During Fall 2017 I enrolled in the ISI Florence Cultural Engagement Practicum on Early Childhood Pedagogy and had the opportunity to teach English to Italian elementary school students. This experience was the most humbling and exciting part of my study abroad experience. Every Monday during my stay in Italy, I would wake up at 6:30 AM in order to catch my train to Prato, a small town on the outskirts of Florence, and arrive on time to a local primary school to teach my weekly lesson. I worked with Emily Sanyshyn (RWU), also enrolled in the ISI Florence program, and together we created lesson plans.

Studying abroad during the fall semester has meant spending our first Thanksgiving away from home. And we wanted to teach our little Italian friends the values of Thanksgiving and why it is so important to us.

We made them trace their hands on a sheet of paper and my partner and I cut them out. On the cutout hands, we asked the kids to write what they were thankful for. There were the usual responses of “I am thankful for my family.” But also quirky answers like “I am thankful for my dog” or for “forest rangers.” The ones that really stood out were “I am thankful for Emily and Lina.” I was stunned at the actual impact my English lessons were having on these children. They were thankful for me? For us? I felt so fortunate to be able to share such an important American holiday with my classes. Not only was I able to talk about my culture, but they also let me into their lives.

Lina Orjuela (Rutgers University)