Getting involved in the community in which you are living is the most surefire way to make connections and experience local culture in a new place. Interacting with locals provides firsthand experience with a new language, and can make you feel more at home wherever you find yourself.
Three students at CEA Florence, Mary, Matt, and Ross, have taken advantage of a special volunteer opportunity that has helped them to feel more at home in Florence. I was initially planning on participating in this experience myself, but it slipped my mind and I, unfortunately, missed out on the opportunity. Curious as to what they were up to, I decided to ask them a few questions. Here's what I found out about my classmates' experiences volunteering in Florence!
Each Tuesday morning, Mary, Matt, and Ross make the short walk to a local Italian school where they connect with and help tutor Italian children between the ages of 3 and 9. The little Italian babes, who are eager to see their new American friends each week, always greet them warmly. Mary, whose new friends range from ages 3 to 5, can’t wait to get to the school each week. “My favorite part of the experience is coming into the class,” says Mary, “especially now that they recognize me, and having dozens of "ciaos" and happy faces greeting me.”
It seems that my classmates have made some great connections through their time interacting with their tiny Italian friends. They read with them, help them learn basic English, and, according to Mary, “help to manage the adorable-but-wild kids.” Their time spent together is a win-win situation; the Italian students get to practice their English, and Mary, Matt, and Ross are presented with a fun, natural way to improve their Italian.
“…I think it's interesting that I'm learning the same basic things in Italian that these kindergartners are learning in English,” says Ross. “The kids are ready to teach me Italian as much as I'm ready to help them with their English.” What a great dynamic!
When I asked Mary, Matt, and Ross if they would recommend this experience to future study abroad students, the answer was a resounding “Yes!” “I absolutely love and cherish my time with the students,” Mary proclaims. “They are so curious and loving that it makes each day [with them] the highlight of my week.”
Ross told me she “would definitely recommend future study abroad students to jump into any opportunity that would help them learn the Italian language. It's a win-win situation because you get to hang out with kids and they get to teach you their first language!” Mary, Matt, and Ross’s experiences have proved to be rewarding in many, many ways, and I also think it’s admirable that they’re giving back to this lovely city that has welcomed us so warmly.
I am so happy (and jealous) when to find out that Mary, Matt, and Ross have all had such positive experiences so far. They all seem to have gained a ton from their interactions with the staff and students at the local school.
Mary said it best: “I am so happy with how I have bonded with the students and have become a part of the Florence community in a small way. I am not just a student while abroad but a contributor to educating local children, and I could not be more thankful for the opportunity. Studying abroad is an adventure and can be a lot to handle on it's own. But when you take the time to interact with locals and be a part of the community you grow a stronger bond and relationship with the city itself. Helping to teach the students provides basic Italian practice and endless love – what more could a study abroad student need?”
Emma Lamke is the Spring 2015 CEA MOJO Blogger in Florence, Italy. She is currently a sophomore at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse.
Read more about our CEA MOJO Bloggers & Photographers.