Christina T., Me, Erica D., and Jen L. representing MIT in Florence!
So I don’t know if you could tell, but I was teaching in Italy over IAP. In October, I applied to MIT’s Global Teaching Labs Program, and after an application and interview, was deemed among 30 or so students qualified to teach Italian high schoolers some science, in English. I’d like to present my experience as 10 lessons– not the ones I taught, but the ones I learned. (ﾉ´ヮ´)ﾉ*:･ﾟ✧
1. Don’t worry about the uncontrollable.
Here, I specifically mean flying. Due to the polar vortex commotion, my flight to Milan was one of the thousands cancelled and rescheduled for a full 2 days later. Arriving late to my job wasn’t a problem because I made up the missing hours by teaching a few extra classes. On the way back, my flight was delayed again– but don’t blame the polar vortex, this time it was all me. In the JFK layover, I somehow fell asleep while sitting at the gate… for exactly the 40 minutes it took for my plane to arrive, board, depart, and probably get to Boston. Classic.
2. Do things you think you can’t.
When I signed up, I agreed to teach Biology and Chemistry. I love those subjects. I know them pretty well. But when I got assigned to my school, they wanted me to teach –gasp– math and physics. Physics. We’re talking the subject I never took in high school, and merely passed freshman fall. I can’t… right? Ok, time to properly learn it! In the end, I loved and felt awesome teaching all my subjects, which turned out to be a whooping mix of: Electricity, Combinatorics and Probability, Acid-Base Chemistry, and Biology.
3. However little time there is, use it.
For example, in learning a new language before traveling to that country. You know, it’s mathematically proven that learning at 200 word vocabulary is 100 times better than just knowing “pizza” and “espresso.” And from my experience, having 30 minutes to plan a lesson is infinitely better than none. And having a few hours is infinitely-infinitely better than that. But now we’re getting into different types of infinities, which is it’s own blog post.
4. Embrace culture.
Basically, I never drank a single cup of American coffee while in Italy… and probably won’t ever again. While embracing other cultures, don’t forget to break stereotypes from our own! Because the majority of America is not uneducated, wasteful, and overweight. I think. I hope. My host family was continually surprised that I knew food such as linguine, fettuccine, and gnocchi. Though the dishes my host mom and grandma made were of course the best I ever had, being homemade and mouth-melting.
5. Don’t be afraid to say “yes.”
I kept taking on more classes and experiences, and didn’t regret a single moment. With my host family’s older brother, I went to my first Qwan Ki Do lesson. Having never done any form of martial arts before, I was a tad intimidated to go. But alas, I am now wiser about how to handle a bamboo stick.
6. Don’t be afraid to say “no.”
Teaching in Italy turned out to be way more intense than I ever anticipated. Having to prepare and deliver lessons 6 days a week was an immersive experience, but it was also taxing. Make sure you’re not pushing your physical limits. I felt so energized and excited when I was around people, but a bit overwhelmed when planning for the next day at night, every night. I needed to recuperate for a few solid days when I came back to campus. But it was so worth it.
7. Some things are universal.
Or quasi-universal. Like Latin. Really, I hadn’t expected SAT skills to come up again in my life, but studying all those Latin roots definitely eased me into Italian. Also universal are facial expressions and hand gestures, which definitely overcompensated my language deficit. I can leave it unsaid that attitude and kindness can be sensed without words.
8. Open yourself to people.
I stayed with the most wonderful host family while in Italy. It was truly incredible getting to know them, and their extended family, and all their family friends. Everyone I personally had met in Italy was so warm, so thoughtful, and so willing to feed me good Italian food. The language barrier won’t be so bad if you radiate feelings (also I was really lucky that someone would always be able to speak English). Giant shout-out to Flavia, Nereo, Elia, Filippo, and Nonna for welcoming me into their lives!
9. Get out there!
Because Italy is about 2 Floridas (a standard unit of measurement), and I come from a strong public transportation background, I loved using Italy’s transportation system to get me to places I have never been to before. Example: Mountains. Wow.
10. Make an impact, however you can.
GTL emphasizes Mens et Manus, MIT’s motto. In this way, it was good that I couldn’t entirely rely on English to get information across– I used many visual, experiment-based, and exploratory methods. I believe that *discovery* is an essential component of learning, while passion is an essential component of teaching.
All in all, I learned to teach and taught to learn! ☆*･゜ﾟ･*\(^ o ^)/*･゜ﾟ･*☆