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Rosemary Sands (International Education) in Ortigia

July 2008

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Cultural exchange translates into an Italian classroom

Rosemary Sands (International Education) is picking up new insights into language education as she teaches Italian in Italy this summer.

Sands’ students are picking up their target language inside and outside the classroom—and that’s not the only good news from Sands, who sends this virtual postcard from her Mediterranean paradise.

Greetings from sunny Ortigia!

Ortigia, a little slice of paradise on the island of Sicily, is where I am fortunate enough to be spending five weeks this summer. It is a place rich in natural beauty and in history, having been settled by the Greeks in the eighth century B.C.

St. Norbert students have been coming to the Mediterranean Center for Arts and Sciences (MCAS) in Ortigia since 2003. In addition to semester-long programs, MCAS offers short-term programs, such as the special J-term the center created for St. Norbert students in 2006 and in 2008.

About a year ago, the director of MCAS asked me to consider coming to Ortigia to teach an Italian class. Needless to say, it did not take me long to choose Ortigia as the place I wanted to spend the summer!

Although I have taught both Italian and Spanish for many, many years, until now I had never had the opportunity to teach in the target language country. What is it like to teach beginning Italian on site? It is like a dream come true! My students, all hailing from U.S. colleges and universities, have the incredible opportunity to practice their Italian skills every time they step out on the street.

Although this is a popular tourist destination, Ortigia has very few English speakers. In addition, Italians in general are thrilled when anyone tries to converse with them in their own language. They are patient to a fault and generous with their encouragement and compliments.

Ortigia is actually a tiny island connected to mainland Siracusa, and to Sicily as a whole, by two bridges. Strolling along the Lungomare (the sea walk), it is possible to traverse the periphery of the island without ever losing sight of the sea (or, for that matter, without ever losing sight of a gelateria, just in case you are overcome by a desire to try a new flavor of gelato).

My students come to class each day bursting with questions about things they have heard, seen or tasted since the previous class. How wonderful it is to introduce food vocabulary one day and know that the students can then go to the open-air market and see their vocabulary list come to life. Their progress has been rapid and gratifying. I only wish all students had the opportunity to learn a foreign language on site.

A presto!

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