Wouldn't it be great to be able to brush up on your Italian language skills for a few hours and spend the rest of the day sunning at the beach? Or drive to the nearby Roman baths, ancient towers and breathtaking seascapes? Or walking among the ancient churches in the city dubbed 'The Florence of the South'? I had the chance to do just that at the Apulia Domus school in Lecce.
Apulia Domus was the first school in Lecce to offer Italian courses to non-Italians. The premise is simple: small classes offer individualized attention with lively, well-trained instructors and a staff that bends over backward to accommodate you. The result is real progress in Italian no matter your level of skill.
As a student, you have some choices for accomodations. You can stay in student housing (my choice), which means you can stay in a single or double room with a shared or private bathroom (make your preference clear when you make your arrangements). The kitchen, dining and TV area are shared with the other students in your section. There's a clothes washer (which really comes in handy) but no dryer. Thankfully, almost every day was sunny so hanging the clothes outside on the line was pretty easy. The room prices are inexpensive and there are not many creature comforts. The beds are comfortable but the rooms are Spartan by American standards. On the other hand, you won't be spending a lot of time in your room.
If you prefer cushier arrangements, there are private apartments available on the campus. You can also arrange your own housing in the center of town at a hotel or bed or breakfast, or ask the school to arrange it for you.
A typical day started with making breakfast in my dorm and a visit to Giardino Ristorante. It's a little cafe in front of the school that serves wonderful pastries and light lunch food. They bake small batches throughout the day so everything is fresh, whether you arrive at 8:00 or 10:30 in the morning. It's a popular and busy place, but they focus on the individual customer. After about 2 days, the barman started brewing my cappuccino as he saw me enter the cafe, and served it with my preference of one packet of cane sugar. I usually also enjoyed cornetti con crema , which were always warm from the oven. The flaky crust was the perfect complement to the velvety cream. If it weren't for class starting, I could have eaten them all morning.
Class started around 10:00 and lasted for 3 hours. The first day we each took a proficiency test to determine our level of comfort with Italian. We were then placed in the appropriate class level. My class had a total of 4 students representing England, Germany, Austria and the US. During my stay, I was lucky enough to experience the teaching styles of 2 instructors. Like all of the teaching staff at Apulia Domus, they are native Italian speakers fluent in English. They kept our interest through a combination of conversation, writing, reading and debating current events. They are attuned not only to the formal rules of grammar but to current changes in Italian and its dialects. Like every language, Italian evolves. Some of the expressions and rules that I learned 5 years ago are obsolete. We left the course ready to speak Italian in a modern, conversational style.
The school also sponsors day trips to surrounding areas such as Bari, Santa Maria di Leuca, Gallipoli and Otranto. One afternoon is set aside for a guided tour of the historic center of Lecce. One evening, staff and students had dinner together at a local restaurant. This place was originally a convent, built deep into a forest long ago to be undetected by enemy invaders. They serve the kind of meals you read about and salivate over but don't know if you can actually eat. Plates continuously circulate the table filled with succulent antipasti, mouth-watering pasta dishes, meat and fish creations, vegetables, homemade bread and wine. All followed by luscious desserts, coffee, grappa and vin santo. The entire process is hours long. And oh yes, you can eat it all.
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