Ana Rodriguez spends summer in Italy

by   |  08.15.11  |  Uncategorized

It has now been ten weeks that I have been immersed in a new culture. While working for ACLE, I have had the wonderful opportunity of being able to be a part of hundred of children’s lives. By teaching English to Italian children, having to travel by myself across the country, and staying with host families, I have never before felt so humbled, happy, and challenged all at once. 

Beginning on May 29th, I had to complete a one week orientation in San Remo where I learned the basics of teaching simple grammar skills with energetic games and skills that would make teaching enjoyable. In the Italian scholastic system, children begin to take English classes in elementary school. They learn the ins and outs of all the grammar skill throughout the nine years of school. However, they rarely spend more than one hour a week practicing auditory and speaking skills. Another problem with the Italian scholastic system is that they have no budget for the arts and literally spend most of their day locked up in a classroom with little hands-on activity. When the children arrive to us, they are expecting the same type of summer camp they would normally expect to go to: more school. Italians have not grown up with the summer camp culture that Americans have, and when they get to experience native English speakers and be forced to practice their English they have a lot of fun. They also get to play academic games and be in competitions, as well as performing in a final show at the end of the camp. They get to dress up in costumes, memorize and perform an English show to their parents. Overall, these nine weeks have been grueling in terms of teaching English. As a tutor, we have to show up at 8:30 in the morning and be with the kids all day until 5:30 in the afternoon. I had the opportunity of working in Giampiliari, Messina, Catanzaro Lido, and Soverato. Each camp taught me new things about myself and the Italian culture.

There are many stereotypes I came into Italy having. I thought that being here would tear away the stereotypes I had, but being here has just reinforced my love for these stereotypes. For example; Italians wait at least one hour before swimming after eating, they do not walk in the house (or anywhere) without shoes, they have melodramatic hand gestures, and a three hour multi-course meal is the main night family activity. There are some more things I also came out learning. They really do say ‘Mama Mia!’, they love eating french fries with their pizza, and wine really does compliment every meal. Italians are obsessed with their sports, and families (especially in the South) really do completely out of their way to accommodate their guests. Personally, I know I will come home saying “bo” which is a typical sound that Italians say when they mean “I don’t know”. I will probably insult Americans with my over dramatic hand gestures that I have grown so accustomed to doing. I have genuinely fallen in love with the Italian culture. I know my host families make me eat their amount of food, plus another two or three portions, and still tell me I haven’t eaten enough. “Mangia Mangia”! “Moko Moko”! I am thankful I ran around chasing kids everywhere because if not I would be 5 kilos heavier.

In terms of the language barrier, I was fortunate enough to know Spanish which really helped me pick up on the Italian language quite quickly. I know the first week I was here I was not able to order at a fast food restaurant, and now I am the main translator for my friends and fellow tutors. At first, I was able to understand more than I spoke. However it is true when people say that when it is necessary to learn a language you pick it up fairly quickly. Because I got placed in the South of Italy for all of my camps, six weeks of my time here was spent in an environment where barely anyone knew English except for my camp directors and tutors. My host families knew enough to stay a few phrases but that was about it. To a lot of people this might seem like a nightmare, but you will be shocked at what determination and pantomiming can accomplish. I can have a fairly decent conversation with someone and understand almost everything that is said when in the appropriate context. I hope to hopefully learn how to speak Italian as my third language. Apparently this language has more grammar tricks than English, but I am excited for the challenge.

 

Overall, I have learned quite a bit. There is an enormous power in understanding distinctive types of languages and families. It is also so interesting to learn the different and unique ideas and philosophies they have about life. It is amazing realizing the influence we have to transform lives and make learning fun. It is so easy and fun to meet new people if you take the opportunity to melt into a new culture. There is a huge importance in getting to know more than your bubble and what you are accustomed to. Getting out of your comfort zone truly is rewarding. I am grateful and happy for every moment spent in Italy this summer. The most important lesson I learned was that genuine happiness is always found in the company of good people, good food, fun places, and even better memories. There is a common Calabrese dialect phrase that I learned that translates into “eat the world”. It basically means that it doesn’t matter if you are in Italy or Abilene, happiness is all in taking advantage of every opportunity to grow and learn.