This week, our ADALife bloggers reflected on what the key differences are between working with American professors at their home institutions and European instructors here in Arezzo. Read below to check out what Kyra, Ben, Geoffrey and Tamar had to say!
Kyra Tantao: Physical Theatre, Boston University MA
I was not surprised when I found myself experiencing a huge culture shock when I first arrived here in January. This was my first time traveling Europe and leaving the United States. I knew that I would be in for a brand new culture and experience, but of course, I didn’t know what it would really be like until I got here. Studying art in a program completely different from my own in a country whose primary language is not English has given me a fresh perspective on my work and training. After studying at Boston University for the past five semesters, it was refreshing to be thrown into completely new work. The philosophies at this program are different, the techniques are different, and the approach is different. And the key word here is different, not better or worse. I’ve been challenged to think outside of the mold I’ve created for myself in the rigorous program at BU, and explore my voice, body, and ways of creating art. Initially, it was quite difficult to break out of my little, constrained, safe box. But I have found a way of easing into this new style of work, using the skills I brought from home here to pick up on new ones. I’m integrating old ideas with new, watching my previous ways of working melt and mesh into new and exciting ones.
There is something quite captivating about being in the studio with a professor and a language barrier. Even with native Italian speakers that are fluent in English, there are always ideas and concepts that can get twisted and lost in translation. Even the way we consume information and ideas is different as we hop from different cultures and languages. It has forced me to become a much better listener, as well as becoming much more open to different interpretations. I may be told, in English, a task in some studio class, but what that task actually means to me may be completely different than what it means to my professor. And how I explain to them what I have experienced may mean something different to them as they take in words spoken in a language that is not native to them.
It’s different, it’s scary, it’s exciting, and at the end of the day, it’s quite beautiful. Because when there is a disconnect, and we have to find different ways of speaking and expressing ourselves, it’s such a wonderful release when we meet our middle ground of understanding. And the best way, I have found, to reach that middle ground, is with the body.
I see body language as universal. The way in which the body moves and expresses itself throughout the space allows us to speak so many words in so many languages at once. I may not understand the words that are coming out of your mouth, but when I see you leap across the room and extend your limbs this way and that, I understand what you’re staying. What you’re feeling. It’s really exciting, liberating, and it has given me the opportunity to move past the limits of my body and find all the ways I can communicate through movement.
Ben Sarat: Physical Theatre, Wheaton College MA
Working with European teachers is very interesting and is a real change from the instructors I work with back home. With many of the teachers here there is somewhat of a language barrier and at times it can be a bit difficult for everyone to communicate 100% with each other but it really does help the overall camaraderie and focus in class. One thing that I have especially enjoyed about working with European teachers is that they are much more straightforward and honest with you about the work you are doing. Unlike in America where it’s all encouragement all the time and if you don’t do something right the response is “It’s ok, you can try again later,” the response from teachers here is “No. That is wrong. Do it again.” Now, this isn’t to say the teachers aren’t encouraging or supportive, they very much are, but the honesty and the bluntness is a really refreshing thing and something I think a lot of us studying in the arts at our home institutions need more of. Honest feedback and honest responses are the best way to improve in any line of work you partake in, not just theatre or dance. Lastly, it’s really great seeing the cultural differences from America and Italy with our teachers. We have learned a lot about Italy and how it operates just from talking to our teachers and asking them questions and I’m very grateful for this wealth of knowledge that has been put upon us from many sides since being here.
Geoffrey Solomon: Physical Theatre, Emory University GA
It’s surprisingly hard to look back on my time in Arezzo and condense it all into a few paragraphs. However there is one thing that I have consistently noticed since day one. The teachers at the Accademia have pushed me to grow as an artist, a student, and a performer with a powerful thrust that I can only describe as dedication. Their high standards have obviously been developed through years of work, creating an challenging, but supportive environment for students to flourish.
However, I can’t say that my relationships with my teachers have been completely easy. As an American student, it is a little intimidating seeing the cultural diversity of teachers that come from across the European continent. These are people who work intensely with you for hours on end. But unlike my professors back home- these teachers are from Italy, Germany, Ireland, Holland, and Slovenia.
Since getting here I’ve become very aware of how I’ve taken my native language skills for granted. My professors have always been American academics who were exceptional at expressing themselves. Here it takes some time to figure out what your teachers are saying, or more importantly what they aren’t saying, but are trying to say. Of course this is a pretty easy thing to work around in the long run. After a week or so I found that instead of wasting energy editing my teachers’ syntax, I was just relaxing into their words to connect with the deeper meaning. It’s taught me how to be a more engaged and accepting listener.
Once you get past the initial cultural shock of the multicultural staff it is easy to see how rewarding their diverse backgrounds can be. To see the work that these teachers have done across Europe during their careers is incredible. And the fact that there are so many vastly different paths for European artists to pursue means that there are so many different styles to learn from.
The only common denominator between our teachers is professionalism. Outside of their tenacious work ethic and unparalleled dedication to their crafts- they are one of the most diverse groups of staff that I have ever had the pleasure of working under. Although language initially seemed to be a problem, overcoming this challenge has been rewarding in ways I’m only beginning to appreciate.
Tamar Reisner-Stehman: Dance, Goucher College MD
What is it like to work with European instructors you ask?
Not so different than the states. I didn’t get “culture shocked” academically, but I noticed small differences. European teachers obviously have different mannerisms, and they aren’t afraid to be blunt. Navigating the spaces between the cultural differences can sometimes be tricky though. There are different social norms and phrases that are considered offensive in the United States that aren’t seen as unacceptable here. At the ADA, I feel like I am experiencing many different teaching styles and many different types of dance technique – each one new to me, each one pushing my comfort zone. Most weeks we have a new teacher come to lead an in-depth dance lab for the week. We generally spend four hours working in the morning and four hours working after lunch only on the one technique of the week. While this is challenging and can be frustrating, the skills that I am gaining are valuable.
It’s incredibly satisfying to work for hours on end during the week to have it come together into a professional demonstration on the last day that our peers and other teachers are invited to attend. I am excited to see what the next weeks have in store in order that I can look back and reflect on what I have learned.