CAPA Fall 2018 Diversity Advocates scholar Lauren Ehrmann reflects on her time teaching English at Anelli Mancanti in Florence and how her experience teaching locals with diverse backgrounds completely changed her preconceived ideas about Florence.
I arrived at the specified time to a historic building with bright orange hallways decorated with optimistic murals about community and diversity, ready for my first day of volunteering. Linguistic confusion ensued when I asked the young adults at the front desk where to find Jacopo, the person I was supposed to meet: they cheerfully tried out their English on me, while I further confused things by attempting to use my rudimentary Italian. Just as I was about to despair, I was saved: Jacopo came down the stairs, shook my hand, and greeted me (much to my relief) in excellent English.
Anelli Mancanti's colorful entryway.
I was whisked through a crash-course of the basics at Anelli Mancanti, an organization that offers language lessons to classes of primarily migrants, along with other cultural activities. It was my first time volunteering, and I was to teach an English class with another first-time teacher, a Florentine student around my age. After my whirlwind introduction, I found myself in a small room lit by fluorescent lights with a table full of about 30 students from all over the world staring expectantly back at me.
That first day, we went over the basics: “My name is…,” “I am from…,” “I like…”. I learned that my students were from many different countries: Peru, Morocco, the Dominican Republic, and Mali, among others. They were university students, cleaners, lawyers, and construction workers. They liked playing rugby, soccer, talking to friends, swimming, and cooking. Some were shy, some eager to try out the English words they were learning, some impatient to learn new words to say what they wanted to express. Each week, twice a week, these diverse and busy adults took time out of their schedules to come and sit in this room with me and go about the difficult, frustrating, and humbling task of learning a new language.
A group photo with my Basic English class on my last day at Anelli Mancanti.
I loved volunteering at Anelli. I enjoyed writing lesson plans for my classes at Anelli, coming up with creative ways to use new vocabulary, and inventing games to play. Most of all, I enjoyed my time in the classroom. After every class, I felt filled with optimism, energized by the adult learners I was getting to know and their incredible determination and good humor when faced with the apparently nonsensical grammar of English.
My experience at Anelli also gave me a very vital understanding of the city of Florence. As an American traveling to Italy for the first time, I had only thought about Florentine culture as a monolith. If you had said “Florence” to me in the months before my departure, I would have thought of the Renaissance, pasta, cafes, wine, the Italian language, and dark-haired Mediterranean people. Working at Anelli showed me that Florentines and Florentine culture are much more complex than I had ever imagined back home. Each and every one of my students was as Florentine as anyone else I met in the city, and they contributed vitally to the culture of Florence. My time at Anelli taught me that arroz con frijoles is as Florentine as tortellini. Walking the streets, Florentines can be heard speaking Italian, but also Arabic, Chinese, and Hindi. The halal butcher down the street from me is just as Florentine as the alimentari a block away. I have always known America to be a diverse country of many backgrounds, languages, and cultures; teaching at Anelli Mancanti helped me to rid myself of the Florentine myth that I had imagined, and learn that Florence, like any city, is made up of people who come from different places, with different stories. By ridding me of my mythical Florence, Anelli helped open my eyes to Florence as it is: diverse, complex, contradictory, and far more interesting and beautiful than anything I could have imagined.
Lauren Ehrmann is a junior studying Art History and Near Eastern Languages and Cultures at Indiana University and spent her Fall 2018 Semester in Florence, Italy. A Wells Scholar and honors student, Lauren hopes to one day work as a museum curator of Islamic art working in the field of cultural heritage preservation in the Middle East.
At CAPA, we seek to foster increased student diversity and to provide all participants with the opportunity to explore, challenge and redefine their identities in distinct ways. Launched in Spring 2017, the Diversity Advocates Program (DAP) is an extension of this philosophy and provides resources for advocates to pursue diversity initiatives of their own within their global cities.