Roger Williams student, Courtney Emerson, studies abroad at the Umbra Institute to develop intercultural understanding with a focus on Education in Italy.
March 22st, 2016
PERUGIA, Italy — Roger Williams student, Courtney Emerson, is currently working to give back to the community in Perugia, Italy through education as she studies abroad at the Umbra Institute, an American study abroad program whose courses focus on service-learning and community engagement as a way to introduce students to intercultural interpretations of international realities. Courtney plans to get a Masters in Education after her graduation from Roger and therefore chose to take part in Umbra’s CESP 353: Education in Italy: Seminar and Practicum, taught by Professor Christian Tarchi.
The goal of the Education in Italy Seminar and Practicum is to introduce students to community engagement based on mutual growth and reciprocity through dialogue and action. The seminar portion consists of readings and in-class discussions revolving around educational psychology, pedagogical models, the Montessori Method, and English language teaching methods. The course’s practicum offers students the chance to apply their intercultural communication abilities and theoretical knowledge to field-specific experience within local high schools. The practicum gives students a chance to work with Italian professors to help with the design and implementation of lesson planning, group work, and other classroom activities with a focus on English language and culture instruction.
“I was very excited when I could go down to the school and I was actually able to teach them something that they would be able to use,” said Courtney as she began to describe her experience at a local Scientific High School. “I feel like I am able to become more a part of the community just by being able to talk with them”. At first, she was shocked by the questions that students asked. Students were fascinated by U.S. Primary elections and asked Courtney a number of well-informed questions about candidates which ranged from Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton to Martin O’Malley, Ben Carson, and Lincoln Chaffey. “It was amazing to hear what they knew and how interested they really were in American culture”. Such conversation led Courtney to understand that while political discussion can be a touchy subject in American conversation, Italians have a habit of bringing it up quickly and almost constantly. This experience served as an example of the seminar’s significance to her study, where Prof. Tarchi explains cultural differences and how to handle potentially uncomfortable questions in the classroom.
Now, Courtney feels comfortable with presenting new materials in class and looks forward to her weekly Tuesday practicum work each week. Just last week, Courtney led a lesson on Native Americans and the American Colonial Period. She described this opportunity as a way to share a new perspective with Italian students as she noticed that Italians do not learn nearly as much about that particular period of American history as American students do. “It’s made me realize that the U.S. and Italy have a lot more in common in different ways,” said Courtney as she reflected on Italian knowledge of the Native American community and the fact that her knowledge of Italian culture had also been rather limited before experiencing it. “There is a lot more to see. The American way is not the only way,” commented Courtney, hinting to the fact that individuals approach education in diverse ways and there is no “one-size-fits-all” solution.
Ultimately, Courtney has learned techniques for time management, language learning, and intercultural understanding in relation to learning habits and classroom discipline. She recognizes that neither the Italian nor American education systems are flawless, but that they each offer unique elements. When the best of each is used in the classroom, students are truly offered a well-rounded learning experience.
About the Umbra Institute:
The Umbra Institute is an American study abroad program located in the central Italian city of Perugia. Perugia is the ideal setting to study abroad in Italy, with a vast variety of fine arts, psychology, business, and liberal arts courses. It also offers a wide range of service-learning offerings including seminar & practicum and community-based courses. For more information about the Umbra Institute, see the website above.