During the month of May, the Citadel of Peace received students from the Western University Study Abroad at Rondine, a joint program between Rondine and Western University (UWO), with 19 Canadian students from UWO Main Campus, and from the affiliated colleges, King’s University and Huron College. The program, one month long, aims to deepen the study of the Italian language and culture through Italian language courses, seminars on mediation and the trasformation of conflict, and interactive workshops with the students of the World House at Rondine. Let’s discuss the program with professor Maria Laura Mosco, Assistant Professor of Italian in the department of Modern Languages and Literatures at Western University. 

How did the collaboration with Rondine start?

The idea of creating a program that would allow our students to come to Rondine dates back to 2005, when I met my colleague Dr Cristina Caracchini, who had collaborated with Rondine at the onset of the School of Peace. It took us quite some time to realize it for several reasons.The core idea was to make it possible for students of Italian Studies to come to Italy to improve their Italian, deepen their knowledge of Italian culture, and to also undertake a personal journey that strengthens their ability to live in a globalized world. From Cristina’s recount, it seemed that Rondine could provide that unique experience, exactly because of the type of the work that you do here. The mission of Western University states the goal of helping our students become ‘global citizens’, providing them with education and leadership that would allow them to contribute to the common good. We sat a table and started to dialogue with Rondine’s general director Lucia Colonna, and with Blerina Duli, because we wanted to understand how to integrate Rondine’s mission and activities with your educational goals. After 10 months, we were able to finalize the project.

How is the program structured?

We offer three courses here.  Beginning Italian precedes a seminar in Philosophy held by Professor Antonio Calcagno in collaboration with Professor Allyson Larkin, in English. This year’s topic revolved around the “other” and the “subaltern”. The seminar allows us to reach out to the broader student community at Western. These students begin the study of Italian here, and attend the intensive course so that they are  provided with some tools to interact within the local context, and with your students, who had the same experience when they arrived to Rondine. At the same time, our students are able to join your educational programs. Our goal is also to make possible for these students to participate to the daily life of the local community.

We also offer a course of Intermediate Italian for students in Italian Studies. The course includes a “Community engaged learning” component. Students come to know the local reality of non-profit while at the same time greatly improve their Italian outside the classroom.

For whom is the program?

At Western University there is a Main Campus, and three affiliate colleges.  We wanted to bring to Rondine not only students from Italian Studies but also other programs, for a full immersion Italian learning experience, and for the opportunity of participating in the important work on conflict resolution and mediation that is carried out here. This year participants are between 18 and 21 years old and have all completed their first year. In addition to students from Italian Studies, we have students from economics, history, political science, medical science, global studies, and anthropology. Somehow, all of them converge towards the discipline of Italian Studies that is our own program.

What are your expectations towards the study of Italian here, but also the comprehension of a reality such as Rondine’s, and the work done here in terms of conflict resolution, dialogue, and interculture?

In line with the mission of our university of helping our students to become ‘global citizens’, our goal was to bring them into a context whereby the interaction with your students would facilitate and provide first-hand experience with issues they only have knowledge about through the media.Conflict is not confined to politics or war but can be also part of our daily life. Therefore, a context such as the one here at Rondine can only help with personal growth, something that makes this program more than a study-holiday. This is a more stimulating and exciting path hat can also became a great personal challenge, in a positive sense. Our idea was utterly successful.

What was the first reaction on the part of your students? What are their thoughts about this experience?

Since our arrival, the students are more energetic. We see them here every morning at 9 am, walking on the road to the Citadel, inside the Natural Reserve, in high spirits, and motivated. They seem to be very relaxed, and this I believe, means that they felt immediately comfortable here, also thanks to your wonderful welcoming, in this idyllic place. Moreover, the fact that we all have lunch together allows our students to mingle with your students. I find they are completely involved and are achieving great results. I am afraid they might not be willing to go back home!  I can surely say that they are very happy about the place, the atmosphere, the organization, the extracurricular activities. Some were surprised to see how easily casual conversations were focused around politics. In North America, it is not so common to find young people, outside its specific context, discussing about international relations or political science. Here they discussed about world issues such as for instance the conflict in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which is very relevant in North America.  I believe it is very important that our students came in contact with different ideas about Canada, both from your students and the students of the University of Tor Vergata in Rome, during the workshop on identity and armed conflicts, for instance.  Canada came out as a new heaven, and by all means, it is a great country, but it is also a country with great local conflicts due to its history, as our students explain clearly.

It was quite striking to see how the students with  such different backgrounds could immediately find themselves attuned to one another. They prioritize the dimension of interpersonal relation, finding common interests and establishing a communication.

We also thought that having the students’ accommodations in central Arezzo was a winning decision, as it allows them to follow a real Italian way of life, and experience its culture.

The students of the World House at Rondine spend two years here and then return to their home countries and work towards promoting and building peace. What will your students bring with them home?

I believe that the simple fact of entering a context that is very different from one’s own, and having to reconcile one’s own expectations has given them the tools that will assist them in facing the unexpected, the unplanned…for many of them this was the first time away from home, and they have proved to be able to live with serenity, calm, and an open mind. They will surely bring back a strengthened confidence, an ability of engaging themselves and the unfamiliar a constructive dialogue, even not a resolutive one. This is made possible not just simply by the academic content of the program, but also by the interaction with your students and Rondine. None of them asked me  “how can I do this?” Or “why cannot I find a solution?”. Instead, “I want to do this but I am do not know how to say it in Italian”.

I have to thank you all; your work is incredible. When we arrived, it was thrilling to see the path to Rondine with all the flags of the people you have hosted here. The students immediately realises that they were in Italy but in an Italy that speaks to the world. And we are happy to see that today the Canadian flag waiving with them. I could not ask for more.

I think that we have found a well-balanced formula that allows students at Western to complete their curriculum because we respond to the academic requirement of the university but at the same time we witness the students interacting in new unfamiliar circumstances outside the classroom.  One can only hope for this collaboration to develop further perhaps in a direction that will involve more our students and yours in common educational projects, because I see all the necessary conditions.