Sunday, March 13, 2011

Research Presentation/ Blog: The Institutionalization of Roma Youth Identity in Italy

After being introduced to many different Roma (also known as Romani, Rom, and Gypsy) communities all over the world - through several guest lectures, readings, and in-class discussions - I became intrigued by the Roma people and their life here in Italy. Particularly, the integration of Roma youth within Italian society, and through the means of education in Italian public schools.
My objective is to make a small contribution to the discussion for successful methods, lessons, and training courses to best equip administrators, educators, and and teachers with the proper tools and skills tailored specifically for the academic success of their Roma students. The progress of these tools and preparatory lessons could potentially ensure the scholastic breakthroughs within the Roma community, and, therefore, help facilitate the integration process.
It was important for me to acquire the necessary information in order to gain a broader understanding of several different perspectives, and to properly address issues pertaining to Roma kids in Italian society. Therefore, I formulated a few specific questions to interview several teachers and other former guest lecturers as to that they personally think are preventing successful integration among Roma youth.

The following is an example of the questions and the responses I received based from the interviews I conducted: These particular responses are from a male 4th grade teacher from Iqbal Masih who has several decades of experience teaching Roma pupils.

Q. How do you feel the needs of the of the Roma children are met in the Italian public school system today?
A. I can tell you this: The needs of the Roma children in the Italian school system are addressed the same way we Italians address the needs of their parents and relatives. [What] I mean [is], Roma people are not at all integrated in Italian society, nor are they improving their relations with our language, work opportunities, etc. In my opinion, [the] Italian school system can't really have a positive impact until some kind of REAL integration starts improving. 

Q. In your point of view, how are the Roma children/students perceived amongst native Italians? For example, are they perceived specifically as ''special needs''? If so, why do you think that is??
A. [Based] on my thirty years [of] teaching experience, Roma children are still really perceived as ''special needs'' from native Italians, both young and old. But, because they ARE special needs in learning areas based on the written language, such as our school. I mean, 95% of Roma pupils still come from parents that can't read or write any language, [including] Italian.
Q. What are your personal opinions as to why these kids are faced with so many challenges? 
A. All the Roma children in my classrooms in the past thirty years have been showing deep difficulties in all teaching [and] learning areas. Again, I think the main problems are connected BOTH with the Roma way of living (very very different from our usual standards of western societies), AND the absolute rejection of the written language by the Roma people, that makes them, as a whole, a functionally illiterate segment of our society.

Q. Lastly, do you feel that Roma children are given the opportunity to be successful in Italian schools?
A. Of course, not. I would say an absolute majority of Roma pupils leave schools without any real mastery of the basic abilities needed to improve their social status. In the end, I'd say that the real, substantial problem is not about helping Roma kids in our schools. The real problem is to work to get a REAL, SUBSTANTIAL way to start integration between Italian and Roma people. 
Roma populations that are located on the outskirts of downtown Rome are steadily increasing. Many of today's Roma communities are the descendants of emigrants from the Balcan Wars (1912 - 1913 conflicts in which large ethnic populations from Bulgaria, Greece, Montenegro and Serbia emigrated to Italy). Other heavily populated Roma communities are either the descendants of, or are emigrants from, Romania, the Czech Republic, Croatia, Hungary, Turkey and several other European countries.

Furthermore, Italian societies have shown difficulties in facing integration throughout recent history. There are still many prejudices against Roma communities, and this particular ethnic group are still most commonly referred to as 'gypsies'.

Additionally, eighty percent of the inhabitants in Roma camps are illegal, and there has not been a systematically successful procedure to either expel or identify people of illegal status within Roma encampments.

Lastly, because of the diversity of regions, ethnicities, morals and beliefs among the different communities, this has led several conflicts and encampment instabilities.
The initial step that administrators and educators alike can take to bridge the gap between the Roma communities and Italian society is to understand and then work through cultural limitations and restraints. 

There are many difficulties that teachers are confronted with in working through the cultural barriers of the Roma community; mainly not being a member, and therefore not being able to identify with their particular philosophy, values, and ideology.

Some Roma parents (if not all) are concerned that their children are being instilled with conflicting cultural beliefs that are entirely different and oppose their own. Moreover, only a small minority of parents actually feel that it is beneficial for their children to attend school. The resulting behaviour is usually then indifference towards that child's academic successes and struggles.

Furthermore, the majority of Roma communities are illiterate because historically their civilization best utilized the oral tradition (cultural materials & folklore being transmitted verbally from one generation down to the other through stories, songs and chants).

Therefore, it is imperative to demonstrate to Roma parents how regular school attendance and involvment are the first steps towards successful integration into Italian society.

It is also equally important to convey the additional benefits of receiving an education. Primarily being: the importance of literacy in preparation for the work force, and therefore earning competitive wages.
It is absolutely essential for all educators and administrators in the Italian public school system to acquire the necessary tools and skills specifically for their Roma pupils. The majority - if not all - Italian public schools are not equipped with the tools, nor do the teachers have the necessary training in order to address and tend to the needs of their Roma students.

Therefore, it is fundamentally imperative for Italian teachers to be professionally prepared to accommodate and educate their Roma students based on understanding the potentially problematic barriers rooted in the conflicting ideals of several different cultural backgrounds.

Likewise, it is essential for Italian teachers to receive coaching or lessons in order to successfully integrate and build trusting relationships with the parents of their Roma students.

School integration is aimed to find different approaches to properly teach and educate these children to improve the quality of their lives.

In conclusion, I have composited a few possible solutions for successful integration and Roma scholastic progress. 

Firstly, equal share responsibilty between the Italian public school system and Roma communities to ensure the academic success of Roma youth.

Secondly, the incorporation of cultural training courses for all Italian public school educators and instructors. Six years ago, Marco Brazzoduro, a sociology professor at the University of La Sapienza began a project devoted to study and promote integration among Roma children. This project is necessary based on often problematic and conflicting values between the Italian and Roma cultures. One specific problem this study is attempting to comprehend and find a solution too is illiteracy. There is a profound concern among teachers in identifying the reasons why many of their Roma pupils still have many difficulties reading at the end of their primary school years (or elementary education).

Finally, their is a substantial need for Roma biographical narratives (and other minority based literature) in order to properly understand the personal hardships, experiences, and needs of the Roma people coming directly from their own, powerful, independent voices.


Blog #8: Service Learning Reflection

Iqbal Masih is the name of a young boy who was sold into Child bonded labor at 4 years old for what today would amount to $12. He escaped bondage at 10, and began to speak out against child slavery, for freedom, and for schools for all Pakistani children. However, on Easter Sunday in 1995, when he was only 12 years old, he was brutally murdered by, who many believe, was an organized crime hit put out by those who he was protesting against. Today, many public schools have been inspired to adopt the name of this young hero, and continue to promote his dream of 'freedom, education, and a childhood for every child'.  
My initial impressions of Iqbal Masih, located on the outskirts of Rome, Italy was an overall sense of dedication that the faculty and staff maintain towards each and every one of their students, in addition to the integrity of the institution who lent its' name.
I was very intimidated on my first day of service learning at Rome's Iqbal Masih. I was extremely excited for the opportunity to interact with the children but I felt completely out of my element not being able to communicate using their native Italian, and having to depend entirely on body language, facial expressions, and a few Italian words and phrases that I had only learned a week prior to my first visit. However, after the end of my first day at Iqbal Masih, I knew that this school was the perfect fit for me and what I wanted to focus on during my time in Rome.
Iqbal Masih has, in total, 47 Roma children, the majority of which were born in Italy but do not have Italian citizenship. By law, a person can obtain Italian citizenship based on either ancestry (the origins of their parents) or by where they were born. However, the latter is usually a long and grueling process. The predominant ethnicities of the Iqbal Masih Roma children are Serbian and Romanian. Furthermore, due to centuries worth of cultural based practices, in addition to societal discrimination, Roma children and their parents don't believe school is necessary or beneficial for the sake of their survival or future. Therefore, kids rarely do their homework, are unmotivated to improve their literacy skills outside the classroom, they frequently forget the majority of their subjects, are often held back from progressing onto the next grade level of their education, and are not socially integrated among their peers or Italian society as a whole.
Within my first couple of visits to Iqbal Masih, in having the opportunity to observe in several different classrooms, I became extremely intrigued by the few Roma students I came into regular contact with. Two particular students were Sandra & Camilla.

Camilla is a 10 year old fourth grader and Roma student who has been consistantly struggling in school. She is trying to overcome learning deficiencies in both mathematics and reading. She is a very sweet girl but it is blatantly obvious that has been encountering many difficulties in her school subjects for some time. Furthermore, she is incredibly shy and even rarely communicates with her teacher. It takes her a lot longer to feel comfortable enough to interact with her peers, and she is a year older than the other students in her grade level. Unfortunately, she was held back from moving foward with her education due to her lack of proficiency in her school subjects and the inadequacy of her socialization skills. 
Sandra is also a fourth grader at Iqbal Masih but has not yet been held back. She too is incredibly shy, and is, unfortunately, showing the same problematic signs in interacting with her peers and instructor. Her teacher once told me that Sandra is often afraid when she comes to school that her classmates will no longer like her. Furthermore, she is also having a hard time keeping up academically due to her infrequent school attendance. For reasons that I am unaware of, she can only attend school twice a week and the result is proving to be extremely detrimental to her education and her integration into Italian society.
If I had the opportunity to go back and make further observations at Iqbal Masih, I would be interested in seeing how culturally based courses, designed specifically as lessons for teachers, could help facilitate the integration process more effectively among their Roma students. I would ask to have a meeting with our main contacts, Paola Arduini and Susannah, to discuss the possibility of me sitting-in on some teacher training courses to observe how certain skills and/or instucting methods would be implemented into their classrooms. It would be extremely fascinating for me to understand exactly what educators and administrators feel would be the best methods to teach teachers in how to successfully educate their pupils. For instance, I'm currently wondering what information would be shared in terms of Roma culture? What potential stereotypes would be exposed against the Roma communities? Would these lessons be broken down in various components focusing on different Roma groups/ethnicities/religious beliefs? Or, would these lessons address, solely, one all encompassing ethnic and minority group considered by either themselves or by Italian society as Roma people? How would they determine the best ways to meet each individual Roma student' needs? How would they suggest the best way to successfully convey the importance of an education to the Roma students' parents? Or an entire Roma community? How would they suggest the best way for the Italian Public School system to effectively engage with the different Roma communities who are potentially affecting the academic progress of their students? These are the questions that I would be interested in addressing, finding answers too, and seeing incorporated in Italian public schools. Thank you.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Saturday, March 5th (Last Weekend in ROME!!!)

This morning started out slowly enough, feeling the full effects of an overwhelming and sleep deprived week of constantly stressing about our research papers, final presentations, past due blog assignments and attempting to salvage a few hours of personal time for ourselves - my roommates and I took advantage of our limited amount of ''free time'' this morning and slept in until almost noon today in our shared Trastevere apartment (located just over the Ponte Sisto bridge & Tiber River).
 The previous night, me and my roommates had discussed the best way to utilize our free time today with it being our last weekend in Rome. Many of us have had little to no time in order to conduct any research and structure the format of our final presentations/ research papers that are due within the next few days. Waking up this morning, I had had every intention of walking my butt over to the UWRC (UW Rome Center) located 10 minutes away near Campo di' Fiori. However, as soon as I walked into Natalie & Sarah's bedroom and caught a glimpse of the bright blue skies & sun streaming down into our neighborhood piazza - all my original plans of locking myself up into our school's computer lab all day long had flown right out the window... I mean, it's our last weekend in Rome for Christ's Sake!! And it's a beautiful day! The first one Rome has seen in the last 2 weeks of weather eerily similar to Seattle´s :/ We've been recently subjected to a constant down pour of face smacking rain, lightning & thunder storms, and blisteringly cold temperatures. I could only come to the realization that today's beautiful weather was a sign from God saying, ''Get your a$$ moving & take advantage of my gift to all of you who will be leaving the 'eternal city' in a couple of days''. Point taken, Sarah & I quickly made ready and went straight to the Colosseum =]
We had previously visited Rome's historical district on several occasions but had never received the opportunity to actually go into the Colosseum. To me, coming all the way to Rome & not stepping foot inside the Colosseumis comparable to committing a cardinal sin! The fact that I had already been living in Rome for the past 9 weeks and hadn't managed to do this is equally blasphemous! Today was the freaking day that I was finally going to be able to do it!! And it turned out to be one of the most memorable moments that i've had in Rome :))))
The Colosseum (originally called the Flavian Amphitheatre) is an elliptical amphitheatre in the centre of Rome, and is the largest ever built in the Roman Empire. It is considered one of the greatest works of Roman architecture and engineering. It was constructed alongside the Foro Romano (Roman Forum), and was started in 72 AD under the emperor Vespesian. It was completed in 80 AD under his predecessor and son, the emperior Titus. The name "Amphitheatrum Flavium" stems from both Vespasian's and Titus's family name (Flavius, from the gens Flavia).The Colosseum was designed to hold up to 50,000 spectators and was used for gladiator combats, public executions, re-enactments of famous battles, and mythological dramas. Today, It stays partially ruined because of damage caused by devastating earthquakes and stone-robbers. Nevertheless, the Colosseum remains an iconic symbol of Imperial Rome, and is still one of Rome's most popular tourist destinations.
In preparation for our inevitable tour of the Colosseum, Sarah & I hosted a viewing of 'Gladiator' earlier in the week which depicts the Colosseum in all of it's glory, and shows it's original purpose of hosting deathly gladiator fights! Therefore, you can imagine how excited we were to finally capitalize on this momentous occasion! Sarah & I arrived in perfect timing with the last English speaking tour getting ready to the enter the Colosseum. The tour lasted about an hour, and afterwards we were able to climb to the top and take amazing pictures of the interior along with the neighboring landscape. We had an amazing time =]
After we finished, we decided to grab a quick bite before hopping a bus to Castel Sant' Angelo! Again, both Sarah & I had been talking about touring the castle and museum for weeks... But due to time constraints and a hectic schedule we were forced to try and cram all the things we hadn't done yet, and still desperately wanted to do, all within a few days :( So, we grabbed a couple slices of pizza, threw down a few espresso shots, and arrived outside the castle about an hour later.
Castel Sant' Angelo, orginally known as the 'Mausoleum of Hadrian', was built  just off the right bank of the Tiber River between 135 AD and 139 AD. It is a towering cylindrical building located close-by Vatican City, and near the heart of Rome. It was initially commissioned by the Emperor Hadrian as a mausoleum for himself and his family. In later times, the building was used by the popes as a fortress and castle, and is now a museum. Today, it is a widely popular tourist attraction thanks to authors like Dan Brown who used the remarkable monument as a historic reference and a plot setting in his book 'Angels and Demons'. For me, anyways, that book was a source of inspiration to make a visit to the castel! In addition to it coming highly recommended by some of the locals and friends :)
As Sarah and I entered the grounds, and made our way up to the top of the castle were we had heard of the spectacular panoramic views of the city, we couldn't help giggling and joking as we steadily climbed the narrow and winding passage way which made us feel like we were in some kind of horror movie! It was incredibly spooky but extremely fun - similar to going through a haunted house! However, once we made it to the top, nothing could prepare us for the scenery we beheld as we walked to the edge of the viewing terrace! We had arrived just in time for the sunset, and the sky was coated in blue, pink, orange, and violet. The street lights aligning the bridge and the pathway to the Vatican were now illuminating, and the result was incredible imagery. It was truly an awe-inspiring moment - the kind that makes you question reality... Am I really here? On the top of this amazing castle? Looking out on the most beautiful city I have ever beheld? It's these kinds of moments that truly make life worth living =] 
Once we were able to pull ourselves away from the top, we made a quick trip through the galleries and then decided to run around the grounds in exploration for hidden passageways, tunnels, dungeouns, or whatever we'd be lucky enough to find. However, other than coming across a few locked caste-iron gates, we came up empty handed...but I wasn't entirely disappointed!
After finally finishing our tour, we headed back to the UWRC to meet up with the rest of our program for a group dinner/potluck! Many people contributed with delicious dishes such as homemade pasta & lasagna, roasted garlic cloves & grilled veggies, mixed salad greens, and, of course, traditional Italian wine!! We all sat, ate, drank & laughed together for a few hours before we collectively decided it was time to cut loose and hit the town!!!
In celebration of spending one of our last few nights left together in Rome, we spent the remainder of Saturday evening (and some of the early morning) dancing, drinking & partying the night away!!! Lastly, although we might have originally been brought together as a group of college students sharing a common interest in Rome, we grew closer together, first as friends - but ultimately as our own little Roman family! We have impacted eachother's lives in so many amazing and special ways, and, for me personally, I've come to love each and every person of our program for their own unique qualities and infectious spirit!! Ciao luvs!! See you all in Seattle!! <3 <3 <3

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Blog #6 - Rione Project: Vatican City

*There is still a monarchy in Vatican City - ruled by the elected Bishop of Rome (the Pope).
*The Pope is the sovereign (Head) of the state.
*Vatican City is currently the only widely recognized independent state that has not become a member of the United Nations.
*The Vatican City Coat of Arms has two flowing bands, and in the center are the crossed keys of Saint Peter and the papal miter. Yellow (or golden) is associated with golden keys - symbols of Saint Peter (popes are the direct descendants of Saint Peter's office). The keys are supposedly the keys to paradise.

St. Peter's Basilica:
*More popularly known as ‘St. Peter’s Cathedral. However, in order to be considered an actual cathedral it has to be the seat of a bishop which St. Peter's is not. Therefore, its correct name is St. Peter's Basilica.
*It is the 'mother-church' of the Roman Catholic faith and has been a sacred site and a place of pilgrimage for hundreds of years.
*It is one of the largest churchs in the world with a nave laying 218 meter long. It is also considered the perfect representation of the creativity and the ingenuity of the 16th century.
*Emperor Constantine, the first Christian emperor of Rome, ordered a basilica to be built on Vatican Hill. However, a small shrine already existed, so it was replaced by a new church that was completed around 349 AD.                  
*Donato Bramante was the first chief architect of St. Peter's Basilica.
*The dome of St. Peter's Cathedral was designed by Michelangelo, and is one of the largest domes in the world. It measures 42meters in diameter and reaches a height of approximately 138 meters. 
*St. Peter's Basilica is famously acknowledged as the burial site of Saint Peter. According to catholic tradition, he was one of the twelve apostles of Jesus Christ. He was also the first Bishop of Antioch and the first Bishop of Rome. Saint Peter, therefore, was the very first pope throughout history.

St. Peter’s Square:
*The open space surrounding the entrance to St. Peter’s Basilica was redesigned by Gian Lorenzo Bernini from 1656 to 1667, under the direction of Pope Alexander VII.        
*The obelisk marks the center of the piazza, and is flanked by two beautiful fountains; the south/left one by Carlo Maderno (1613) and the northern/right one by Bernini (1675).
*The piazza was designed in a trapezoidal shape to create a ‘heightened perspective’ for visitors leaving the basilica. Therefore, the opposing structures of the church & the surrounding colonnades were designed to astonish the patrons of the church when exiting the basilica and entering St. Peter's Square.
*The Tuscan colonnades are four columns deep and frame the center of the piazza, which contrasts with the trapezoidal entrance and encloses the visitor with "the maternal arms of Mother Church" (Bernini's expression).    
*An original Egyptian obelisk of red granite, 25.5 meters tall, supported on bronze lions and surmounted by the Chigi arms (the Vatican Seal – also in bronze), in all 41 meters to the crucifix on its top. It was originally erected at Heliopolis by an unknown pharaoh of the Fifth dynasty of Egypt.
*The Vatican Obelisk is the only obelisk in Rome that has not toppled since ancient Roman times.
*Some of the most important works in the basilica are the Pietà - by Michelangelo (my fave), the Papal Altar - by Bernini, the Throne of St. Peter - also by Bernini, and the Monument to the Stuarts - by Canova. Furthermore, Vatican City is home to some of the most famous art in the world. St. Peter's Basilica, whose architects include Bramante, Michelangelo, Giacomo della Porta, Maderno and Bernini are world renowned Renaissance artists and innovators. The Sistine Chapel is famous for its frescos, which include works by Perugino, Domenico Ghirlandaio and Botticelli. The most acclaimed sections being the ceiling and the mural of the 'Last Judgement' designed by Michelangelo. Artists who decorated the interiors of the Vatican include Raphael and Fra Angelico.
*The Vatican Library and the collections of the Vatican Museums are considered of the highest historical, scientific and cultural importance. In 1984, the Vatican was added by UNESCO to the List of World Heritage Sites, and it is the only one to consist of an entire state.

*Vatican City is the smallest sovereign state in the world! The Lateran Treaty established the City-State after a long series of disputes with the Italian government. Gradually, the king was attempting to take over the authority but the Lateran Treaty prevented this and Vatican City became independent in 1929.
*The territory consists of a walled enclave within the city of Rome.
*The total land area of the state is approximately 0.44 square km, and when compared in terms of land area it is only 0.7 times bigger than The Mall in Washington, DC.
*Vatican City houses the smallest population in the world, with an estimated 1,000 people calling the region his or her home.
*The ethnic groups that reside in the state are Italians, Swiss, and many other nationalities from all over the world. There is not only one nationality from which people reside there.
*The literacy percentage is one hundred percent, and the languages spoken by the people of Vatican City are Latin, Italian, French and English.
*Citizenship of Vatican City is granted jus officii, an appointment to work in the service of the Holy See.
*Vatican City is an ecclesiastical or sacerdotal-monarchical state, ruled by the Bishop of Rome—the Pope. The highest state functionaries are all Catholic clergymen of various national origins & ethnicities.
*The Pope exercises principal legislative, executive, and judicial power over the State of Vatican City (an entity distinct from the Holy See), which is a rare case of a non-hereditary monarchy (succession NOT passed through blood).
*The economy is dependent on the printing industry, production of coins, postage stamps and financial activities. It is non-commercial and the economy is largely supported by an annual tax collected from all Roman Catholic dioceses from all over the world. It is also a world renowned tourist location. 
Anthony and I set out to Vatican City from the UW Rome Center (located in Campo de'Fiori) to interview both a resident and non-resident and ask them their personal views and thoughts about this particular 'neighborhood'. We walked up and down Via D. Conciliazione, translated as: way of reconciling, looking for approachable people (haha!) in what turned out to be a miserable day (weather wise) because of the constant down pour of rain that went on consistantly for hours. What we learned from several of the tourists that were nice enough to talk to us was that it for many of them it was their first time visiting Vatican City. We interviewed several people on the street, ranging from a wide variety of different nationalities and ethnicties, all of which turned out to be either visiting for an extended period of time (like study abroad) or otherwise just passing through (tourists). I was amazed at the staggering number of people who seemed to be visiting during the 'off-season' or winter months. The vast majority were from western European countries (Russia, Poland, the Czech Republic and Romania). We also talked to a few Americans (from Austin, Texas & Fort Lauderdale, Florida) who were both traveling for business related reasons, and saw a surprising amount of Asians too (we overheared their tour guide speaking their native language). The general response from many of our interview-ees was just the surreal astonishment of the surrounding architecture of St. Peter's Square and Basilica, along with the amazing historical background and ancient religious importance. They seemed very excited to be at the Vatican and were looking foward to seeing many of the attractions including: Michelangelo's 'Pieta', the statue of St. Peter, St. Peter's Dome & Tomb, the Vatican Museums, and the most popular (for obvious reasons) being the Sistine Chapel. Other things that stuck me about our interviews is that most of the people we came across weren't necessarily of the Catholic faith. It sounded as if they were just satisfying their own curiousities - in terms of experiencing the architecture, museums, and living out this experience first hand - as oppose to making an oversees pilgrimage based on religious and moral obligations. 
The mission of our interviews was too understand the general impressions of Vatican City to both the residents of our 'rione' and the non-residents. However, we had a very difficult time finding non-residents because even store owners and shop keepers were non-residents. I began to feel that the only residents we would be able to find were the Swiss Guard.... And there was no way I was going to ask them for an interview while they were carrying their halberd (a four-sided pole which is held on their right during marches, drill, and regular formations in their official duties around the Vatican), and which could easily impale me!! Not to mention...they're not exactly the friendliest looking people. Furthermore, what really stood out to me about our rione or Vatican City was the diversity of people that visit this site from all over the world.

In fact, weeks later when visiting Vatican City on my last weekend in Rome, I made a special trip to Saint Peter's Square specifically to hear the Pope address the people and make his weekly Sunday speech. I have to say that I do NOT consider myself Catholic (even though I was born and raised Roman Catholic and forced to go to church every single Sunday until I was 18 years old). However, I couldn't help but satisfy my own curiosity and went with my roommate, Sarah, to understand what exactly it is about the pope that appeals to people...When approaching the Vatican we could here the hundreds, if not thousands, of people crowding the Square and facing the direction of the Papal apartments. People from all walks of life made the trip to the square this particular day to either pray, protest, or (I assume) do what I was doing and came just to observe. 

I don´t particularly like this Pope based on (what i believe are) his open acts of discrimination through various comments he has made against other religions, races, and sexual orientations. In fact, I think it would be a safe assessment to make when I say, in all honesty, that I despise this man. However, despite my own prejudices against the Catholic diocese, and, more specifically, the Pope himself, I went because I felt it was a particular experience I needed to do for myself during my last weekend  in Rome. 

As Sarah and I waited patiently for the basilica clocks to chime at noon, and therefore marking the time for the Pope to make his appearance at his window, I looked around and noticed many people standing underneath their banners of protests. I couldn't make out what exactly they were protesting against (being written in different languages), but it was blantantly obvious they were there for reasons other than praying. 

As the Pope came out, he was greeted with applause and cheers but also with disapproving objections. However, when he started to speek an overwhelming calm came through the square and quited every single person to silence. He continued on with this speech for about 15 minutes, and as he talked I couldn't help but notice chills running up and down my spine. It was a very eery experience, and I couldn't tell if it was a good or bad thing. It was very surreal, and it made me question exactly what I hated about him in the first place. This made me mad at myself...

At the end of his speech, he addressed several groups of people in their own native language including Spanish, French, Portugese, Dutch, German & English. I couldn't help but be impressed by his versatility. This also angered me. Futhermore, I think it affected the protestors similarily because they were no longer shouting angry remarks like they originally were when he first appeared. Instead, some of them were even cheering when he addressed them in their own native tongue - as if they had entirely forgotten what they had originally come to protest against! Even, I clapped and cheered as he made the rounds.... Appauling really :/ 

Anyways, I guess what my point is is that regardless of my disapproving opinions about his objectable behaviour, Pope Benedict XVI should, at the very least, be given the opportunity to speek freely in his own ´house' (per say) though the content may not be received well by many people outside of the Catholic faith. I also suppose, that being the Pope, gives him the right to be acknowledged with some sort of courtesy...even if it's against will and better judgement. Standing there in Saint Peter's Square in front of the Pope made me aware of this...along with many others who were also present. If nothing else, what I took away from this experience is the pacifying affect he has on people who oppose beliefs, opinions, and ideology - no matter what religion or race the individual is. Therefore, I have to give the man kudos for keeping the peace in 'God's house'. Ciao :)

Daily Blog #2 - Venezia, Italia for Carnivale!!!

Saturday, February 26th (Saturday)

This morning a group of eight from our study abroad program (me, Brenda, Minji, Luis, Kelsey, Sarah, Anthony & Marson) woke up in our 2 separate hotel rooms on the Island of Lido. Lido is a part of a connection of 117 small islands located in the Venetian Lagoon. An interesting fact is that the Venice Film Festival takes place on the Island of Lido every September.

Venice is a historically & culturally rich city found on the eastern coast of  northern Italy. Our group specifically chose to come to Venice this particular weekend to participate in the Carnivale festivities. Carnivale is a annual festival that's hosted in Venice & starts around two weeks before Ash Wednesday. It ends of Shrove Tuesday or 'Fat Tuesday' (known in Mardi Gras terms) which is the day before Ash Wednesday.

Our group was exhausted from the work load of our busy week in Rome, in addition to waking up at 3:30am yesterday morning in order to pack our bags and make our 7am flight to Venice. Needless to say, after we checked into our hotel all of us took a nice long nap (lasting 5 hours) until we decided to make a little night tour of San Marco, grab some dinner, and tour some of Venice's famous sights.

So when we finally woke up late Saturday morning, we quickly dressed in our Carnivale 'costumes' and caught the taxi ferry to Piazza San Marco to help kick off Carnivale! We really lucked out with the weather having bright blue skies, moderate sun shine & non-freezing temperatures. It was a really beautiful day & perfect weather to explore downtown Venice :)

The first thing many of us decided to do was get our faces painted! It was relatively quick (10mins) & fairly inexpensive. Plus, it was a nice compromise to our Carnivale masks which obstructed our view and facial movements... We all chose different colors and we were fortunate that they all came out super cute! Traditionally, during Carnivale, people were allowed to wear masks to conceal their identity from others while conversing. The masks were decorated with complex designs, making them stand out. This is a centuries old tradition in Venice, making it an extremely popular festival amongst tourists and natives alike!

From here we decided to take a gondola ride around the many of the long and winding canals :) The Gondola is a traditional flat-bottomed Venetian Rowing Boat, and perfectly designed for the conditions of the lagoon. For centuries gondolas were the primary means of transportation, and the most common watercraft within Venice. Today, the iconic boats serve as traghetti (ferries) over the Grand Canal. However, their primary function is to carry tourists for sightseeing me!!! And let me tell you, the Gondolliers definitely got their monies worth with us (me, Minji & Luis went twice this weekend)!!!

After our little midday tour, the three of us & the rest of the group met up for a late lunch at a local Chinese restaurant in the San Polo district in Venice. Some of the group had dinner at this same restaurant the night before, and it came highly recommended from two other girls in our program (Gina & Natalie). So, after ordering the first round of wine we decided to go around the group and give a brief statement of what each of us were thankful for. The collective response was that we were all very thankful for the opportunity to meet eachother through the UW Honors study abroad program, and that we were looking forward to spending this last weekend's adventure here in the beautiful city of Venice & with all of us =))))

After lunch we spent a lot of time exploring all the different areas that make Venice a world famous landmark & help contribute to it's unique characterists. Then, after the sun started setting, we decided to head to Santa Croce (known as the College district) to find a nice spot for dinner. We decided on this really picturesque and popular Italian restaurant in Piazzale Roma (unfortunarely, i can't remember the name). The food was fantastic and the servers were very friendly with their recommendations on dishes and wine.

After dinner some of the group decided to make it back to the hotel because they were tired, and some decided to go tour another area. However, four of us (me, Minji, Luis & Anthony) decided that it was time to (literally) get the party started!!! So we headed back to Piazza San Marco for the Carnivale kick-off concert!!! Walking through the street and headed in that direction, you could literally feel the vibrations of the music through the streets and streaming into your body... It was crazy! Not to mention that everywhere you turned there were people donning their Carnivale costumes & masks!! It was like a crazy threatrical Halloween party!! I freaking loved every minute of it!! =))) Heading the concert was this Italian soft rock/pop group and they were extremely entertaining (though we couldn't understand a word they were saying...) but we were having fun pushing ourselves through the mob of people, dancing (aka jumping around), and 'rocking out' all the same ;) It was the perfect ending to our Carnivale experience! Ciao Ciao!!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

"Artist Summary" - Graffiti Poster

Last Monday morning our class created "graffiti posters" depicting our personal "frames of reference", and integrating certain aspects of Italain youth culture/identity that has affected us on a personal level.

I decided to do my poster based on multiple ethnicities that directly effect each individuals identity based on language, culture, religion, politics, and all other personal beliefs.

The nationalities i decided to highlight in my poster were Italy, USA, China & Bangladesh. I specifically chose both Italy and the USA to directly compare similar controversial issues shared between both nations. I chose China and Bangladesh because both share staggering high numbers of immigrants throughout Italy, and both ethnicities have large communities residing on the outskirts of Rome. Each country is represented by the nations' flag.

The controversial topics displayed throughout my poster and highlighted in red words with a black outlne are: Integration, Language, Politics, Migration, Racism & Religion

I chose to put "Discrimination" at the very top of the poster because it's a very prevalent issue amongst all immigrants, refugees, different ethnic groups, visiting foreigners, and even amongst the native Italians themselves (regionally - North vs. South).

I also highlighted both the dominating and conflicting religions seen in Italy but more specifically Rome: Catholicism, Judaism, Islam, and Buddism. Each are represented by their religious symbol: the star of David, a crucifix, a ying/yang, and a cresent moon with a small star.

I did a rough drawing of the earth with different colored people holding hands and surrounding it. I chose dark brown for dark skinned people, yellow for light skinned people, pink for females, and purple for gays. Furthermore, they are holding hands to represent equal responsibility in the advocacy for tolerance and understanding amongst all walks of life on this planet.

The word 'Education' is highlighted in yellow with an outline in black at the bottom of my poster. I did this to set it apart from the rest of the words because, to me, education promotes awareness. Specifically, an awareness of the differences between religions, politics, ethnicities, and which will confront stereotypes. Education can be used as a tool to bridge the gap between preconceived ideas and the truth. Hence, knowledge is power.

For a dramatic affect, I put two large bold black cracks running both vertically and horizontally through the middle of my poster and which cross in the center of my drawing of the earth. I did this to represent constant conflict and consequences of dueling ideologies by literally 'breaking' the world. This is my way of voicing my own concerns, and a warning, of what might happen if humanity does not find a peaceful and productive way to end all of our potentially hostile differences (i.e. resulting in extreme warfare).

Finally, I drew a white dove with yellow rays flowing behind it to represent hope. I also drew blue clouds in various areas of my poster with beams of sun rays bursting through as a similar representation. This is my personal way of 'shedding light' on (what i consider) heavy subject matter and creating a sort of balance: conflict vs. peace, discrimination vs. education, hope vs. despair. This drawing illustrates my hope for a brighter future; focusing on education as a means to encourage people to work together for a solution instead of against dealing with disastrous consequences.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Daily Blog #1 - Service Learning, Tiber Island Excursion, Ed Taylor Lecture & Brenda's 21st B-Day

February 22nd, 2011 (Tuesday): Today me and the other Iqbal Masih girls (7 total) woke up pretty early to start our morning at our service learning sites. The school is located on the outskirts of Rome and it takes us about an hour on public transit to arrive at our destination. We spend about two hours in designated classroom observing the teacher & children - more specifically their teaching methods & techniques, the special needs children, immigrants, minorities & the native Italian kids. Our main perogative with these service learning visits is to gain a broader understanding of the educational environment of the Italian youth. We are placed in these different service learning locations based on our particular interests, whether it be a local refugee center, a public Italian school (Iqbal Masih), an Italian art gallery, or an Italian gay rights activist group (Archigay).

Today, me & Sha were observing the kids in Simonetta's class (the English language classroom), and the 3rd graders were learning how to read time using illustrations of hand clocks on the black board. In previous service learning visits both Sha and I have participated in class skits where we helped reinact characters in the English language guide book. We have also read outloud to the kids in English, and walked around to individual students asking them simple questions like: What's your name? What's your favorite subject? What's your favorite Italian food? Color? Game? etc. We have also played "shop" with the kids were they come up to us while sitting at a desk and they attempt to order food items in English and then proceed to "pay" for it :) It's super cute & some of the kids are extremely shy but these kinds of interactive games are so helpful in learning the English language. Btw, the are many differences between G.B.'s English vocabulary and America's English vocabulary. For example: they say trousers, we say pants; they say jumper, we say sweater, they put a plural of math (maths) and a singular on sports (sport). I mean, I knew they used interesting terms for swear words and the toilette but i never actually realized how many differences existed until i started observing these classes.

Anyways, I'll usually spend an hour in the English classroom with Sha & Simonetta and then the second hour in 4th grade Paola's classroom (there are many Paola's). This past Tuesday we they were working on fractions & decimals for the first half of the hour, and then they switch to English language for the second half hour. Jenny & I will try communicating with the kids in English and they always have the opportunities to ask us questions about where we're from, what we're studying in Italy, our favorite foods... Some times the little girls will ask if either of us are married or have boyfriends. Haha! Jenny & I will just grin at each other and then respond honestly, (heck) no.

The teachers are all very welcoming, supportive, friendly & helpful and the TA's and "special needs" assistants are also extremely gracious and open to trying to communicate with us (though some are not as fluent as others in English). But we're worse!! My Italian is horrible & my pronunciation is God awful... However, somehow the kids and the teachers are able to understand our chopped up Italian skills (or lack there of) but most of the time we have to resort to English.

We'll usually get to the school aroud 10am (if we're lucky) but most of the time it's 10:15...ish. And then we'll meet up and leave around noon. It's takes us an hour to get back into downtown Rome, and then most days we'll either have class or an afternoon excursion planned from 2-5pm. This past Tuesday we had one of our favorite guest lecturers/ tour guides, Margaret Brucia, a Classics professor at Temple University take us on an afternoon excursion to Tiber Island!

Margaret was the perfect guide for our afternoon excursion seeing as how she wrote her graduate school dissertation on Tiber Island, including the myths and archeology surrounding it. Tiber Island is located in the Tiber River that runs through Rome. The Island is linked to Rome by two ancient bridges, the Ponte Fabricio & the Ponte Cestio. Tiber Island was the location of the ancient temple dedicated to the Greek God of medicine & healing, Aesculapius. This Greek God is identifiable by a snake adorning his 'healing stick' or staff. Margaret showed us where she believed was the exact spot for the Temple of Aesculapius which is now the location of San Bartholomew, the church dedicated to Saint Bartholomew, one of the Twelve Apostles of Jesus. She gave a wonderful tour based on her research, findings, expertise on relatable topics and knowledge of the site.

After this late afternoon tour we made our way back to the Rome Center located in Campo di Fiori for a little break before our scheduled guest lecturer. At 6pm, Dean Ed Taylor took center stage for an incredibly fascinating discussion on Critical Race Theory. Professor Taylor is the Dean of Undergraduate Academic Affairs and specializes the areas surrounding "higher education, policies and programs servicing disenfranchised groups, and the construction of race-based policy". I don't know exactly what that means, but he did come and briefly lecture about CRT (critical race theory). CRT is "an intellectual and politically committed movement in American legal scholarship that studies race, racism and power". Anyone who has taken a theoretical concepts course understands the difficulty in comprehending these theories and then implementing them into our daily lives. He made his lecture personal, interesting, and easy to follow. I appreciate that :)

Finally, following Dean Taylor's lecture and a small reception in his honor, all of my peers, instructors, our guest lecturer, and a few other friends from another UW study abroad program shuffled into our conference room for a surprise birthday celebration for our dear little friend, and fellow study abroad companion, Brenda Martinez. We were celebrating her 21st birthday with cake, balloons, streamers, and, for some, other festivities that lasted well beyond the twilight hours. I, on the other hand, because i'm severely behind on my school work due to a hectic schedule here in Rome and an even more hectic travel schedule on the weekends, decided to hang around the conference room until 1am and do my graffiti poster. Originally, I was supposed to have done this in class this past Monday but missed it because i was exhausted, had a cold, and decided to sleep in until 3pm (a total of 15hrs). It took me nearly 4 hours to complete (because i'm an idiot & an "over-achiever). However, the important thing is that i finished the damn thing & now it's done, with "artist summary" to follow.

I would include a few other details which happened later in the night, after i made my way home, and which i now think back on as "funny" moments that me & my roommates have experienced here in Rome....but they would kill me & it's not school related! So, ciao!