Study Abroad Students Volunteer Skills at Local School

Marist-LdM Students Teach English to Schoolchildren in Florence, Italy

While many expect their time studying abroad in Florence to be about traveling, eating, and exploring, there are even more ways for students to immerse themselves in Italian culture.

The Students’ Volunteer Service and Cultural Exchange, led by coordinators Raffaella Redi and Luca Zoccadelli, run a number of volunteer programs each semester that encourage students to get involved. These volunteering programs range from cleaning up graffiti throughout the city of Florence, to running a food drive, and teaching English to elementary school children and high school students. The groups generally meet once a week to carry out these activities.

Jill Minello ’17, a psychology and special education major at Marist, was one of the leaders for volunteers teaching in local schools. Her group visited the Scolopi elementary school once a week during the students’ lunch hour and spoke English with the young children.

“Before coming to Italy, I was interested in exploring different opportunities that would allow me to work with Italian children in an educational setting,” Minello said. She learned about volunteering during the first week of orientation at Lorenzo de’Medici (LdM) and knew right away that it was something she wanted to be a part of. “The LdM volunteer experiences allow immersion into another culture as well as act as an outlet to give back to the Florence community during our stay,” she said. She was excited to be chosen for the professional opportunity.

Each Wednesday afternoon, Minello, along with about eight other LdM student volunteers, would go to the Scolopi School. They worked with children between the ages of 5-10 for approximately an hour during their lunchtime. They only spoke with the students in English, giving the Italian children the chance to practice their own English skills by sharing their stories and interests while also being able to try new words, phrases, and grammar to express themselves.

One of Minello’s best friends, Nicole Curry ’17, an advertising and psychology major at Marist, also knew she wanted to volunteer heading into Florence. She learned about the Scolopi program once Minello became the volunteer leader and realized it would be perfect for her since she wanted to get a sense of what life was like for Italian children. She played games with them, taught them English words, and “occasionally got the cutest hugs.”

She soon realized that Italian children are not all that different from those in the US. “It was really cool!” Curry said. “I was not expecting them to be so in tuned with American culture at such a young age. They would talk about Taylor Swift and Nicki Minaj.” 

While the Italian students were able to learn from the volunteers, the volunteers also learned a lot as well. “I learned how to overcome language barriers by using pictures, gestures, or choosing to use a more simple word when talking to the children,” Minello said. “I also learned how to teach English to students in a fun way through a variety of games as well as understanding the value of patience when being a teacher.”

“It was definitely an interesting experience to work with Italian children,” Minello said. “They were very excited to talk to Americans and use their English language skills from class. They were full of energy, especially during their lunchtime and they loved to teach us 'bad' words in Italian.”

Curry echoed similar sentiments. “I learned that Italian children want to have fun, enjoy the company of their friends, and really do enjoy learning.”

Written by Adriana Belmonte '17

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