Di scuole femminili e tempi che non cambiano

Quando ero bambina nella mia ridente cittadina ligure c’erano due possibilità educative: una, era la scuola statale e l’altra, la scuola “dalle suore”. Nel mio caso fu scelta la seconda opzione e cominciai l’asilo all’Istituto Sant’Anna, dove rimasi fino alla fine delle medie. Ma oltre alla mia scuola cattolica mista c’era, dall’altra parte della strada, la scuola cattolica femminile. Pur vivendo in un paese piccolo non ricordo di aver mai conosciuto nessuna bambina che andava alla scuola “di solo femmine”. Tra noi studenti di Sant’Anna si parlava con un misto di commiserazione e disdegno di quelle bambine obbligate a vivere in un mondo innaturale, come una scuola senza maschi.

Queste chiacchiere e pettegolezzi avvenivano nei primi anni ’70, in un paesino di provincia, per cui potete immaginare la mia sorpresa quando, nel 1996, mi ritrovai a sentire donne della mia eta’ proclamare i benefici di una scuola tutta femminile, in una grande città cosmopolita.

Julia aveva pochi mesi e come ogni settimana mi ritrovavo con un gruppo di mamme, e qualche sporadico papa’, per condividere i progressi dei nostri piccoli e trovare consolazione e sostegno dopo un’altra notte insonne. Fu durante una di queste chiacchierate mattutine che l’argomento “scuola single-sex” venne tirato in ballo per la prima volta. Io sedevo nel mio angolo e mi tornavano alla mente immagini di bambine tristi e pallide (si, nella mia immaginazione le bambine “dall’altra parte” erano sempre tristi e pallide. Come se oltre ad essere private della compagnia maschile, venisse loro negato anche il piacere del sole ligure!) e non riuscivo a capacitarmi di come, in questa città così all’avanguardia, qualcuno potesse considerare una tale possibilità.

Donne con le quali avevo diviso quei primi mesi della mia avventura di mamma, mi mostravano un aspetto della vita nel mio paese d’adozione che, fino a quel momento, avevo completamente ignorato. Per la prima volta mi sentivo davvero “straniera” perché i loro ragionamenti pro scuola “single sex” erano concetti che mi risultavano completamente   sconosciuti e che rimbalzavano nel mio cervello senza trovare un appiglio. Non presi parte a quella prima discussione ma da allora ho avuto innumerevoli conversazioni e combattuto a spada tratta a favore delle scuole miste!

Ciclicamente appaino articoli sul giornale che ci rifilano i risultati di una nuova ricerca sui pro e contro in entrambi i campi e, ciclicamente, mi rendo conto che queste ricerche non propongono nulla di nuovo. Per me rimane sempre e solo il fatto che viviamo in un mondo “misto” e voglio offrire l’opportunità alle mie figlie di imparare a cavarsela, in questo mondo, il prima possibile!

Se devono combattere in un mondo “al maschile” e’ importante che conoscano il loro avversario, e prima cominciano, meglio e’. Impossibile negare che il mondo in cui viviamo e’ ancora dominato dall’uomo e immagino che nelle classi i ragazzi facciano in modo di avere il sopravvento. Ed e’ qui che, spero, le mie figlie abbiano l’occasione di imparare ad affrontare e sormontare questi soprusi. Che senso ha farle crescere in un mondo irrealistico per poi gettarle in pasto ai lupi a 18 anni? 

Julia ha finito la scuola l’anno scorso e ho avuto modo di paragonare la sua esperienza accademica e sociale con quella di due amiche d’infanzia, entrambi frequentatrici di una scuola femminile. Questi sono i risultati della mia ricerca!

Dal punto di vista accademico Julia, che e’ sempre stata molto timida e introversa, ha avuto risultati migliori di quelli delle sue amiche. Le ragazze sono cresciute insieme, sono tutte molto coscienziose e studiose, con genitori attenti e presenti e opportunità molto simili. Il fatto di andare ad una scuola invece di un’altra non ha avuto nessuna conseguenza sui risultati.

Dal punto di vista sociale, i sostenitori del movimento “single sex” affermano che arrivati all’adolescenza essere in presenza dell’altro sesso distrae dallo studio.

Mi piace pensare che le mie figlie possano scegliere come mettersi in relazione con l’altro sesso e, nonostante abbiano approcci molto diversi, nessuna delle due ha mai manifestato segni di “distrazione”.  E siamo in piena adolescenza e subbuglio ormonale! Sofia non ha mai fatto differenza tra amicizie maschili o femminili, mentre Julia, fino ad un paio di anni fa, ha sempre optato per amicizie femminili. Dopo anni di contatto giornaliero,  oggi e’ perfettamente a suo agio anche con i ragazzi. Nel suo caso frequentare una scuola mista le ha fornito le risorse per superare la sua timidezza con l’altro sesso e questo l’aiuterà sicuramente all’università e nel mondo del lavoro.

Anche dal punto sociale, quindi, la scelta di una scuola mista non ha portato alle mie figlie nessuno svantaggio.

Che dire, risultati positivi in entrambi i campi. Nel grande dibattito “single-sex vs co-ed le scuole miste a casa nostra vincono a pieni voti!

Leggendo su internet ho scoperto che l’Australia e’ uno dei pochi paesi dove questo sistema riscontra ancora parecchio successo. Nonostante molte scuole maschili siano state convertite in scuole miste, le scuole femminili sono ancora molto numerose e ben frequentate.

Come avveniva con le bambine della scuola di fronte, le ragazze delle scuole femminili in genere non socializzano con quelle delle scuole miste e, a volte, mi  pare di cogliere un leggero tono di commiserazione e disdegno nei discorsi delle mie figlie e dei loro amici. Ed ecco dove Melbourne 2015 e Vallecrosia ca. 1970 hanno qualcosa in comune!

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Our made up wedding

IMG_4202When Nigel and I decided to get married, in my mind I knew exactly what I wanted: a beautiful summer day, lovely little church in my dad’s village, service with meaningful words in both english and italian, family and friends from all over the worlds gathered around us, music, good food…simple and effective!

Of course in those pre-internet days organising intercontinental weddings had its challenges and my dream wedding was perhaps less simple then I expected.

I decided to overcome the first obstacle by choosing to have the reception at my parents farm and letting my mother organise the perfect wedding lunch, involving all the cooks in the village, all somehow related to our family! It was going to be a small affair so I knew it shouldn’t have been too stressful and I trusted her with food!

My task was to find a way to organise the ceremony and this, as it happens, was not very straightforward.

Getting married in a garden, a boat, a beach was a concept totally foreign to me, until I arrived in Melbourne, where all this was possible! The option of having a celebrant to marry you wherever you like was wonderful and, before I knew it, I started fantasising!I I had in mind the lovely little church in the country but somewhere dear to me was going to be just as magic. Vallecrosia’s Comune was not that place and I new it.

IMG_4203But Nigel is jewish and the idea of the little church soon became obsolete.

In the absence of emails I had to resort to the good, old phone. I called the priest from my parents’ parish. I explained in very few words (in those days talking to Italy cost 1 dollar per minute, I had to be brief!) our situation and Don Agostino was almost as excited as I was, he loved the idea of performing an interfaith marriage! He told me that, to be married in a church Nigel would need to sign a form declaring he would bring up his children as catholic. No signature, no church! Don Agostino reassured me that it was just a formality and our children could have been brought up however we wanted. I am sure the bishop wouldn’t have approved but his relaxed approach worked for me and I knew instantly that he was the right person for the job!

Nigel, on the other hand, was outraged by the priest’s lack of integrity and he adamantly refused to sign any such declaration. A different cultural approach: Italian completely relaxed, and even a little thrilled, about breaking the rules, Australian shocked by such suggestion!

On my second call I told the priest that Nigel would not sign and he congratulated me for having chosen such a righteous man.

Nothing could dishearten us and we went on to the second option: somewhere just as magic!

We decided that we could have the ceremony in my parents farm, where we were going to have the wedding reception. Don Agostino loved the idea, at this stage he was really getting into the groove, and he told me that, as a formality (another one!)he had to speak to the bishop but he was sure it wouldn’t have been a problem.

IMG_4181This time it was the bishop to be outraged by such proposal! Don Agostino and I were not discouraged and he came up with an idea: he would perform the wedding wherever we wanted, we could write our own service and we could go to the local town hall to sign the papers.

And this is what we did. My mum organised the food, my auntie the flowers, my cousin the music and my uncle the photographs. A true family affair! Don Agostino ran the service and he promised he would not mention Jesus! He was true to his word, even though the jewish part of the family did not speak italian. We wrote our own vows and our friends and family read meaningful poems and psalms, in italian and english. At the end of the ceremony we stepped on a glass, like in all good jewish wedding. And we were married!

In fact we weren’t. We ate delicious food, spent time with people we love, cried and laughed, danced all night. A truly perfect wedding day but at the end of it we weren’t really married. For that we had to wait a few more days when, with a couple of witnesses, we went up to the soulless Comune di Vallecrosia where we signed our papers.

It might not have been that simple, but it certainly was effective! It was a special day and, most of all, it was completely our. IMG_4204

 

 

 

 

Burocrazia australiana

Town Hall - Comune

Town Hall – Comune

Per parcheggiare davanti a casa ho bisogno di un permesso ma da quando ho cambiato macchina, cioe’ circa tre anni, non l’ho ancora rifatto. Oggi, dopo due multe, mi sono finalmente decisa.

Ma perche’ aspettare tre anni e due multe? Pigrizia. Non ho altra scusa.

Sono cresciuta in Italia dove le parole “burocrazia”, “comune”, “permesso” portano alla mente ore di coda in uffici surriscaldati, impiegati svogliati e strafottenti e interminabili moduli da riempire. Nonostante siano anni che non frequento uffici comunali italiani, mi capita spesso di ascoltare le lamentele di amici e parenti e mi pare di capire che le cose non siano cambiate molto.

La burocrazia australiana e’ un sogno e andare a fare un permesso di parcheggio non fa che rallegrare la tua giornata!

A mezzogiorno arrivo in comune, entro e mi trovo davanti una bella signora con i capelli rosso fuoco e una ricrescita di due dita. Mi accoglie con un sorriso smagliante e un “Hello darling!”. Ha le braccia ricoperte di tatuaggi all’henné sbiaditi e un modo di fare affabile e disinvolto. Senza accorgermene mi ritrovo a raccontargli delle mie multe e della mia pigrizia. Lei mi rassicura dicendo di non preoccuparmi, si occupera’ di tutto!

Mi chiede la prova di residenza e le passo con orgoglio la bolletta della luce. Mi sento organizzatissima! Ma quando mi chiede la prova che la macchina mi appartiene il documento che le ho portato non e’ quello giusto. La guardo delusa ma mi rendo conto dal suo sorriso che risolvera’ questo problema in quattro e quattr’otto. Sono in ottime mani, mi dico!

Il mio bel Parking Permit nuovo di zecca!

Il mio bel Parking Permit nuovo di zecca!

Mi suggerisce di andare dalla polizia, proprio dietro l’angolo, e di compilare un modulo per dichiarare che la macchina e’ mia. Due minuti dopo sono in commissariato dove un giovane poliziotto mi consegna il modulo e mi rassicura che sono abituati, non avere i documenti giusti e’ apparentemente una cosa molto comune. Non posso fare a meno di notare che ha un orologio di Topolino. Ovviamente non e’ sua intenzione essere troppo intimidatorio!

Torno all’ufficio dove dopo pochi minuti ho il mio permesso. Pago 32 dollari, “Take care, dal!” mi dice la signora. Il tutto si e’ svolto in meno di mezz’ora. Esco con un sorriso sulle labbra e la sensazione di vivere nel paese dei balocchi!

Cultural drinking

My first encounter with a group of rowdy Australians was on the ferry from Ancona to Patras in 1987. In those days my knowledge of Australian culture was inexistent and the three days spent on the deck of the ferry opened my eyes to a world of a group culture I admired and feared. Unruly games, unintelligible jokes, exuberant songs all topped with lots and lots of beer and other alcoholic concoctions. My friend and I watched from the outside but we found ourselves being drawn to this wild, new world and before we new it, we were in it. A gentle soul took us under his wing and became our educator, explaining to us, in very simple english, how Australians loved groups and drinking.

Since I started this blog I have being wanting to write about the drinking culture in Australia. The different approach to drinking definitely classifies as one of the more obvious cultural differences between Italy and Australia but I have been concerned about sounding too critical or condescending in expressing my views.

My family (and possibly my friends too) roll their eyes whenever the subject comes up and I have to admit that I have a tendency to rant about it for a little too long. So this is why I approach this subject with a bit of apprehension and I hope I will do it justice.

That ferry trip came to my mind this morning and it forced me to see the matter with different eyes. The eyes of a 22 years old, discovering a brand new world, where drinking beer meant, beside vomiting off the deck for hours and snogging strangers, a shared experience and an undeniable, if a bit superficial, sense of belonging.

Australians love to identify themselves with their passion for drinking. When I say that I don’t drink people look confused and sometimes disappointed. I used to feel the need to justify myself but lately I just let them draw their own conclusions. I might be a recovering alcoholic or an extremist teetotaller (please grant me the use of this word, ever since I’ve heard it I have been wanting to put it in a written sentence, I wouldn’t dare to pronounce  it though 😉 ), whatever they think I hope it will envelop me in an air of mystery!

The first time Nigel came to Italy we went out to a bar with a group of friends and ordered a beer. Yes…that was it…one beer. Nigel sat patiently waiting for the next round but it never came. We don’t do “rounds” in Italy.

My mum finds this love a beer quite endearing and she never fails to buy a couple of bottles whenever Nigel’s visit. I guess is her way of making him feel at home!

Last year Julia turned 18 and the first thing she did was going to the bottle shop to buy a bottle of champagne. She wanted to have the thrill of buying alcohol legally! She was a bit disappointed because she wasn’t asked for her id.

Growing up in a country where there was never any prohibition I struggle to understand her excitement. We did get drunk at parties but we didn’t have to sneak alcohol hidden in paper bags. 

Drinking is part of every celebration at the end of high school, being the celebration in the morning, afternoon or evening and after exams there is a whole week of “schoolies” when kids go away to a party and, of course, drink.

The first week of university, orientation week, is spent going to barbecues and drinking, on campus, while subscribing to different clubs where you will be able to get, amongst other things, cheap drinks.

I remember women talking dreamily about the glass of wine they will drink when they got home after our morning playgroup meetings and parents laughing amiably at their children’s 18th birthday speeches, while they talked about the great achievement of finally being able to get thrashed in pubs.

It is not uncommon to see people walking with big slabs of beer on their way to a barbecue or a picnic in the park.

From the age of 16 kids find ways to have fake IDs so they can go to pubs and clubs. Most parents know it and give their blessing. I’d like to think that some of these kids want to go to pubs and clubs to listen to bands and dance, not drink. But they can’t do it legally. 

As a 22 years old, Australians and their drinking culture might have had a certain appeal but as an adult I fail to comprehend a society that put such strong rules on drinking for minors while accepting, and on occasions even glorifying, drinking in adults. 

I conclude by saying that this is not a post about “in Italy is better because we do things different”, in fact I am not sure that, having a very different approach to alcohol, the situation is actually better in Italy. In fact I hear the problem of youth drinking is growing. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nanny state – Stato tata

In Australia si vive bene. La vita e’ tranquilla, ci si sente sicuri e c’e’ spazio per tutti. Questo e’ risaputo. Ma forse non tutti sanno che parte di questa sicurezza e tranquillità ci viene “imposta” con una serie di regole e regolamenti, leggi e divieti che a volte hanno davvero dell’esagerato e, in alcuni casi, del ridicolo!

E’ opera del “Nanny State”, lo “Stato Tata”, che si prende cura dei suoi cittadini come fossero bambini irresponsabili, avvolgendoli nella bambagia e proteggendoli contro ogni pericolo, attuale o eventuale.

L’Australia e’ l’unico paese, insieme alla Nuova Zelanda, in cui e’ obbligatorio mettere il casco per andare in bicicletta. Anche solo per andare nel negozio in fondo alla strada, con la mia biciclettina da città, con la spesa nel cestino e velocità di poco superiore alla camminata, devo mettermi il casco. Da buona italiana ho provato a ignorare la legge. Fermata dalla polizia e rimproverata per la mia irresponsabilità! Le mie figlie mi avevano già sgridato e mi hanno detto che me lo meritavo. Niente multa per questa volta, ma la prossima volta $57!

Per questo il servizio di Bike Sharing in uso in tutte le città europee e’ fallito a Melbourne. Non molti turisti viaggiano con il casco nella valigia!

Pedoni: marciapiede chiuso, usare l'altro marciapiede

Pedoni: marciapiede chiuso, usare l’altro marciapiede

Da un paio di giorni stanno sostituendo le tubature del gas nella nostra via. Questa mattina il marciapiede davanti a casa era chiuso per questi lavori e un segnale suggeriva ai pedoni di usare il marciapiede dall’altra parte della strada. Io dovevo fare circa 50 metri, la strada e’ molto tranquilla e ho pensato di non attraversare ma passare al lato del marciapiede. C’erano ben due persone incaricate a fermare i pedoni “ribelli”! Una signora in divisa e’ venuta gentilmente a dirmi che dovevo passare sull’altro marciapiede e poi attraversare al semaforo! Nel caso non mi fosse ancora chiaro il concetto, al semaforo c’era un altro lavorante pronto a dirigermi sulla retta via! Tornata a casa ho raccontato a mia figlia che mi ha guardato stupita e mi ha detto: Ma se quella e’ la regola!

Ha ragione ed e’ proprio qui che io, dopo anni di vita a Melbourne, mi sento ancora un pesce fuor d’acqua. Perché le regole sono fatte per essere infrante…o no?

No, qui no. Le regole sono seguite ed e’ forse anche per questo che l’Australia rimane per tanti un paese di sogno. Ma a volte mi dico se in questo modo i cittadini/bambini impareranno mai a prendersi le proprie responsabilità? Se lo stato decide continuamente cosa e’ meglio per noi quando avremo la possibilità di fare quegli errori che aiutano a crescere?

 

 

Celebriamo!

Ho finito le scuole superiori nel 1984, effettivamente e’ passato un po’ di tempo e forse la mia memoria vascilla, ma non ricordo nessun festeggiamento particolare, nessuna cerimonia per segnare questo traguardo. Quello che ricordo invece e’ la scena finale del film Grease e la felicita’ dei protagonisti nel celebrare la fine del loro percorso scolastico.

Julia ha finito la scuola  e la scorsa settimana e’ stata una serie di festeggiamenti, con pic nic nel parco e balli sui banchi (quasi come in Grease, mi piace pensare!), e si e’ conclusa venerdi sera con la cerimonia formale della “graduation”. Mi lamento spesso della mancanza di tradizioni in Australia ma questa abitudine di onorare la fine di un periodo significativo nella vita di ogni ragazzo mi ha piacevolmente sorpreso e riempito il cuore.

La cerimonia si e’ svolta nel comune di Melbourne e il luogo stesso gia’ conferiva una certa solennita’ ed importanza. Non sapevo assolutamente cosa aspettarmi e l’unica indicazione ricevuta da Julia era di prepararmi ad una serata noiosissima. La premessa non era dunque delle migliori!

Devo ammettere che negli ultimi giorni (o forse settimane!) mi sono ritrovata spesso sulla soglia delle lacrime e ho faticato a non abbandonarmi alla nostalgia. Ma sono arrivata a destinazione convinta di poter affrontare la situazione al meglio! La serata e’ cominciata con qualche chiacchiera tra genitori e ho subito notato, con sollievo, che non ero l’unica con gli occhi lucidi. Le mamme di lacrima facile esistono anche in Australia!

Melbourne Town Hall

Melbourne Town Hall

Musica, discorsi, premi vari, il riconoscimento degli sforzi degli studenti, in tutti i campi, dall’accademico, allo sport, al coinvolgimento sociale e, infine, la consegna a tutti i 250 ragazzi di un certificato. Effettivamente, guardando l’interminabile lista di nomi sul programma, l’idea di farmi un pisolino mi era passata per la mente! Invece mi sono persa ad osservare e apprezzare questi splendidi ragazzi, salire sul palco, sicuri, felici, pronti ad affrontare il mondo. La cosa che mi ha colpito di piu’ e’ stata la loro individualita’. Si parla spesso di come gli adolescenti tendano all’assimilazione, seguendo le mode del momento e cercando il piu’ possibile di essere parte del gruppo. Ma quello che mi e’ passato davanti, sul palco del Melbourne Town Hall, era una celebrazione della diversita’!

48 etnie differenti, i nomi nella lista facevano pensare a paesi esotici e lontani…Afendulis, Paraskevas, Khalil-Salib… e l’insegnante che li leggeva aveva un talento particolare per le lingue, la sua pronuncia a me e’ parsa impeccabile! Ma cio’ che mi ha colpito di piu’ e’ stato lo stile individuale di ogniuno dei ragazzi, dai tacchi a spillo, alle scarpe da ginnastica, dai vestiti lunghi, ai pantaloncini corti! Tutti perfettamente a loro agio, tutti assolutamente parte del gruppo.

E tutto questo celebrare si svolge prima degli esami, prima dei risultati finali, prima di aver raggiunto il traguardo! Ne parlavo con la mia amica Annamaria, anche lei reduce di una settimana di festeggiamenti della figlia, e ci chiedevamo il significato di questo “celebrare” prima della fine. Quasi come mettere il carro davanti ai buoi! La risposta mi e’ stata data dal capitano della scuola, una ragazzo molto eloquente e simpaticamente “nerd”, nel suo discorso finale. Anche lui, come noi, si era posto la stessa domanda ed era giunto alla conclusione che l’importante e’ il viaggio, non l’arrivo alla meta!

 

My journey through school – high school

We made it to High School!

We made it to High School!

Last monday Julia had her last school concert. “Come and say farewell to our year 12 students” said the school’s newsletter. I have read this so many times during the years. The last senior concert, a big milestone, I am always moved to see how mature and grown up the kids look, standing on stage, confident and proud. And all of a sudden Julia was one of them. Since then it has been a succession of “last times” and here we are, tomorrow will be her last day of school!

Although it feels all a bit sudden, it has been a six years journey. We started by looking at the most suitable school for her. In Victoria students, generally, have to attend the school closer to their residence address. It is however possible to apply to go to a different school on the basis of curriculum grounds.  Because of her interest in music and playing the cello she was able to find a place in a local school with an excellent music program and a good all round reputation and so, in 2010, she started at Northcote High.

Just like with primary school, I had to get used to a whole new system. The first three years all students learn the same basic subjects. Depending on what the school offers, they can choose different languages and from year 8 also a number of electives subjects. Julia had the opportunity to try woodwork and textiles, cooking and Chinese. In year 10  they are able to choose which direction they want to take and decide what subjects to study. It is in year 11 and 12 that they start working exclusively on the subjects they will take to their VCE exams, at the end of year 12.

Northcote High is a very big school for italian standards but this time, unlike in primary school, the classrooms had desks and chairs, a white board and we had to buy books. Not many…but at least some! Students have to wear a uniform. I dreaded the idea at first but I soon got used to it and so did Julia. In the self conscious years of adolescence it was a relief for her not to have to think of what to wear to fit in. They do have “free dress” days every term and occasionally even “themed” days, when kids can display their uniqueness and wear what they like best.

China orchestra tour

China orchestra tour

The music program has certainly been one of the highlight of the past 6 years and it’s one of the aspect of school in Australia that I like the most. The fact that it offers students the opportunity to play an instrument and perform without the need to attend a specific music school. Julia played in the orchestra and the strings ensemble from the beginning of high school. She went on interstate and overseas tours, established long lasting friendships and developed self discipline and confidence that will no doubt accompany her into adulthood. Plus she has tons of memories and a great musical repertoire!

Of course I have had my reservations. Unlike in Italy there is very little homework and studying done at home, the bulk of the work is completed during school hours. There are no random testing, no scary interrogazioni when the teacher picks a student and asks questions about a particular topic, giving marks according to the replys. Exams only start in year 10 and, in my opinion, are not taken too seriously until they get to year 12.

And there are hardly any consequences if a student is not performing well. No failing or have to repeat the year, just encouragement to try and do better next time. Although in principle this approach sounds very nurturing, I am still to be convinced of its potential success.

Home from the second last day, with a signed uniform!

Home from the second last day, with a signed uniform!

Julia has never worked very hard and has always done well but there has been a change in the past two years. She is still doing well but, finally, she is working hard! Her attitude has made me reconsider my doubts as I see her studying with great dedication and interest. Exams will start on the 29th october. She is going through this last stretch in a calm and relaxed way, taking one step at the time, spending time with her friends and playing her cello in between writing essays and reading Wuthering Hights and the Odyssey.

It has being a fabulous journey and, as after all the best journeys, I will be sad and relieved when it’s over.

 

I am Italian again!

My italian passport expired years ago and I have never found the courage, time and patience to renew it.

We all know how italian bureaucracy can be a tad complex at times, therefore a trip to the Italian Consulate in Melbourne could potentially become a bureaucratic nightmare.

But where there is bureaucracy, there is a way to avoid it and, as all good italians, for years I had found a way to do so and still keep my passport up to date. I had “conoscescenze“, a friend who worked at the consulate and sorted out all my italian citizenship needs. Then, unfortunately, he was posted somewhere else and, with him, I lost all my privileges. My passport has being lying dormant since 2007.

There is no practical reason for me and my daughters to have an italian passport, we can easily travel with our australian ones but I like the idea of being able to go to Europe as a european and, this year, I decided I was going to renew our passports.

The first step is to make an appointment. I knew it might take a few months so, knowing that Julia will go to Europe next July for a gap year, I was very organised and went to make our appointments a few weeks ago, in August. There are option for single citizenship and double citizenship and the website kindly state that there might be a few months waiting for people with the double citizenship. First appointment …august 2015…in one year time!

I tried to call to ask if she could have an earlier appointment as she was planning to leave in July next year. But at the Italian Consulate they don’t answer phone calls. I emailed but I received an auto reply stating that the Italian Consulate doesn’t reply to emails. The appointment is the only way in!

A friend, italian of course, told me: no problem, just pretend to have only one citizenship. I followed her advise and yesterday I went to my appointment.

I did feel a bit nervous as, in my many years down under, I have become very good at respecting rules but I did feel entitled to be heard and I walked confidently to the counter. No one asked me about my double citizenship and before I knew it I was given some forms to fill and I was in! IMG_2168

The man across the desk was friendly but I immediately felt guilty and told him my secret. I had lied, I did have an australian passport but my daughter…He didn’t let me go any further and assured me there was no problem. He explained that as people with a double citizenship can use the australian passport to travel, they give priority to the single citizenship ones. It made perfect sense.

I had my old passport, I had my driving licence, I had my photos and my money (no credit card accepted!). I ticked all the boxes. Or so I thought. What I did not have was my husband’s permission. I haven’t asked my husbands permission for anything since…I guess I never did! Luckily I wasn’t the only one to find this a bit ridiculous, the kind man smiled and blamed our homeland bureaucracy and we laughed amicably and knowingly. He told me Nigel could print the form from their website, sign it and email it to me now. At my strange request for his permission to get my passport Nigel did not ask any question but I did hear him giggle quietly on the other end. He knew better then to make any comment. Needless to say, he did give me his permission and I came out with my brand, new passport!

Walking back to my car I thought about my morning. It hadn’t been as frustrating or time consuming as I thought it would be. I thought about the strange and apparently meaningless request, the rules that are there to be broken and the formal but conspiratorial attitude of the men working there. I had spent a morning in Italy, without even living the country!

My journey through school – first step, primary school

Here we start!

Here we start!

Julia is about to close a big chapter of her life, her last year of school is almost over. As we are getting closer to the end, I find myself thinking about these years and my journey through the Australian school system. A journey not always easy and at times foreign and unfamiliar but, ultimately, a journey that left me feeling very positive about my daughter’s education.

My journey started at playgroup, when Julia was barely one year old and the conversation between mothers went to what school to choose and…waiting lists! It was one of those “fish out of water” moments that often happens in the life of us migrants and I sat there feeling confused and slightly inadequate.

This is the first big difference between the Italian and the Australian school system. Particularly at a secondary level, parents often choose to send their children to a private school.  Paying to get an education sounded weird enough to me, but paying to be on a waiting list from the age of one was just beyond belief! I decided that day that I was never sending my daughter to a private school and started my “public school” campaign with Nigel who soon turned the corner and became the first in his family to send his children to a public high school!

Area 2

Area 2

Julia’s primary school was local and a bit alternative, it looked like fun and at the age of five, fun seemed pretty important.

I was used to a very different environment and approach. Classrooms, desks with set places, teachers behind a desk, books and daily homework. Spensley Street Primary school had no classrooms but “areas”, desks were used only for special projects, kids usually sat on the floor, no text books and absolutely no homework. Of course I had my moments of discouragement, asking myself if in this environment my daughter was ever going to learn to read, let alone doing anything else vaguely academic. She certainly loved going to school, where she dressed up, talked about her favourite teddy bear in front of a group of attentive pupils and painted fabulous pictures with her fingers. When I asked the teacher when she was going to start reading, she was now in grade 2, the teacher told me not to worry, she was taking all the right steps in that direction and she would get there in her own time. I must admit I wasn’t reassured, seen that some of her friends where going through the first Harry Potter book while Julia had absolutely no interest in putting more then three words together!

Different ways of learning, using floor or desks!

Different ways of learning, using floor or desks!

Needless to say I was wrong and, yes, the teacher was right. She took her time but Julia did learn to read and developed a passion for books and learning in general.

The way of learning is certainly very different to what I was used to. In primary school there are no specific subjects, no history or geography and even maths seemed to be taught in a very “practical” way. I never heard my girls reciting the times tables like I used to do, but somehow they appear to have learned them. There isn’t much memorising involved in the australian system, the learning is done in a more “organic” way, kids are getting there through their own path. It does sound like a lovely way to learn and still I spent years worrying about my girls path to learning. Could they actually become responsible adults without having learned the structure of the Greek city-states???

End of primary school assembly

End of primary school assembly

As we are approaching the end of her school years I am very pleased with what Spensley St Primary school taught Julia. The move to high school went smoothly and she took with her the skills she learned to help her settle in a more structured environment. High school has been another journey, but I will have to write about that some other time!