Vicenza High School students visit Liceo G.B. Quadri for day of language, music exchange
April 29, 2013
VICENZA, Italy - Building bridges takes time, but crossing one takes just an instant if it's there when you're ready to get to the other side.
Fortunately for students at Vicenza High School and the Liceo Scientifico Statale G.B. Quadri, language teachers at both schools have been building bridges of language competence and cultural exchange for more than a decade, so the way was well paved and the doors wide open when more than 30 VHS students came to spend the day at the prestigious state secondary school on the northwest side of town April 18.
The American visitors were a mixed group of VHS Italian teacher Michela Ambruoso and the musical crew of VHS musical program director Gary Marvel's Rhythm and Blues Band. It was the first visit for the band as a performing unit to the Quadri, said Marvel, but the school interchanges have become a regular part of both schools' curriculum, said Ambruoso.
Liceo Quadri English teacher Elena Ruffatto met the Americans as they arrived and a morning's worth of language, music and interpersonal exchanges got off to a fast and friendly start.
While Marvel's band set up equipment and ran a sound check for a mid-day performance in the auditorium, Ruffatto and Ambruoso split up their language students into smaller groups for the day's program. Some joined classroom exercises prepared specifically for the visit while others started out in the auditorium for icebreaker activities.
Ruffatto's students presented a series of overviews of the structure of the Italian secondary school system, the geographical and cultural highlights of the Po and Adige regions, and their daily lives as teenagers in Vicenza and the Veneto.
The Quadri students continued with a general knowledge quiz that pitted all the girls against all the boys in answering questions about pop culture, Italy and the world, and identifying a number of contemporary musical selections. The girls won 15-11.
VHS students joined their Italian hosts for a treasure hunt around the school, watched a presentation on the night sky and the solar system in the school's planetarium, and attended classes specifically structured for their visit, in which the Quadri students exercised their English language skills and the American teens could try their best to reciprocate in Italian.
"It's absolutely important to be able to speak English," said Ruffatto. "It's the lingua franca for whatever they want to do. People want to study abroad, anywhere. They want to know more. Whatever they choose to do, they have to communicate."
First-year (ninth-grade) Quadri student Elena Cichellero was interested in spending time with the visiting Americans, she said. Her father has told her in the past that Americans are irresponsible, but Cichellero appeared to have developed a more positive perception.
While expressing some surprise at the occasionally less than elegant way American students dress, standards that would be frowned upon in her school, they do exercise a certain interest for her and her schoolmates, she said.
"There is something more free about the Americans," Cichellero said.
"There could be prejudices about the Americans; there could be prejudices about the Italians. I want them to get to see for themselves. Try to be on the other side and do this," said Ruffatto.
VHS 11th-grader and R&B band vocalist Sara Anderson was relaxed and having fun as one of her Italian acquaintances walked her back to the auditorium for the band's sound check.
"The Italians are great. They are very warm and welcoming," she said.
As the morning activities drew to a close, students drifted back to the auditorium, where Marvel's musicians were suited up and ready for show time. The 14-piece ensemble, rhythm and horn sections fronted by seven vocalists, put on a performance of tunes that harked back to the roots of Motown and rock 'n' roll.
The rousing jamboree ran through a dozen numbers in about an hour, drawing applause and occasional cheers from the Quadri audience. Then it was time for a shared meal for most, a quick bite for the band as they broke down their kits, and back on the bus to Caserma Ederle for the Americans.
But their departure was anything but the end. The Quadri students were to reciprocate with visits to VHS April 23 and 26, and thanks to the ubiquity of cell phones and like technology, it was probable that student acquaintances would continue under the radar via texting and Facebook, said Ambruoso.
"They are lucky now. They have computers. They can find anything," said Ruffatto.
And so the educational experience continues on both sides of the bridge, one that's not so hard to cross if you learn to speak your neighbor's language or find you both kind of like the same song.
"It's through the language that you can cross that barrier," said Ambruoso.