My student’s first cultural exchange, part 1…

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What is a “cultural exchange?”

Well many know the answer to this question, but I would like to start from the answer to this very simple question.  It is “an exchange of students, artists, athletes, etc., between two countries to promote mutual understanding.”  Surely something our world lacks today. So with the hopes of improving “mutual understanding” among cultures, my project began.

As many of you know from following my blog, I’m an English Conversation teacher in Italian state high schools and have been (even if still a sub) for the past 16 years. I teach in linguistic lyceums (or high schools which specialize in teaching languages) and being a mother tongue teacher, one of my jobs is to expose my students to English in the world. Studying English is important for them and they should pursue it without hesitation.

From 2006 to 2010 I had the joy, the honor and the pleasure to work in Siena and its province and what an enriching experience it was, from the students I met to my colleagues, to all the wonderful places my eyes had the chance to see. When I returned to Naples the following school year, 2011-2012, my first school was in a small town in the province of Naples called Sant’Anastasia, based at the feet of the great Mount Somma, the original volcano known as Somma, until about 39,000 years ago, when a great eruption called “ignimbrite campana” gave birth to what is the Vesuvius today. I summarized the geological events in a very profane way, surely someone out there might get upset over my statements, but being this article about an exchange, I thought it would suffice to just give some basic information on the area.  Of course there is so much online on the subject, that if you would like to learn more about it, you surely could.

My current high school had never taken part in a cultural exchange and I found it to be very strange, being that my four years in Siena taught me otherwise. In fact every year, my students from my linguistic lyceums in Montepulciano, Montalcino and my technical school in Siena would take part in such activities from their first year in high school. The first step was to speak with my students trying to get a feel for their interest in such an opportunity and their response was outstanding. I then decided to look for a partner school online, starting with American high schools, but I was very unlucky, none of the schools chosen even replied to my emails and so I focused my attention to a European portal for teachers, eTwinning,  where I registered and posted on one of the many forum.  To make the long story short, I was contacted within a few days from an English colleague teaching in a high school in a city called Nafplio in Greece.

What was amazing was the discovery that the name Nafplio meant Naples of Romania.  Yes, Naples. In fact, this city not only was the first capitol of Greece but it was also named after our city of Naples, due to its great resemblance and the great castle of Bourtzi, which closely resembles our Castel dell’Ovo in Naples, Italy. Just a wonderful beginning which made our project even more special.

Weeks went by and my Greek colleague and I decided to move ahead and propose our projects to our school’s faculties for approval and approval we got. We found ourselves another colleague to help with the organization and started the planning. How hard it is and was to get it all organized especially considering that our schools and ministries of education didn’t chip in a cent to help students live such an experience, instead the families paid for it all with the help of the faculties who taxed themselves so to help out the students and give them an unforgettable experience.

On March 11th 2013 our Greek friends arrived in Naples, a group of 15 students, plus two colleagues (an English teacher and the Principal herself).  They stayed with us until the 17th where they left to return home to Nafplio situated on the Argolic Gulf in the northeast  Peloponnese.

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My students from my Tourism course in their uniforms welcomed our guests from Greece to the Town Hall, where the Mayor of Sant’Anastasia welcomed our guests.

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Our week started off with a great welcoming party, first at the local Town Hall, then off to our school auditorium for a lunch buffet offered by the families of all the students participating at the exchange.  Our Greek friends loved the opportunity to try all of our local foods, from pizza to mozzarella, from tortani and casatielli to all sorts of delicious dishes made with so much love as everyone was so excited to have this opportunity. It doesn’t happen everyday that schools manage to organize such events due to the crisis and all.

During their stay we brought them to visit Pompeii, Ercolano, the city of Naples and Rome “blessed” (NOT!) accompanied by the worst weather ever.  It literally rained “cats and dogs” the entire week, with an exceptional appearance of snow on our Ercolano visit.  I mean really, when does it ever snow in Naples? Of course when we have our guests over from Greece. Naples known as the “sunshine city” was all but.  We were spared though, only on the last day in Rome, a day where I rediscovered the eternal city after a few years of absence.

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My sophomore class participating in this exchange.

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The teachers.

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The two classes together. What a great bunch, the Italians and the Greeks. Photo taken in Piazza Plebescito, in front of the Royal Palace.

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Ercolano and the Vesuvius on the day of our visit. Snow all the way down. The coldest day of the week. Who would have known that the following day in Rome the sun would have shined making it the first day of Spring for us.

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Photo take upon our arrival in Rome on the morning of the 16th, from the “Altare della Patria” the famous monument remembering the veterans of war, fallen in the line of duty.

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The Trevi fountain. We had to give our friends the opportunity to throw a coin with the hopes they would one day return to Italy once again.

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The “scalinata della Trinità dei Monti” in Rome, Piazza di Spagna. What a day it was. Just wonderful. Our Greek friends enjoyed every moment.

We dropped off our friends at their hotel in Rome that afternoon, as they would have to fly home the next day and we returned to Naples. Goodbyes were hard, the students hugged and cried as they got back on the bus to return to Naples with smiles on their faces as our exchange would continue in less than three week’s time.

We’ll be leaving for our visit of Nafplio on the 15th of April, a week’s adventure awaits. Part two will follow with our experience in Greece, for some of my students it will be their first time out of their home towns or their country. What better place to start than Nafplio.

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6 responses to “My student’s first cultural exchange, part 1…

  1. Hi! This is my 1st comment here so I just wanted to give a quick shout
    out and say I genuinely enjoy reading your blog
    posts. Can you recommend any other blogs/websites/forums that deal with the same subjects?

    Thanks a ton!

    • Thank you so very much for your input. It is always wonderful when a person take the time to write you what he/she thinks. I wish I could get more done, but with family and young kids and my real job, sometimes it becomes a bit hard.
      If you are interested in cultural exchanges, I use etwinning.com a great website for European exchanges. I am not sure where you are, but it is where I get all the info and start off my class projects.
      Hope to hear from you again and keep on reading, I am going to try to get back in the game, now that I have more time on my hands since I am out of school for the summer.
      Ciao

    • Hi Cortez,
      first of all thank you so very much for taking the time in leaving me a comment. Forgive me for taking so long to reply, sometimes life is just so hectic that you just don’t have enough hours in a day to do it all.
      As for other websites or blogs, well I have some of them linked on my homepage. As far as exchange programs, well that depends on where you live. They are very popular in Europe, but not so much so in the States for example. Provide me with more detail and I can try to help.
      Thanks again and stop by again.

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