Language, culture and education: Current students reflect on the ADA melting pot!
by admin • February 17, 2015 • Dance Program, Student Life, Uncategorized, Undergraduate Physical Theatre, Undergraduate Programs • 0 Comments
Besides language teachers, I’ve never taken a class with a professor whose first language was not English. Having been at the Accademia for three weeks now I have learned the value, and (I dare to say) the necessity of having professors from all over the globe. Different upbringings and histories shape a people’s perspectives and I believe that at ADA we get a wide array of perspectives on the material and on teaching methods that have all been useful in one way or another. Because our professors come from different places I was intimidated by what they might be like. I have learned that they are all nice people willing to help you at all times. What I especially love about having educators from around the world is that while in class we are all united under the same desire to share our knowledge and cultivate our artistry, I have only been here for three weeks, but I was instantaneously certain after the first week of classes that I am going to have an amazing fourteen weeks of learning from world class theatre professionals. Not only that but having class with a professor with a different accent than yours is so freaking cool!
– Irene Marisol Castillo
Having been born in Japan and spending the first half of my life abroad, I always assumed my sensibility was somewhere between American and not at the same time. To quote from my favorite artist, Justin Vernon, “Someway baby, it’s a part of me and apart from me.” I know now that even though I’ve lived in both Japan and Singapore – two very different places from America, I’ve always at least attended American schools: Japanese American School (JAS) and Singapore American School (SAS) respectively. I was a member of the American clubs where we had pizza and cheese fries, rallied consistently in a tennis lesson, and swam in the pool when there weren’t monsoons. It was a slice of America outside of America. It was a part of me and apart from me. I suppose the imperialistic implications is something I’d rather not get into, although for the first time, the discussion of the failures of capitalism is at the forefront of the conversation in my educational life and not being masked by it. Which takes me to the main differences I’ve noticed in the American educational sensibility and the Italian one I’ve experienced in the last few weeks. Americans are wishy-washy. They often think too much or are generally labelled reckless, adventurous, or hedonistic if we they don’t think too much before they act. In my early schooling, I very vividly recall being told to think before I speak and treat others the way I want to be treated. I was raised on the principle that there are consequences, costs, and responsibilities I have from my actions. I suppose I was being molded into a capitalist from day one in America, considering almost psychological train of thought for me is the smallest, safest risk for the greatest return. This seems to have knocked me off balance here in Italy. It seems that the concept of failure is not associated with trying something. I’m one to linger on mistakes although it appears that all of the teachers inherently move on from correcting mistakes. There’s little focus on padding the bluntness of, “That’s incorrect.” And more focus on moving forward with the discussion or the lesson plan. A big change from the American ‘civilized’-amiable-kind, “Not quite, but I see how you arrived there and let me explain how it’s different.” It appears that here in Italy as a whole, the cost of failure is low because there is no such thing as failure for actions. Every attempt is simply and freely that: an attempt. From approaching an attractive woman at a club, bar, or on the street to being completely wrong in trying to greet me with a, “Ni Hao!” It seems that ignorance and failure are two concepts that rest on the back burner and possibility and forward moment rest on the forefront. If there’s anything for me to learn from Italy, it’s to learn how to take risks and ignore the chance of failure, because that chance is cultural. It’s not set in stone, it’s a choice. It’s American, and it’s a part of me and apart from me.
I’ve never lived in a place where I worried about communication. I traveled to Italy under the ridiculous assumption that I wouldn’t have a problem here either—not because I seriously considered the situation and came to that conclusion—simply because a language barrier had never been something I had to consider in my life. I didn’t absorb the enormity of the responsibility I should have assumed traveling to a different country. I don’t have any special rights as an American. I am indebted to every single person who knows a few English words, who can direct me towards food and shelter, who doesn’t laugh in my face every time I freeze up and stumble over myself in an attempt to order a coffee. I’m currently taking an Italian I class. From the moment we walk through the “porta,” we are only permitted to speak Italian. Being a stupid, ignorant, American who had only taken four years of Latin in high school, (and who speaks that out loud?) I was shell shocked by the notion that I wouldn’t have English as a crutch. Our teacher has an incredible sense of humor and is therefore able to deal with the inevitable stumbling blocks that arise during every class, which I am eternally grateful for. However I’m most grateful for the humbling and rewarding experience I’ve had walking into that class and being demanded to put forth the effort it takes to truly absorb an entirely foreign communication system. Every word, every phrase, every pronunciation. My movement teacher is originally from Germany and lives in Italy and is STILL able to communicate almost flawlessly with an entire population of American students in English. She’s not only speaking fluidly, but she is articulating and teaching abstract, artistic, physical concepts. She is a member of the world in a way that I am unable to comprehend. All of my teachers speak at least two languages fluently. I’m beginning to see how vast the world is and how far I am from being able to be a citizen of that world- as a human being as well as an artist. I’m eternally grateful for this reality check.
America is a large, large country. Its geography spans an entire continent, and any Northeasterner knows that being born on the opposite coast yields a different disposition. Biases abound about the best region of the states, and people travel constantly into new realms. I’ve had teachers from all over the U.S. And some from around the world, too. So, before I left for ADA, I didn’t think too much of the differences that European teachers from across this continent would bring into the studio. Surprise, surprise, this has been one of the most intriguing parts of my time here so far. As a dance student, my teachers are from all over Tuscany and even Germany. What has been the most striking characteristic and commonality in them all is the way in which my European teachers are able to bring themselves, their entire selves rather than mere pieces, into the studio to work with students. They are open about who they are, and every movement that they make seems to be stamped with this unique ease and ability to fully embody themselves. It may sound crazy that an individual could ever not be themselves, but studio environments definitely bring have the power to alter the way we carry ourselves. While my teachers have been so honest and open with us in our class time, I have become increasingly inspired to present myself similarly. I cannot think of a more optimal environment for art-making than one in which teachers and students alike are engaging in a truthful manner about themselves and their art. Additionally, I think the connection between students and teachers strengthens as we help each other bridge language gaps. I hardly speak Italian, and some of my teachers claim not to speak English fluently – though everyone speaks very well – so it is quite common to engage in a give and take in terms of communication. Our respective native tongues meet somewhere in the broken middle, and somehow in this process everyone reaches the same page. I really do think that these interactions with teachers, who can easily be placed behind an impenetrable barrier in a student’s mind, shape our relationships from day one. Suddenly the teacher-student divide takes on a completely different nature while together we learn about making art honestly. In the end, we’re all our true selves in the studio, even when we count to eight in Italiano.
– Meredith Clemons