20 September 2010

language and culture

New Girl on Post asked:  Have you ever done a post on why you decided to send the Young One to Italian school? If so, I'd love the link and if not, I'd love to hear your answer. I just find it fascinating how well she seems to do in the "Italian world". Makes me wish I'd moved here when I was small.

Our Beautiful TCK

First off, thanks for reading and being interested. There are two primary reasons we choose to send her to Italian school:  language and culture.  Let me explain.

We strongly value the opportunity for her to learn a second language as a child. It's a precious gift that will serve her well throughout life, especially as we become more globalized. I once read a research article that claimed that young children who learn a second language use a portion of their brains that would otherwise remain untapped until later. . . well, I was hooked. I like the idea of those little synapses firing away. (Okay, so I had decided before she was even born, but articles like these certainly confirm my decision.) 

I did a boatload of research; essentially, it's all good, this bilingual childhood.  She's been with Italian caregivers practically since she was about a year old; we leave the Italian to them and speak (almost) exclusively in English with her at home.  Immersion is our answer to her learning the language. The school is our answer to immersion.  At six, she speaks without an American accent.  It's working.  She wants to learn French next.

First Day of School with Old Friends

I'm from a place in the States with a strong sense of culture -- a sense of place, of belonging, of connectedness.  I don't know that this is unique to the amazing people of South Louisiana, but we do have a culture that we hold dear.  I want that for my girl, or at least a part of that. The very nature of her Third Culture Kid (TCK) status makes that very difficult, if not impossible.  I want her to feel a part of a community, and while the community that we find here is important to us, it is also rather transient. In our community we focus a lot on our students who make frequent moves, while ignoring those who get left behind. I often hear about this kid or that who has been to five schools in eight years, but the kid who is always left behind and has lost five great friends because of change of duty stations is not considered. She was born in Italy, and we have plans to remain here for some time, making her the perpetual left-behind kid.  Not good.

It is my hope that enrolling her in an Italian school will allow her to make connections with people, with this place. Her Italian classmates will be the same for five years as the little class and teacher loops from one grade to the next.  Essentially, I'm looking to the school to provide her with a sense of stability.  Kids need that. 

Another unexpected benefit has been that we, too, have been able to make connections with Italians through her involvement in Italian activities.  Outside of our neighbors, the other Italians that we have come to consider friends are parents of classmates. It's taken A LOT of work on our part to make these connections, but it's worth every minute.  Lucky.  Likewise, we are lucky to have a network of wonderful American friends that we consider our family.  Balance for all.  (As of now, those two groups don't mix.)

Three American Girls // BFF
(Each attends a different local Italian school.)

The decision is an easy one for us.  Carrying it out has proven to be not quite as easy.  It would be so dang easy to enroll her in the American school . . . you know, the one where we know nearly each teacher on a first name basis -- with some of them as dear friends, the school where we know exactly what to expect, the school with the convenient hours and holiday schedule that matches ours, the school with the expansive library and outstanding music and art programs, the one that up until this year would afford me the opportunity to spy on her at lunchtime or on the playground, the school with American education standards, oh, and let's not forget, the school were EVERYONE speaks English . . . we believe in that school.  We believe in our colleagues.  We believe in an American education.  (We are not excited about what goes on in the cafeteria.)

My fear is that to enroll her there is to limit her opportunities, limit her experience.  For now, we've decided against that and have agreed to take it all day-by-day. Much, much thought went into selecting this particular elementary school that she is attending;  we also had the help of a dear Italian friend who is a teacher.  We will know, all three of us, if, and when, it's time to transition her to the American system.

Waiting to Enter the Classroom on the First Day of School

And, that, is why we have decided that Young One should attend Italian schools.  There are other, less important reasons that factor into all of this, but I'll leave those for another day. By the way, IF the choice were totally hers, she would pick the American school.  We are hoping to see a change in that attitude soon.  Fingers crossed.

Additional resources on TCK's:
According to My Passport, I'm Coming Home
Listen to an Interview with Ruth Van Reken, TCK researcher
Third Culture Kids:  Growing Up Among Worlds (I couldn't put it down.)
TCK's Returning to Their Passport Country

Thanks to New Girl for the question;  it's one I get often from both Americans and Italians alike.  If you haven't visited her blog, then you should click on over.  She's another blogger based in Vicenza and offers a completely different perspective of the experience. 


  1. Great post! I would do the same and I wish I had been given the opportunity to learn a second language that young. Instead I struggled through French in high school, breezed through Italian in college, and dropped out of German in grad school. Unfortunately I don't speak anything fluently.

  2. I think over time she will grow to love her school and be so grateful for the opportunity you have given her. If we lived abroad, I think we would have one who would want to go to the foreign school and one who would want to go to the American school. My oldest son was sad when we left Switzerland because he like the school there better than our here at home.

  3. Natalia: It's a stuggle for me, and many of my friends, each and every day.

    Kelleyn: This is the reason we are so relieved that, so far, she loves her little school. That'll make the difference for her.

  4. Thanks for answering my question so completly! I really do enjoy reading about Young One's education experiences and quite honestly if I had a child who was old enough (or a child at all) while I was in Italy, I'd want to expose them to an Italian education too. I struggle so much with the language that I wish I'd been exposed to a second language when I was small and I'd like to essentially do the same thing you've done with the Young One. Perhaps I should have her tutor me in Italian.

  5. Fingers crossed (dita crociati ?) too ;)

  6. After having her tell me she wished that she could go to school on weekends - I would say that she has settled in quite well. Love that girl!

  7. You are very welcome!

    And Mom, the excitement has not waned yet!

  8. great post! we sent our kids to the local schools in switzerland for many of the same reasons. we had been expecting to stay a lot longer, so i thought they'd have much more french under their belts before (if!) we moved back to the states. rowan came home the other day singing a song in english instead of french, for the very first time. just about broke my heart!