I was born in a small town, Cavarzere, close to Venice, in the northeastern part of Italy. Small, provincial, sleepy town.

At the age of 17 I went abroad for a year as an exchange student, and for the first time I saw my country and my culture from outside.

I lived inside another culture, I had to learn how to deal with it, how to remix the ingredients to obtain something that worked in that environment. I was helped in this by my host family and my friends, who raised me as a cultural child.

I learned by comparing my world with that world; I learned that reality around us is only made by the way we look at it. Of all the things I thought I know about that country, I had to reconsider all of them: most of them were maybe true, but I could now see them from a different perspective. I was inside them, meaning I had a chance to look at them from the same point of view of the people who lived there. I listened to as many people as I could, to their way of looking at the world, and I gathered as many points of view as I could. The more I collected, the more I could observe the things they all had in common, and how and in which points they were different from each other.

I had learned what culture was, and I found it truly fascinating.

Together with the points of view, I was learning how to express them. I was learning the language together with culture, seeing how the one goes and influences the other and vice versa. Something only exists if you know how to say it, and you can only put into words what you perceive, what you think. The world is in your head, before than in your eyes or in your words.

That country happened to be the United States of America, and the language I had learned was American English.

When my exchange was over, I had to return to where I had come from. Only to discover soon that things were not easier over there, “home”. I was not looking at it with the same eyes as before, because by then I knew how the trick went. Brand new eyes to re-take everything into consideration, everything I thought I knew from my country, my culture, my language.

Frankly, I had never thought of going into university before that; if I really had to think about what the possibilities could have been I should say probably economics or something.

Instead, I found myself looking for a way to get deeper into Italy, it’s language and it’s culture. I knew that the language was important, because I understood how we build relationships through it, we build worlds. It is the most powerful instrument we have to build a world that fits us. By talking about it, we reinforce it or we change it. In order to talk about it with someone, we need to understand their point of view. In a few words, we need to share the same grounds. The same culture.

I studied promotion of Italian language and culture, as my undergraduate program, at the university for foreigners of Perugia. Now, I am enrolled as a graduate student into teaching Italian to foreigners.

I am an Italian teacher.

Technically that means that I can teach how to speak Italian. I think it is only true partially. And I don’t like the word “teacher” refered to a language. I find it misleading.

Nobody can really teach a language. How many of you who read this have experienced hours and hours of class for some language, maybe even Italian, and ended up not being able to put a sentence together? Of course, one can explain how the grammar works and make examples. But knowing grammar by heart won’t get you speaking. One can only learn a language. It is an individual quest. What a “teacher” can do is show you the way, tell you where to be careful, explain to you all the possibilities, maybe even give you some tricks, but altogether it is going to be you who does the learning. What a good teacher does, what I try to do, is making it easier for people to learn, whatever that means.

Together with the language goes the point of view of the community that speaks that language, that uses it on a daily basis to live, to communicate; to put it dramatically: to negotiate the terms of their existence, if you will.

I look around me though, and I notice how not many realize the importance, when teaching, to offer a chance to acquire that point of view, those same grounds where we stand as native speakers when we talk. People seem to have very confused ideas about what their culture is, or maybe I am just lucky because I had a chance to learn and understand that. This blog is my try to show people how to look at things from the perspective of an insider with a critical eye. As critical as I can, at least.

This my shot out there, my message in a bottle. Enjoy. If you like it, share it.

Andrea Gobbi

italybeyondstereotype@gmail.com