Operating in a Foreign Land

In addition to the amazing places we get to see on this trip (today we visited Paestum and Herculaneum), one of the most valuable experiences for the students is being somewhere very different from home. This forces the kids to leave their comfort zones in many ways. Take gelato, for example. One of Mrs. Pollio’s rules is that students must order their own gelato, and as long as she is in earshot, she insists they do so in Italian. Some of the kids embrace the challenge and wade into the verbal exchange. Others order the same flavor every time having just a passing command the bare minimum for ordering it. The money is different, and the new look of the coins can cause confusion as can the local practice of paying first and then taking the receipt to the counter to select your flavors.


We’ve also been working on the metric system. Most hotels do not run the air conditioners in the rooms until the room is occupied, and some are wired to not allow the air conditioners to run unless you are physically in the room. Two days ago we returned to warm rooms, and some groups dropped their thermostats to 16° celsius (the minimum) hoping to cool the rooms quickly. They went so sleep and all woke up shivering in search of extra blankets and the thermostat remote since their rooms had finally hit 16°C. No realized ahead of time that 16° is 60°F. Tomorrow the forecast is a hot 32°C, and since we still aren’t too familiar with Celsius, a few students believed me when I said that was twice 16, so 120°F.


Students have ordered produce in the market in kilograms or grams. Our driving distances are in kilometers, and even numbers are conveyed differently. The symbols of the decimal point and commas are the opposite here of what we are used to in the U.S. So a brioche con gelato that costs three and a half Euros will be listed as 3,50.  Each student navigates the challenges slightly differently, and then they spend a few minutes on the bus recounting to their friends their successes or failures of communication. The real beauty of the trip is that this informal debrief on the bus builds their confidence and their leadership. I’m not sure that any of the students intended on developing leadership by ordering ice cream, but the process is clear to watch. The successful share their knowledge, offer advice, support their peers, and everyone eats more gelato.

Gelato man at “Ragno D’Oro” (Golden Spider) Gelateria