What’s the best way to introduce a bunch of high schoolers to a culture they know nothing about in a language they don’t speak? Make them do a scavenger hunt all over the city in small groups without me! Right, that is what you were all thinking I’m sure.
Our first full day in Rome got off to a quick start. The morning saw us doing a bunch of awesome tourist sites like the monument to Vittorio Emanuele II and the Colosseum. The tour was fun and I took my kids to lunch up the hill from the Colosseum in a local University eatery. We got a good deal and the kids got to try Italian pizza for the first time. The first group picture (seen below) was also captured in the shadow of one of the wonders of the world.
After lunch I made the kids write the group constitution, which outlined all of the rules we would follow over the course of our five weeks together. I assumed I would have to prod the kids to include everything, but they blew me away and wrote an amazing document. Certain obvious rules were included (no hooking up with host siblings, no tattoos and no alcohol except for cultural events), but included others that I didn’t expect they would (no destruction of private property, ensure your behavior creates a positive impression of Americans). It was pretty awesome. Also included were some group rules like “a different flavor of gelato must be eaten every night” and “there must be one poker night each week” and “tag must be played on all suitable nights.” I also stoked some fires and proposed “California Gurls” as the theme song. Some people had never heard it! That was remedied right away.
I divided my large group of kids into small groups, gave them a map of the city and gave them a meeting spot (in the beautiful Trastevere neighborhood). They had a list of 10 tasks to complete within four hours. The most successful group got to select the restaurant for the evening. Some of the tasks were basic and boring (but necessary). These included buying a postcard to send home (with stamps) and purchasing a phone card. Then, there were more interesting ones. I had the kids try expresso (a failed experiment for some of them), interview a storekeeper in Piazza della Republicca and, most hilariously, get their picture taken with nuns. They would kill me if they knew how quickly and randomly these lists were put together. We had gone over basic vocabulary in the Paris airport, but on the whole they knew very little vocabulary. What an adventure. I gave the kids the meeting point (see below) and set off by myself.
Part of this is making the kids realize that they can survive even when they don’t speak the language. They realized then that struggling is part of the experience and, in reality, part of the fun. The groups came back with some hilarious stories. We learned of Travis’ hilarious first reaction to expresso (“why would anyone drink that stuff man?”), heard about the kids who summoned the courage to interview a couple walking through Piazza della Republicca only to find that they were Australians. Most hilarious, however, was the story of Kelly’s group. They struggled to find nuns with whom they could take pictures.
As they were about to give up, they spotted a group of three nuns from across the park. They ran across the ground, and sprung out of the bushes almost on top of the nuns. The sisters, though startled, could say nothing as the group pulled out the camera, flashed a quick shot and dashed away laughing.
As we waited, I sent some of the groups to find stamps for the postcards they bought. They went in and asked the shopkeeper if he had stamps for the USA and he replied “no.” When I went in and asked, however, he said he did. When I returned with the same kids, he said that he had stamps, but that they weren’t for the USA. Some quick dancing from one lying shopkeeper. Typical Italian reaction.
In short, this first day stripped the kids of their comfort zones right away and gave us some pretty hilarious stories to include the first ever group journal entry! So to paraphrase liberally from the B-52’s song the kids had to Rome…whether or not they wanted to. I think they passed their first test with flying colors though.