My first day at school was about 60 years ago, and I cannot remember if I skipped out of the house with joy, eager to learn. I did my time at school and managed to get several excellent certificates and achievements for further education and work-related schooling along the way, into my late 50s.
However, last week I cycled from my home up to some big red school gates with little voices loudly ringing in my head, ‘What on earth are you doing this for? Why put yourself through it? Go home and turn on Netflix and get your kicks from that.’
When I was young, I living Australia and started my education at the local primary school. And now that I am living in Tuscany, I am further continuing my education at one of their local elementary schools just outside my cosy walled village of Lucca.
But why, I hear you ask?
Living in Australia, you ‘assume’ most of the educated world spoke English also (or I did). On our several trips to Italy over the years, we soon found out that Italians might certainly know some English; however, they were more likely to speak to the ‘English’ in their own language. Which is fair enough!
As a tourist, you learn the minimal words because it is a bit of a novelty asking for a coffee in the local lingo. I did want to learn Italian properly, but it all seemed too hard, and adding learning a new language to my extra curricular activities while working was too overwhelming.
However, now I am retired and living here on a temporary visa, I thought it was high time I took up the challenge and got serious about it.
I looked at having private lessons and also going to a private school, but decided to make enquiries as to public schooling on offer. I found out that as part of our longer stay in Italy, the requirements included a level of Italian language. Should have started lessons years ago, I kept telling myself, when I pawed through a myriad of paperwork on the subject of attending classes.
Anyway, it came to this – me walking through the big red gates on a frosty Monday afternoon, parking my bicycle and striding through the door with a pencil and notebook in hand. Nothing else. Mind you, I had on a fake smile, hiding my trepidation. I was greeted by two lovely ladies, about 25 years younger than me. They were both exchanging pleasantries – in Italian of course; however, I knew the gist of what was being said, so I greeted them back. They had my application form and directed me to my elementary classroom.
I quickly found a seat among my fellow pupils who also made the familiar Italian ‘good morning’ greetings as I took my seat. Friendly bunch, I thought, quickly looking around to see the Italian alphabet promptly pinned to the board before me. Wow! This is very elementary. There were also various charts, maps and notices spread around the room. Reminded my of my grand-daughters’ classrooms back in Melbourne. The map of the world looked familiar, as well as a huge poster with pictures of grandparents, parents, children, cousins etc. Mmmm – family!
Just then a very handsome, softly spoken Italian man strode into the classroom with a smile and a ‘Bongiorno’, to which we all responded in verse. Then off he started, so calmly, hands clasped together, walking across the room in even strides, talking ever so eloquently in ITALIAN.
I didn’t have a clue as to what he was saying, but he was gesturing with his hands and smiling as he spoke. Suddenly, I started to panic and looked around at my fellow pupils who were fixed on his every word. I managed to grasp one or two words here and there, and my little voice inside my head kept saying, ‘Netflix would be the go, not all this gibberish you don’t understand’.
But my sensible self said back to the little voice, ‘Listen to what he has to say and don’t freeze until he actually asks you a question. Maybe he will forget me because I am the only white-haired, 60 plus, female sitting in his classroom, OR, he will see me like a shining beacon straight off …’
And he did … he looked directly at me and pointed at the board where the pictures of the Italian family were pinned and began pointing and reciting, ‘le padre, la madre, la familigia.’
I looked at his smile and listened to his confident voice as he spoke to me, and then I thought to myself with confidence, I can do this. I am going to do this and I am going to enjoy it.