Tag Archives: learning

Learning to Love the Italian Language

By Arianna Babraj

[5 minute read]

Before changing my major from Public Policy to International Relations, I had a lot of doubts concerning my future career path and my academic focus. The most looming concern I had, however, was the language requirement that I had to complete as a part of my coursework. I had always dreaded my high school Spanish classes, and even though I had studied abroad in Italy during my freshman year, I had avoided studying Italian beyond the introductory level. When I was placed into Italian II at USC, I was convinced that I would fail and went in counting on the fact that I only had to get a “Pass” grade until Italian IV. So, I pushed my worries to the side and figured I would deal with that later.

I don’t think I have ever been more excited about a B+ than when I got my first Italian II exam back. After a few classes, surprisingly, I actually found myself looking forward to the lessons. By the end of the semester, I had even added a minor in Italian and was spending my free time learning vocabulary through listening to Italian songs and watching Italian TV shows. At the end of the semester, I made a pact with myself that I would go back to Italy when I reached a conversational level so that I could truly experience Italy, and fully get rid of my hesitations towards learning a new language.

The next semester, I walked into my first class as an Italian minor, determined to improve my speaking. My professor was one of the sweetest and most wonderful people I had ever met, and she is someone that I aspire to be like. She was supportive of me and my goals and took the time to get to know me both in and outside of the classroom. When I told her about my hopes of moving to Europe after graduation, she told me that she saw a lot of herself in me and encouraged me to take risks and go on adventures.

Photo by Taylor Smith on Unsplash

One summer, I took the risk of designing an independent research project with an IR professor which required me to conduct interviews with Italians in Italy. I was nervous of course, but I was confident in what my professors had taught me. On the plane ride over to Italy, I remember thinking how far I had come since my freshman year when I was too nervous to approach people on the street to ask for directions in Italian. Now, here I was, speaking with confidence and experiencing something new.

I was lucky enough to have a friend on this trip with me. We had both had the same Italian III professor and we both formed a strong relationship with her over our passion for the language. This same passion brought us together and gave us the opportunity to work on this project. This trip brought us even closer together, and we now consider each other best friends. 

While on this trip, we received a message from our professor offering us the opportunity to visit her hometown and meet her mother. Unfortunately, my professor was not in Italy at the same time, but her mother was willing to host us with open arms. We were ecstatic and immediately accepted. Neither of us could believe that we were actually going to meet our professor’s mom and visit her hometown.

Photo by Bogdan Dada on Unsplash

That day was one of the happiest and most beautiful days of my life. I don’t think I ever stopped smiling during my visit. The fact that we were there, speaking Italian and bonding with our professor’s family and friends was incredible. I was honored to have even received the offer of meeting her family and visiting her hometown. That day I truly felt that I had accomplished my goal. Never did I think when I set the goal of eventually returning to Italy, that it would lead me on such a beautiful adventure.

Featured Image by Christopher Czermak on Unsplash

Arianna is a recent USC graduate that received her B.A in International Relations. During her freshman year, she studied abroad for an academic year in Rome, Italy, and she continued to study Italian throughout her undergraduate degree. She loves traveling and learning about other cultures and, in her free time, she likes to take dance classes, go hiking, and watch movies.

Two Sides of Online Learning: A Dual Perspective as a Student and Teacher

By Minghan Shelley Sun 

Edited by Natalie Grace Sipula

[4 minute read]

During the Covid-19 pandemic, it seems that we spend most of our time switching between screens while taking classes, socializing, or completing  work and internship projects. The digital fatigue we get from constantly looking at screens has eliminated the enjoyment and happiness we are supposed to receive from these activities or events. Because of this, a new question has been raised: How can educators infuse more excitement and motivation into online classes? Currently, I am taking online classes for the second semester in a row at the graduate level. I’m working from China and am also a student-teacher for a class at the USC International Academy. Therefore, I’ve gone through the process of adapting to online learning from both a student’s and a teacher’s perspective, and luckily, I’ve gained some insights and hope to shed some light on this issue for everyone who is also facing this issue.

Perspective as a graduate student

During this past semester (Fall 2020), my online classes seemed to always have group discussions and tasks. Having participated in many Zoom breakout rooms, I became aware of a sense of separation occurring when being grouped with different classmates. One experience I remember in particular is when I was in a breakout room with three classmates I’d never spoken to before. When we first entered the breakout room, no one started the conversation but just stared at their screens. I wondered to myself, ‘What are they doing?  Are they checking the rubric or looking for something?’ Eventually, I couldn’t stand the awkward silence so I broke the ice by saying “Hi, guys. Have you found the work document?” which started our conversation. Although we pretty much finished our assigned task, our discussion was superficial and did not really reach my expectations for that class. I was genuinely disappointed and felt upset about what I felt was a loss in value of that class time.

However, there was another time when I was grouped with a classmate who was talkative and willing to share their ideas, and that experience was totally different. From the beginning, our greetings naturally warmed up our discussion, and some common thoughts that we expressed about the class deepened our conversation and elicited more thinking and sharing. This experience showed me that if all of the members of a breakout room are willing participants, the conversation can be great.

Perspective as a teacher

Recently, I was granted the opportunity to observe as a student-teacher in a class. Student-teachers at the graduate level typically learn to teach by observing the host teacher’s practices and teaching micro lessons in real classrooms. This is what I did at the USC International Academy during Spring 2020 and Fall 2020. Due to the sudden shift to online learning, I’ve noticed a drop in student engagement and motivation in the classes I have assisted, especially compared to the behavior of students that I observed in in-person classes during Spring 2020. In particular, I noticed one odd but common phenomenon in breakout rooms: although the teacher had carefully explained the activity the students were about to perform before going into breakout rooms, the students tended to keep silent when they first entered the room and still needed some time to discuss what the task was about. Even though the teacher had asked if the students had any questions before they joined the breakout room, sometimes they even started the breakout room discussion by asking “What are we supposed to do?”. Even though they performed better in group activities after several weeks of class, communication efficiency distinctly decreased compared to in-person classes.

Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash
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Teaching English to Migrant Students in Shanghai

By Jasmine Zahedi

[4 minute read]

While studying abroad in Shanghai, I had the incredible opportunity to work with Stepping Stones, a non-profit organization through which I taught English to grade school students at various Shanghai migrant schools. Through my experience, I learned that there is a huge influx of migrants moving from the farmlands and agricultural areas into Chinese cities, with Shanghai having one of the highest concentrations of migrants in China. In recent years, the government created many new schools to provide the children of migrant parents with access to education they might otherwise not receive. In theory, the idea is a good one, but there are still many underlying issues affecting the quality of education these students are receiving.

Photo by Jerry Wang on Unsplash

Stepping Stones placed me at Huabo Lixing Hang School, an elementary school about an hour away from the university campus at which I was studying. When I first arrived, I immediately noticed that the area was much poorer than the area in which I lived in and went to school. I noticed that even the inhabitants looked recognizably different (or distinguishable) from the Shanghainese people I normally saw in the city, probably due to the fact that they originally came from inland provinces such as Anhui, Hunan, and Sichuan.

The government chartered school I worked at clearly stood out from the rest of the environment. Its modern architecture seemed out of place among the surrounding buildings and shops. The classes were packed with students. A normal class size was around 60 which, as one might imagine, made teaching English incredibly difficult. The children were extremely excited to learn, but there were many daily challenges in the classroom. Having so many peers, the students were often rowdy and distractible, and the ones in the back of the classroom had trouble understanding what was occurring at the front. Furthermore, the children were all greatly varied in their English abilities. This is a common characteristic in migrant schools, as students who weren’t born in Shanghai have a wide range of educational history. One of the Chinese volunteers who worked with me in the classroom told me that her elementary school was nothing like this. She said everyone was always well-behaved because parents reinforced their children’s behavior at home. Unfortunately, with parents that often have to work late, these children tended to have very different home lives, and these differences translated into the classroom.

Continue reading Teaching English to Migrant Students in Shanghai