Francesca, foreign language teacher
Francesca Denley is a foreign language school teacher, she speaks six languages and she has done extensive work as both an interpreter and a translator. She was born in London and lived in Peru, Bolivia, Spain and Italy.
“I think my experiences abroad made me the teacher that I am. One hundred percent, that is the main thing which influenced me and my teaching. Even if I wasn’t teaching languages I wanted to bring another culture into my children's class and into their reality. My experience in Peru and Bolivia goes into all my Spanish lessons.”
What do you consider your nationality/ies to be (if any)?
Have you ever considered yourself a Foreigner? When/Where?
I’ve considered myself a foreigner for all of my life. That changed to various degrees depending on where I’ve lived, but even in London that feeling has been with me the whole time. I’ve never felt British or English despite living here. I’m not considered British in London nor I am considered Italian in Italy which is the other country I’m the closest to. I guess London is the most accepting place where I can feel at home but there is always an interaction of some sort which will remind you that you are essentially a foreigner. I don’t mean that in a negative way.
Can you tell me a story about you as a foreigner?
When I went to Peru. I initially went there to improve my Spanish and getting to know the Latin American Spanish as I was working as an interpreter at the time. That was the main reason initially and then it became about getting outside of Europe, living by myself and I don’t think I’ve ever felt as foreign as when I was in Peru.
Anything that you found particularly challenging to adapt to the life in a foreign country?
I’d say the inherent racism. There comes a time when you are getting to know a culture, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you end up agreeing with accepting everything you see. And for me the way the people were quite openly divided when it comes to race and social standing I found it quite difficult to accept. The colour of your skin still does have a massive impact on the type of opportunities that you have, who you should marry, the circle of social interactions, which area of Lima you should live, which tastes in music. It just infiltrates every single area and it breathes a lot of distrust and makes that city a difficult one to navigate. It wasn’t the warmest and most welcoming city, especially being by myself.
Was it a good experience nonetheless?
It was a fantastic experience. I have no regrets at all and I think it is important to go somewhere in your life where you feel foreign, or not entirely accepted at first. What you do in order to become accepted or to understand that culture is so important in terms of your personal development.
Was there any particular encounter in the country that helped you, personally or professionally?
I think it was with my work experience. I was volunteering with a charity which worked with women and children who are in domestic labour and who are exploited in a condition of almost slavery in order to earn something so that they can support their families who live back in the Andes. At the beginning I was not accepted at all by the children and by the people working there. Speaking the language was the key but slowly working with them, building up that trust I got to see what their reality was, their life expectations and this helped me understand how these attitudes become entrenched. I didn’t become more accepting of it but I became more accepting of the reality of it.
What did you enjoy the most of begin a foreigner?
I enjoyed being able to discover a new culture and be excited by it. Dipping in into someone else’s reality and understanding it, making comparisons, being able to see what I had taken for granted. It challenges you and I like the challenge. I think it’s a different form of mental stimulation which I like. I still do.
Do you think your experience as a teacher would have been the same if you stayed in your country of origin?
I think my experiences abroad made me the teacher that I am. One hundred percent, that is the main thing which influenced me and my teaching. Even if I wasn’t teaching languages I wanted to bring another culture into my children class and into their reality. My experience in Peru and Bolivia goes into all my Spanish lessons.
Any message you would like to share with anyone who might read this interview, about your work that they don’t know?
I think education is one of the most controversial topics because everyone has an opinion about it. I would say that is one of the sectors in this country which is being destroyed at the moment. I think people are deluding themselves, or ignoring what is going on and not listening to people on the inside on what needs to change. Education of young people is the key to having a strong society, which is able to function properly, to have integration, to be competitive from an economic point of view. And I think that immigration is one of the most important positive influences on education as well.
Your plans for the future?
I think I’m not done with travelling. I may try living elsewhere for a while. Not that I don’t like London but I will be soon ready for a different experience. It will also depend on how things go in this country. I don’t think things are going in the right direction, so I’m preparing myself to leave if they continue to go the way they are at the moment.
Where is home?
I have two homes. Italy is my home in a more spiritual way because it’s linked of my childhood memories and to my grandparents and that’s something I’ll always treasure. But London is also my home, because it’s my daily reality. Italy is a beautiful place to escape to but London is my home in a day-to-day basis. I say London because I don’t see it as England being my home at all. And they are very different in my mind as well.
Three words you associate with the word “Foreigner”.
Language. Culture. Experience.
I take it as a positive when I hear the word foreigner. Maybe because of the mixed background that I have. My whole family is foreigner, on both sides and they lived being foreigners in this country so if someone says he is a foreigner I don’t see it as “us” and “them”.