Into the Classroom, Out of My Comfort Zone

Today’s post focuses on the experience of UC student Isabel Soloaga, who spent last Spring interning at an Italian middle school as a teacher’s aide through UCEAP’s Art, Food and Society program with ACCENT. There, she helped lead the class during their English lessons and came to understand what it’s like to teach and learn in another country.

Every semester, University of California students have the opportunity to volunteer in Rome in a variety of different fields. Isabel Soloaga, a UC Berkeley alum, took part in the Spring 2018 semester at ACCENT Rome and decided to volunteer as an English language tutor at a local middle school.

Isabel graduated in May with a degree in Art History and Journalism and started her volunteering experience with great enthusiasm: “I decided to volunteer because I wanted to get to know Italian students and learn what school is like in Rome. When I visited the first time, everybody was so kind and welcoming to me, I wanted to come back.”

Her volunteering experience was a huge step out of her comfort zone: she had to commute to the school from a different area of Rome, communicate with the school staff in Italian, and understand the differences of the Italian education system and teaching methods.

Middle school students are from 10 to 13 years old and study a variety of subjects: Italian, mathematics, history, geography, music, and English as they prepare for the final exam that will grant access to a liceo (high school).

At the end of middle school, students have to decide their academic path as there are many different kinds of high schools that focus on different subjects: humanities, sciences, languages, arts.  All high schools have a similar academic structure, with mandatory subjects in common such as Italian grammar, history, and mathematics. But in the final three years most subjects become more specific. For example, a Liceo Classico focuses on Humanities and students are required to take courses such as Ancient Latin and Greek.

Classes usually start at 8 in the morning and end at 2, and it is usually the teacher that moves from one class to the other. During her teaching experience, Isabel assisted the English Language instructors during class, led some of the classes herself, and organized workshops, activities, games, and projects. She worked in different classes and bonded with all the students and teachers: “I got so much out of this experience. Every time, I left happy and energized by my brilliant students. I learned how to make learning English fun (I hope), and I improved my Italian, too.”

Students aren’t always easy to manage and classes are usually quite crowded – an average of 26 pupils per class. Moreover, Isabel had to overcome the language barrier, but she never lost her smile:  “I gained a new appreciation for teachers everywhere, and for how hard it is to learn a new language!”

~Alice Mangia, ACCENT Rome

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