Kayla Sides is an official CAPA blogger for fall 2016, sharing her story in weekly posts on CAPA World. A psychology major, she is studying abroad in Florence this semester through the custom program at Norco College.
In this week's post, Kayla shares her two different volunteering experiences from Florence this semester.
If you study abroad with CAPA, you will be introduced to an abundance of volunteer opportunities that you can take on during your semester abroad. From one-time events to semester-long programs, there’s something for everyone. This is a great way to not only become more immersed in your host city, but also a great way to give back to it. It’s a win-win! I decided to commit to two volunteer programs:
Teaching English at a local elementary school
For the past three months, I have assumed the role of an English teacher’s assistant once a week at the San Giuseppe elementary school. For just an hour every week, I help with English lessons that the teacher has planned. A lot of the time, 10-15 minutes are set aside for activities that I come up with on my own.
The class usually consists of songs, workbook exercises, and speaking/listening exercises. Since I work with second graders, we spend more time with speaking and interaction so they can connect meanings and identify basic words such as animals, family members, and adjectives. The teacher demonstrated how it was important for them to associate pictures with words first so they can understand the meaning of the subjects first instead of tackling spelling and reading. This way, when they work with reading and comprehension, they’ll already have an idea of what they’re looking at. For example, I would sing songs with them about… let’s say animals. As we would sing about different animals, I would hold up pictures and point to whatever animal they were singing about. Then, we would move onto games such as bingo, or matching, and go fish, to further test their understanding. Then, we would move onto book work, and by then, they would have a firm grasp of the curriculum.
I must say, though, it was sometimes difficult being in a classroom full of second graders who barely knew English. Although I loved when they talked to me, most of the time, I had no idea what they were saying. They would get so excited and their eyes would light up when they would get lost in their stories. They talked so fast and when they were finished, they would stare at me with so much anticipation. I felt so bad because I didn’t know what to say! I used those exchanges as motivation to learn more Italian. As the program continued, I could respond (sometimes) to the children and in turn, I would try to help them understand what I said in English. So, even though I was there to teach them English, they also did a pretty good job at helping me with my Italian!
The GANZO! Project
The GANZO! Project is a volunteer program in which you are kind of, but not really, adopted by an Italian family! To summarize, you meet with an Italian family multiple times while you’re here and just bond with them! Whether it’s having dinner, making dinner, or going out to shows, you just spend time with them and learn how true local Italians live. My GANZO! family included Vincenzo (the dad), Valentina (the mom), and Benedetta (the 10-year-old daughter).
I feel like we immediately clicked because of our curiosities about one another’s culture. I, of course, wanted to learn everything about being Italian. They, on the other hand, wanted to learn about California and all the differences I encountered when coming to Italy. Over dinner, we had long conversations about our favorite foods and hobbies. I would ask Valentina about the meal that she prepared and try to get recipes out of her so I could impress everyone back home! Benedetta would show me all of her favorite books and movies and we would sing Disney songs together. I would help Vincenzo with his English while he would encourage me to speak Italian and to stop being so shy about it. One evening, I went to Benedetta’s school choir performance where her class sang a medley of Italian songs (that I actually heard before!) and the high school class sang a medley of popular English songs. Afterwards, I brought them to my favorite restaurant and they ended up thanking me for introducing them to it!
I made a lot of nice memories with them and I’m happy that I had them to help me navigate Italian life while I was here.
The volunteering opportunities offered through CAPA gave me a chance to experience authentic cultural exchange, and I’m very grateful for that. I got to interact with different generations and learn so much from all of them. I can only hope that they learned at least a little bit from me as well! Volunteering helped shape my study abroad experience by pushing me out of my comfort zone and giving me a sense of accomplishment; accomplishment because I feel like I used my time here to its full potential. Yes, exploring the city and traveling and eating all the food in sight is great and all, but being able to volunteer in another country made me feel like I was contributing to something more than my own life.
Kayla's journey continues every Wednesday so stay tuned.