Teaching internship offers creative international opportunities
by MaryAlice Bitts Jackson
February 23, 2011
Thanks to a new agreement with a network of schools in the Lombardy region of Italy, Dickinson students have an opportunity similar to what Deb Hicks ’08 took (left, with Christina Brumbach ’08)—living and teaching at the base of the Italian Alps.
The Network of Autonomous Schools of the Lombardy Region’s Study and Intercultural Training and Experience (SITE) program in Italy is so rewarding participants may not want it to end. It’s true at least for English and Italian-studies double major Deb Hicks ’08, who taught English at a technical school in Legnano, Italy, in 2009-10.
“It went so well I decided to stay,” says Hicks, who remained in Legnano when her internship ended and now teaches at a private school. “I have really great students of all ages, and the people I’ve met here make it worthwhile.”
Full cultural immersion
The SITE program is a paid internship and cultural-exchange program offering students and recent graduates an opportunity to work as teaching assistants in a secondary school in Lombardy—a vibrant commercial region in northern Italy—for a partial or full academic year.
“It’s a full-immersion, professional, cultural and linguistic experience in an international environment that may be a first step in a recent graduate’s career,” says Nicoletta Marini-Maio, assistant professor of Italian, who serves as the program’s North American academic liaison. “It’s ideal for anyone who wants to broaden their work and academic experience and anyone pursuing an international career.”
Participants are selected by members of the Lombardy network in collaboration with the consulate general of Italy and the Italian department at Dickinson. Interns receive a monthly study grant, work with an advisor to plan a program that gels with their interests and career goals and may take classes at a partnering Italian university. Depending on their interests and qualifications, students can teach a variety of subjects, says Marini-Maio.
“This is a wonderful opportunity to boost language skills, since participants need to communicate mainly in Italian, and in most cases, they live with Italian families,” she adds. “They speak Italian the whole day, eat Italian food, learn about Italian culture and develop lifelong friendships.”
The professor behind it all
A former cultural-affairs consulate general of Italy in Philadelphia, Marini-Maio taught Italian at Middlebury College. She also served on the Lombardy network task force when it was established in 2005 by Middlebury and the Italian consulate in Boston. When she joined Dickinson in 2007, Marini-Maio continued working as a regional academic liaison for the network.
Last fall, Dickinson joined about 30 American colleges and universities—including Brown, Harvard, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, New York University, Notre Dame and University of California-Los Angeles—in signing a reciprocal agreement that would regulate the intern-selection process.
“Because of Dickinson’s role in organizing the program, the agreement we signed will allow us to offer the internship to three students each year,” Marini-Maio says. Applications for the 2011-12 academic year are being accepted until March 15.
English major Megan Yarnall ’10, Italian-studies major Kristen Chan ’10 and political-science major Elisha Corso-Phinney ’10 garnered the internship last year. Corso-Phinney is assigned to a technical school in Crema, a small town southeast of Milan. “I enjoy teaching here immensely. … I get to teach subjects like geography and history, not just English and grammar, and my flexible schedule allows me to travel,” he reports. “I’ve also gained respect for teachers—it’s not easy.”
The interns build strong leadership and communication skills, says history major Michael Dalton ’09, who taught in Crema last year. Initially taken aback by the expressiveness and energy level of his students, he learned to adapt his lessons and teaching style to the dynamics of the classroom and, in so doing, grew more comfortable with public speaking, he says.
Hicks tells a similar story, adding that while it can be tough to gain respect from—and keep the attention of—students who are only a few years younger than their teacher, it also can be quite rewarding. “My students were not very interested in traditional subjects,” she says. “I could have been discouraged by this, but instead ... I learned to appreciate the energy [they] had and tried to funnel it into learning English.”
And because the Lombardy region borders the Alps, Hicks adds that she’s taken up new hobbies such as rock climbing, hiking and cycling.
“I would not have tried any of these things in the states,” says Hicks, noting that she has found a strong network of friends in her Italian home. “If I ever do leave this country, the Alps—and the special people I've met here—will make it quite difficult.”
Learn more about the Lombardy agreement.