When I thought about studying abroad, I imagined that I would spend my semester studying… at a university… abroad. I know that doesn’t sound too shocking, however that expectation did make it surprising when a month into my time in Rome, in addition to attending my normal classes, I found myself teaching… at a high school… abroad. During orientation back in August (wow — I cannot believe that was almost four months ago! Ah!), I was able to sign up to teach a weekly, one-hour English class with other Temple Rome students thanks to a program set up by one of the Italian professors, Daniela (she’s so wonderful, if you come to Temple Rome make sure to get to know her!). The goal was to have American students plan out lessons and class activities to give Italians a better understanding of American culture and the English language.
Immediately, I was interested in becoming a part of the program. I knew teaching a class once a week was definitely a time commitment that I could handle, and it seemed like a good way to get a better understanding of daily life in Rome. Still, even though I was excited, I quickly remembered there’s nothing quite like walking into a classroom full of teenagers to conjure up flashbacks of all the ups and downs of high school. But regardless of the initial shock of jumping back into a high school classroom, I love having the opportunity to work and become friendly with Italian high school students. It’s definitely been interesting trying to explain certain American traditions, and I’ve learned a lot about Italian cultural nuances as well.
Notably, I discovered I dress like an Italian high schooler. On the first day, I noticed my clothing style matched up much closer with high schoolers than with Italians I’ve met that are closer to my age. I saw plenty of Doc Martens in the hallways, as well as mom jeans and sweatshirts. Leisure wear is not really a thing here, and as someone who pretty much only wears leggings, loose jeans, and oversized sweaters October thru April, it’s nice to be amongst Italians who aren’t as focused on high-fashion looks.
My favorite moment throughout the class was attempting to explain tacky holiday light tours to my students, although it was also probably the hardest thing I had to try to explain all semester. I learned very quickly that the word tacky does not translate well. It’s hard to describe something tacky without using the word tacky, but we managed to settle somewhere between cheesy and obnoxious. Also, my hometown, Richmond, Virginia, has a pretty big tacky lights community, so I’ve never thought about how odd it is to explain the concept of people putting so many lights on the outside of their house. When one of the kids understood what I was saying, he simply said “that sounds expensive.”
Volunteering in an Italian high school has been by far one of my favorite parts of my time here. Students really seemed to enjoy talking to us and also sharing both their experiences in Rome and favorite Italian cultural nuances. Throughout my first few weeks here, I was worried that, because I hadn’t lived in Rome for long and didn’t speak Italian, I would be unable to connect with a community here. However, by coming in each week and getting to help out these students, I truly feel like I was able to become a small part of a community in Rome.