Andiamo a scuola (elementare!)

Posted on Friday, October 15th, 2010 by Mike Manchester

This week it’s been all business.  Aside from classes one of the major developments to the semester is that this week elementary school and kindergarten teaching started.  I am in charge of a project for the city of Siena that sends native English speakers into local elementary schools and kindergartens to help the teachers out with English class.  This is the 6th year that I’ve been in charge of the project and we’ve come a long way.  This year students will be singing songs, playing in English, and many will be involved in a very dynamic activity where the children will be learning and ultimately performing skits in English.  The skits are actually performed and produced by our students and then taken into the classes where the children can imitate language and movement as well as interact with each other in English.  Most of our students are nervous before heading into the classes of excited Italian children but once there, it’s pretty fun.  Everyone who has gone so far has had good things to say about the experience.

One more initiative that blossomed this week came about after Lavinia noticed that there was too much English being spoken around school.  She decided that every now and then there would be days here at SIS where NO ONE can speak English.  Italian only!  Friday, Oct. 15th was that day this week.  That said… I’ve said too much in English myself!

Allora, vi lascio per ora.  Alla prossima!


Un giorno senza inglese

Film student and resident cinema expert here at SIS, Carlo Tozzi explains some of the intricacies of the film "Nuovomondo" during Italian class.

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Pisa, Le Cinque Terre, Lucca e il Mare

Posted on Monday, October 4th, 2010 by Mike Manchester

Ciao!  A lot has happened since the last update.  Not more than two weeks have past but we already went on our 4-day excursion and took a trip to the Tuscan coast this past weekend.

This semester our trip took all students and much of the staff to northern Tuscany and Liguria.  We started out in Pisa, home to Marianna who is one of our Italian language professors.  She led us around the city and explained that there’s a lot more to Pisa than just the leaning tower.  Pisa’s history dates back the Roman Empire, and there are ruins from that period scattered throughout town.

After a full day in Pisa, we headed to Viareggio, just up the coast, where our hotel and base camp would be for the next three days.  During the summer, Viareggio draws huge numbers of Italians and tourists to its famous beaches.  This time of year things were rather quiet, but that’s just what we needed after long days of adventure and site-seeing.

Day two was a free day.  Unfortunately the weather was not very cooperative.  Despite the rain, students went hiking, shopping and a few even went swimming in the sea.

The famed Cinque Terre were the destination for the third day.  We took a train together from La Spezia to Riomaggiore, the first five towns perched on cliffs above the Mediterranean Sea.  From there, we walked to the next town, Manarola on the “Via Dell’Amore” (the street of love).  I spent the day watching the waves crash into the rocks below the towns and eating fresh, locally produced pesto.

On our final morning, we headed to the town of Lucca.  We visited the Emigration Museum in the morning where we were lucky to have a very resourceful and well-informed tour guide who made the visit very worthwhile for all and especially for those who are descendents of Italian immigrants.  After our tour, everyone was free to explore.  Almost everyone found their way to the city’s wall that have been transformed from a defense system into a park that is more than 2 km all the way around.

Thursday and Friday it was back to the grind for us all here in Siena although “the grind” isn’t really all that bad considering the enthusiasm and friendliness of our staff.  😉

Friday and Saturday we split the 32 students into two groups and headed to the beach near Castiglione Della Pescaia.  The weather is still good this time of year, so we needed to get that trip in before it starts to get cooler.  Both groups had a great time and a lot of people even went swimming.


Piazza Dei Miracoli, Pisa

Manarola, Le Cinque Terre

Ready to eat (this meal included 5 courses!)

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The “Three Weeks” Are Almost Over!

Posted on Thursday, September 23rd, 2010 by Mike Manchester

The three-week intensive Italian course is almost over.  The key word here is intense.  Not only are the students subjected to 5 hours of Italian class per day, but there are also all of the activities in between like our historic night walks where we cover the old city center in two evenings of walking while Antonio recounts centuries worth of legend and myth that lie inside the medieval walls.

Not to take anything away from classes or all the other activities, but I think that it’s safe to say that the most popular event during the intensive Italian period is cooking school with Lella. We are lucky enough to be next-door-neighbors with Lella Cesari Ciampoli owner of Lella’s Cooking School (www.scuoladicucinadilella.net) here in the “Fontebranda” area of town.  Our students get to go to cooking school twice during their time here, once during the intensive three weeks, and once during the regular semester.  During each class they learn how to prepare pasta, sauces, meats, and a dessert.  The best part is that once everything is prepared, then it’s time to eat!

This weekend and on into next week we’ll be taking our extended trip together as a whole group.  It’s a perfect moment to get relax after the three-week intensive course before the semester begins.  Early on Sunday morning we’ll leave for Pisa, where Marianna, SIS Italian Prof. and native to Pisa, will give us a tour of the city.  Pisa is often undiscovered by most tourists who stop only to see the leaning tower.  Most people don’t realize that Pisa has an important history that dates back to the Romans and at a certain point in controlled most of the western coast of the Italic peninsula.  After Pisa we’ll make our way out of Tuscany and into Liguria where we’ll explore the Cinque Terre and other seaside towns.  Pics of the trip will follow in next week’s post.


At the hot springs

Italian class on a warm Thursday underneath the medieval Basilica di San Domenico

Lella, (center, back) standing on a chair to get a better view of her students before cooking class

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Ragazzi, A Tavola!

Posted on Thursday, September 16th, 2010 by Mike Manchester

The second week is one of the most challenging during our semester for both staff and students.  The euphoria that everyone feels at the beginning of something new starts to wane and the reality of living a new and different life for the next three months begins to sink in.  Don’t get me wrong.  We work our hardest to ensure that the experience is as enjoyable as possible while being educational at the same time.

On Wednesday evening Lavinia played host to all students and staff for a lovely dinner in her yard.  The weather couldn’t have been better, and the food…  Well, the food….  One of the most important things in Italy (as any current or past students will tell you) is the food!  Much of the organization of Italian society revolves around what’s for lunch or dinner.  We had pasta with fresh pesto made with our bountiful supply of basil growing in the SIS garden, oven roasted chicken covered in local herbs, two types of locally produced pecorino cheese, and of course gelato to top it all off.   A friend to SIS, Ranuccio Neri, who produces wine at his estate at Campriano (www.campriano.it) in the hills just to the south of Siena spared a few bottles for all of us to taste.

After the meal most students hung around to chat and get to know one another better.  Most of them opted to walk back into the city to work off the evening’s dinner.  This weekend is a free one for all of our students.  I’ll be working in the garden a bit and maybe those who choose not to travel will join me.

– Mike


The last rays of sun for the day

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Lost in Bafalandia and Siena

Posted on Thursday, September 9th, 2010 by Mike Manchester

Week one here is already coming to a close as fast as it started.  This semester we added a few new activities to our orientation.  The first was an activity designed to take students outside of the city walls to explore parts of Siena that are not intended for tourists but are important for everyday life.  We split the group into five smaller groups and armed each of them with maps, explanations of how the bus system works, and a few key phrases in Italian. We drove them to various points outside of the city with the simple instructions: “Find your way back!”  We called the activity “Lost in Siena,” but a goal of the activity was to combat the fears of getting lost that students often have.  It was a success! All five groups were able to bond over their experience and they all made it back just fine.

Our second addition to orientation was geared to address the important issue of intercultural diversity.  In researching intercultural group activities we recently stumbled upon a game called “Bafa Bafa.”  We adapted some aspects of the game to our group and ended up with a version that’s different for the original but that suited our needs perfectly.  All students and all staff participated but we needed one person to be the mediator.  We elected former student Juan Carlos Ruiz-Coll who is back in Siena for the next two years taking courses for a master’s program through the University of Siena to be our mediator.  He split us into two groups.  One group was the “bafa bafa” who were instructed to follow strict cultural rules of conversational engagement.  Example:  the “bafa bafa” people could only engage in conversation after being saluted military-style.  No salute… no conversation!  There were a total of three rules to remember.  The non “bafa bafa” group was the “tourist” group whose job it was to observe, attempt to converse, and ultimately “make friends” with the natives.  The activity went extremely well and led to some very intelligent and interesting correlations made by the students regarding their own interactions with Italians.

Tomorrow we’re off to the hot springs!


Lavinia tries to make a friend during "Bafa Bafa."

Fiora (left) and Juan Carlos (right) observe interactions between the tourists and the "bafa bafa" people.

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