May 13, 2013
So much has happened since I last blogged! Oh, where to START?! I’m now in Italy. It is so amazing to me how a one hour plane ride can literally put you in a completely new world. It’s so interesting how all of the European languages have lasted as separate and unique language entities. America is over the size of half of the whole European continenet and all of the people speak English (or some form of English anyways… I don’t know what to call the southern twang that sometimes comes out of my mouth). It’s crazy how the European languages haven’t meshed together more. Italian and Spanish and French are very similar, but then there’s German and English and all of the other languages mixed in an area that’s so small! It would be so interesting to study how language develops. What’s that called again? Etymology? Something like that? Anyways… I’ll recap my first few experiences in Italy. First, I had to figure out how to get to the hotel BY MYSELF. I flew from Basel (where I was so very nicely picked up like a little package from the front of the airport and never ever had to go anywhere by myself) into Milan around 10 pm at night. Yeah. ME. Miss independent. Miss little do it by herself. An American GIRL who doesn’t speak Italian and who didn’t even MAKE THE HOTEL RESERVATION, but relied for once on a friend to do and therefore has no record of the correct hotel or a reservation confirmation or anything like that was ALONE at night in a very strange airport. I called the first two hotels on my google search with my .99 cent per minute stupid international plan and neither one of them had reservations for my friend’s last name. As you can imagine, my mind started to immediately switch to the possibility of sleeping alone in the airport and getting sold into sex trafficking (which is no laughing matter, but is understandably the first thing on my mind when I’m scared and alone in a foreign country). Anyways… I finally called the right hotel and they told me to wait for their shuttle at Gate number 16. THERE WASN’T A GATE 16. Uhm… So. More panic. I asked for directions. I didn’t understand anyone and no one else understood me. I finally overheard another English speaking (Australian. How exotic… I wonder what they thought of my English ahahaha) person asking for help too, so I just followed her and asked if she was looking for the gate too. Turns out, we braved the outside world and went outside the airport between gates 15 and 17, and LO! There! A Gate 16. Inside, it was all under construction. So. I made it safely to the hotel and took a LONG BATH and SLEPT. I took a taxi to meet my group at the airport and that was that. Now, I’m with my group safe and sound in Reggio Emilia, Italy. Our host parents are two cute, cute, cute young Italian people – a husband and wife. They probably aren’t even 30. Chira and Giordano. Her mother is also housing other people from the trip and has done it for several years, but this is their first time hosting any students. It’s going to be a learning curve for both of Rachel (my roommate) and me and the cutie couple! For our first night, we had short, curly pasta with some spicy red sauce and wine. We had good conversation at dinner but it’s awkward! There’s only one bathroom. So, yeah. Today, we basically went on a tour of Reggio Emilia and walked around and got lost. It was fun. But my entire body hurts from all of the walking. I’ll have to find a better pair of sandals because we literally got so, so, so lost and I can’t feel my legs. We probably sat down for all of 3 hours in the whole day. Owie. But good owie. Who can complain when they’re in Italia?! We took some Italian language classes in the afternoon. I don’t know how much Italian I’m going to pick up in a few weeks, but we’ll see! It should be fun. Dinner with our host couple was so cute tonight. She tried to cook chicken and zucchini with Parmesan, but she burnt some of the meat so there wasn’t that much! I know that would be me trying to host some students as a young lady. I love it. She’s so sweet. We had watermelon for desert. I love that all of the fruit that we only eat in the summer time is ready here now. Alrighty, enough for now! I’m forgetting so much I know. Hopefully this will help me to remember the few things I’m able to get down for years to come. If I can remember only a portion of what I’ve seen and done and heard on this trip then I will still be much richer from the experience.
May 14, 2013
These days are great, but LONG! I can hardly remember anything that’s happened. It’s going to be hard to journal about everything because there’s so much and because I’m so tired by the time I have a second to write! This morning, we had some more Italian language classes. It’s so confusing because everything is similar to French, but very different at the same time. After the lesson, we had some more time to walk around Reggio. There was an open-air market in the piazzas today. Our hosts told us that the stuff wasn’t very good quality because there were a lot of immigrants. It’s really similar to an American flea market. According to our hosts, the open markets used to be really nice and lots of Italian shopkeepers would set up tents with stuff on sale but now the immigrants have taken away that nice atmosphere with their cheap goods. The Italians don’t like the immigrants because they sell things of such poor quality and take work away from the Italians. They really don’t like the Chinese people in Italy. There are a lot of Chinese because of the Chinese laws about not having more than one child. Apparently the illegal Chinese people are called “black Chinese,” not because of the color of their skin, but because they aren’t allowed to be here. They view the Chinese much like Americans view the Mexican people. In the States, we like Chinese people because they’re always hard-working and smart! I found that to be very interesting! After the markets and eating lunch, we met our host “mama” for gelato! OH MY GOSH. SO GOOOOD. I had nutella and some kind of vanilla with yummy butterfinger kinda sorta, cookie kinda sorta, caramel kinda sorta pieces inside. Delicious. We met back up with the group to go to the Bergonzi primary school. That was really interesting because we heard from a 5th grade teacher. I thought her English was very good, but she let Daniela translate since she was going to talk about on a deeper level about ideas, various didactic techniques, and that sort of thing. The meeting was very interesting! When the Bergonzi school was created (or “born” as Daniela so cutely translated) in 1973, they decided not to use textbooks. The translation was kind of rough, but basically the teachers and students learn through projects and create their own “textbooks” as they learn. Now, the teachers use textbooks and other audio/visual materials, but they want to use them only as a reference points to help the students. Previously, there were three teachers in each class but due to budget cuts and all of that there are not as many teachers. So, the teachers have to rely more and more on the textbook to help them teach because there aren’t as many teachers in the classrooms. The projects are done grade wide or classroom wide and are used to help the students to learn in a practical way. The students are at school for eight hours. Within those eight hours, there are workshops for the students to learn by doing – a hands on approach. Many of the projects that the Bergonzi school based on some core ideas: 1) working to raise money for the school 2) partnering with experts and 3) exploring the territory. These ideas help the school to be successful in the projects without having to break their very limited budget. For example, the students are involved in something similar to our “Box Tops for Education.” Area grocery stores partner with Bergonzi to give a portion of sales to the school. The example the teacher gave for the community partnership was a project the students recently did with a local mosaic expert, one of the few left in the country. He helped the students to make mosaics and then they went on a trip to see some famous Italian mosaics from the Roman period. Cool! I remember doing something similar in my art class in elementary school. We studied the iron work (history, famous artists, etc.) that is very famous in Charleston, SC and then we worked with a local blacksmith to make our own iron gate designs. That’s definitely a great example of integrated, creative curriculum! Another project example is the school’s “Club of Taste.” The lunch time is very different from our American schools. The students help to set the tables and they eat a long, leisurely, family style lunch. The “club of taste” is a small group of students that collaborate with their classmates and then give feedback on how the students like the lunches. The goal is to help all of the children learn to appreciate fresh, good food, help them learn to “eat well,” and help them to avoid waste. The children learn about who produces the food, how to grow it, and everything like that! The schools also partner with the parents to help them learn to eat good food! Community involvement is very important for the success of the schools. Three times a year (at least) the teachers meet with the parents to discuss their children. Further ways parents are involved in the school are similar to our PTA programs. The parents form committees to help the teacher and to help involve other parents as well. Also, the schools try to organize talks with experts like psychologists or doctors or other professionals. The psychologists come and the parents can ask questions about their own children for free. I thought that was really neat. It shows that the schools care about the development and well being of the child fully. Of course, that’s the ideal. The teacher said that it’s hard to get all parents involved, but continuing to promote ties with the teacher and family regardless of failure is important because eventually there will be good response and community will be built. After the meeting we went out for aperitif with our host mama and her friend. We had a light drink at a “bar” in the city center. It’s cool because you pay for a drink and the bar puts out free appetizers! We met a friend of hers there. He was so funny. He had wild curly hair and looked SO Italian it wasn’t even funny! Yay! After drinks and snacks we went down to watch a few minutes of a pick up soccer match for the team he plays with sometimes. They play in this cute little square court between two beautiful old apartments. It’s like a basketball court but without a top. The surrounding buildings form a perfect court to play soccer like we would play “indoor,” there’s just no roof. It was so neat! I could have stayed there all night. I love it. I love Italy! I’ve literally been writing for an hour. Bella notte!
May 15, 2013
I don’t know if it’s possible for my feet to hurt this much! I MUST buy some better sandals. So. Much. Walking. Today we went to the Malaguzzi center. It’s a museum and central location for the Reggio approach and is a tribute to the approach’s founder, Loris Malaguzzi. We listened to the pedagogista (like a curriculum specialist) tell us more about the approach and then we got to work with the alterista. She’s like an art teacher but there’s more that can’t exactly be translated because the approach is so unique. They help the students to learn freely, creatively, and guide them to make some really deep realizations and connections based on their exploration. The Malaguzzi center has a Ray of Light alteri (like an exploratory art room) where children can use light as a subject matter. It was really really cool. Lots of the exhibits were very similar to the kinds of things that the Children’s Museum has but all of the materials were REAL, many just recycled materials. There were no “toys” or anything like that. A big part of the Reggio Approach is the idea that children are more competent than we think them to be. The Reggio teachers don’t try to simplify language or pictures because they are already immersed in this world as a complex reality… there’s no need to simplify. Instead, teachers help include children in the complex world. In the Reggio approach, children and adults learn together in culture and humanity. Learning is not linear and is very unexpected. The Reggio approach is connected to the social constructivist theory. Documentation is important in the approach. We got to see some neat ways that the teachers, as researchers and observers of their students, document the process of student learning. Again, in the Reggio approach, the process of learning is more important than the final result. After the Malaguzzi center, we spent the afternoon in Bologna. It was fun to walk around and see a bigger Italian city. We had some real Italian pizza, finally! It was funny because we didn’t know how to order so we accidentally ordered two GIANT pizzas. But, oh. SO GOOD. The six of us girls nearly finished BOTH of the pizzas. I wish I was picking up more of the language. I think that instead of actually learning Italian, I’m only learning to speak English with an Italian accent!