and her physical implementation).
To end the week, I celebrated Independence Day with my host family by cooking them dinner, instigating a family spa evening and simulating fireworks with sparkling candles in toast.
All in all, I had an absolutely incredible time working in Mogliano-Veneto. While the camp was gigantic and the campers were many (sometimes too many), my coworkers were an amazing support system for laughs, moral reassurance and company throughout the two weeks. Seeing as my next camp is a mere 23 kilometers away and still in the Veneto region, I have a feeling I will be returning to Venice soon with my campers for another exciting adventure!