In my first week of classes at the Accademia Europea di Firenze (AEF), I’m learning way more than I’m teaching—typical for me in any class, anywhere, but in Florence the learning is exponentially curvier.
My colleagues who have taught for the Education Abroad program in Florence told me they have taken classes alongside the students, and the Italian Language & Culture class was automatically my choice. As I mentioned in my first blog, I have given myself an introduction to the Italian language via Duo Lingo, but nothing could have prepared me for an actual classroom experience.
I haven’t been a formal student since the last century, and in the first five minutes of Profesora Tiberia’s class, I thought, What the #$%*! was I thinking? I felt completely intimidated by the content and jealous of the other students’ young brains, and I imagined the best possible excuses to drop the class. However, when I stepped outside my ego and looked around surreptitiously, I saw the deer-in-class-headlights expression on the other students’ faces, illustrating my feeling. Last night, I realized I was glad to have taken this leap. After today’s second day of class, I felt like a proud kindergartner: I can count to 100, I can introduce myself, and I can greet others. I’ve also been aware of my special status as a professor taking an undergraduate class, and I’m slowly getting over my crushing insecurity when I answer incorrectly during class. I’m actually laughing at myself quite a bit—in an Italian accent, of course.
My teaching experience has been a treat. The AEF has given me access to a guest faculty office, and my classroom seems simple at first glance, but the simplicity is deceptive. The windows are vertically long and narrow, and the stucco walls subtly reveal the four centuries of work in this building. So that the long history of the building and these rooms stays intact, the technology is unobtrusive but omnipresent. My classroom has wifi in the air underneath a magnificent Renaissance ceiling fresco. Unlike EKU, the room also has a working clock on the wall! My students are the best, making me proud every step of the way. They’re enthusiastic, absorptive, respectful, and sharp—all qualities that the AEF folks have brought to my attention with great praise.
I’m also tagging along with the students on the AEF’s daily cultural activities, and the professor-guides are wonderful in their enthusiasm for Florence and for teaching Americanos about the Medici family or about correct ways to order beverages, lessons to non-natives they have surely stopped counting.
So far, it doesn’t seem real. It truly feels like I’m going to wake up from a very pleasant dream or that I’ll have to leave in days rather than weeks from now. When I am not standing speechless and in awe at my surroundings, my overwhelming sense is one of gratitude for and about this culture. I’m experiencing too many refreshing changes in Italy to list here, but I’ll include a few:
- In general, people don’t look like clones, rushing down sidewalks with a device in one hand and a cardboard cup of coffee in the other. Here, it’s apparently rude to imbibe while walking, and cafes typically use real glasses that patrons hold and sip (or gulp!) at the counter. Coffee servings are not several variations of jumbo either.
- Stores are small and focused, not like the gross excess of our stores. Food is fresh—the vegetables are better than I’ve ever had, and they’re an integral part of any meal, not just garnish or an afterthought.
- Efficiency and conservation are part of everyone’s routine. People typically don’t use a lot of electricity, and hardly anyone owns a dryer; instead, washed laundry hangs on clotheslines attached to the windows. Trash cans come in groups of four or five with separate bins for each type of organic and recyclable trash. Toilets contain maybe three or four inches of water. Cars are not a constant sight, and apart from delivery trucks, most vehicles are compact. The carbon footprint is nowhere near ours.
- Kids are well behaved, and they don’t control their parents’ every move. Often, fathers push the stroller or carry the child on their shoulders, or both parents are holding the child’s hand. I’ve seen not even one tantrum and no bargaining between parents and children (“If you are quiet/eat your peas/stay still/stop pulling your brother’s hair, I’ll let you have gelato”), and I haven’t seen a single child screaming a demand for something at a frazzled parent. I don’t recall seeing any children with a phone or other device three inches from their face.
My wifi in my studio is too low and fleeting to post photos to this blog, but I’ll be sure to remedy this omission tomorrow from school.