A rainy morning had provided a great opportunity to get the owners of my hotel a bit better. After my interview with the Sciglio family I took a leisurely stroll through Taormina and headed back to the Babilonia Language School to use the Internet and get ready for an excursion at 4 pm. Along the way I met the owner and director of the School, Alessandro Adorno, and I had an opportunity to get to him a little better.
View of Taormina
Alessandro originally hails from Catania and went to a high school that specialized in business and foreign languages. He realized he liked languages, but did not want to study literature so he went to Florence to study interpretation studies in English and French. During his last year of university he worked in an Italian language school called ABC School in Florence – Tuscany is a very popular destination for language study travel.
An excursion with the Babilonia langauge school: Peppe, our tour guide
After university he faced a very critical turning point as to whether he would stay in Florence or move back to Sicily. The event that changed his future was a vacation to Sicily that he went on with the director of this language school who said “Why don’t you start a school right here in Taormina?”
Peppe explains Sicilian plantlife
After some back and forth, Alessandro decided to give language teaching in Taormina a shot and found a location at a local guesthouse called Pensione Svizzera. Lessons were taught in the terrace garden and language students would have their accommodation there as well. On a trip back to Florence Alessandro printed 60,000 stickers which he put on ABC School’s brochure to promote his new school in Taormina. During the first year of 1992 he had 12 to 18 students for the whole summer. Today there are at least 12 new students starting a course every Monday.
The “Via dei Cruci” in Taormina
Despite initial challenges Alessandro decided he wanted to continue, he was stubborn and finally found a new location for his school – Babilonia’s current location in the Via del Ginnasio. As any new entrepreneur he was a jack of all trades at the beginning: he handled the teaching, answered the phone, played secretary, and was responsible for marketing, PR and cleaning.
A view towards Castelmola
As a result of distributing his brochures to various foreign consulates and Italian departments at different universities he was able to attract a bigger clientele. All the extra revenue went into advertising and Alessandro attributes his success to one secret: don’t try to get rich immediately, simply be happy with your job.
Today the Babilonia language students come from all over the world and various European travel agencies sell language study trips to his school in Taormina while American students are mostly approached through academic organizations.
Promoting Taormina as a language study destination was originally a bit difficult since there was a wide-spread perception that Sicily was closely associated with crime and the mafia. Contrary to widely held notions, students that have completed his program can indeed attest that Taormina and Sicily in general are very safe travel areas. I certainly was looking forward to learning Italian in this beautiful town.
Our hiking group after its arrival in Castelmola
4 pm rolled around and my scheduled excursion was about to begin: Peppe Celano is Babilonia’s social activities coordinator and he had planned a hike to the mountain-top village of Castelmola. Nine language students from countries such as Sweden, Germany, Austria, England, Norway and Canada were waiting in front of the school until Peppe, an athletic Italian teacher and former sprinter, started to take us on our hike. Off we started on the tiny narrow streets of Taormina that continued to climb up the mountain. We passed by many restaurants, souvenir shops and other local retailers until we reached the highest part of town.
Tiny chapel on our way to Castelmola