Students stay connected to Rome through virtual internships

Author: Costanza Montanari

The COVID-19 pandemic is forcing institutions to define new ways to stay connected and engaged, like using technology to overcome physical boundaries. Notre Dame students who studied abroad in Rome have also been affected by this new normal. Despite the physical distance, the Rome Global Gateway has provided students with opportunities to remain connected with the city, the Gateway and its partners.

Danny Shaw, James Sumantri and Julia Pesola are three of the Notre Dame students who were studying abroad in Rome when the coronavirus outbreak unfolded. They left Italy very quickly to move back to their home countries, cutting short their study abroad experience. When they heard about the opportunity to start a virtual internship in Rome from their sofas, they jumped at the chance.

Dedalo schools are stable partners of the Gateway with three locations in Italy: Rome, Milan and Como. They collaborate each year with Notre Dame and have relationships with the students. They made a proposal to Mallory Nardin, the director of programming, student development and community engagement, to find students willing to be teaching assistants and guest lecturers for a series of virtual classes as part of a summer camp. The theme of the English classes was “mystery tour,” during which the Italian students were taken around fictional or real geographic locations.

Sumantri is a fourth-year architecture student who left Rome in March. When his summer internship with a local architecture company fell through, he found out about this teaching opportunity at S. Orsola and was thrilled to take the students through his home continent, Asia.

“For the portion of the class that I took over, I chose to take them to my three home countries: Singapore (where I live), Japan (where my mother's side of the family is from), and Indonesia (where my father's side of the family is from),” says Sumantri. “It was pretty fun and exciting to introduce these places so familiar to myself to kids from Italy who knew little to nothing about these countries. Sharing my culture and learning from other ones has always been a passion of mine, so I quite enjoyed this lively exchange.

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Shaw is a senior majoring in sociology and preprofessional studies. He decided to take his students to Spain and to the fictional location of Hogwarts, where he dressed up as Harry Potter.

“For my week at Hogwarts, the wonderful teacher that I partnered with, Silvia Volpicelli, had a very clear vision for what she wanted me to do with the students.” says Shaw. “We collaborated beforehand about what would be entertaining and decided that I would dress up as Harry Potter while the students interviewed me. It was a very fun experience and now pictures of me dressed as Harry Potter will forever be on the internet.”

Pesola is a senior majoring in architecture. She decided to conduct her remote internship with S. Orsola, a great way to stay involved in Rome, albeit virtually.

“With the remote internship, I was able to work with the teachers in Rome to create fun and interactive lesson plans for the virtual summer camp run by S. Orsola, which focuses on teaching English,” she says.

Pesola was paired up with Elena Gursky, an assistant rector at the Villa who is also an English teacher at S. Orsola.

“Julia took my class on a virtual tour of her family’s home in Connecticut and her New York City apartment. They had a blast discussing the differences between Italian and American homes, as well as ways of life in general,” says Gursky. At the end of the lesson, the students became junior architects, drawing a floor plan for their very own American dream home. Many included a popcorn machine, inspired by Julia’s.

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Because the Italian students would have normally gone on a school trip to an English-speaking destination, the goal of Pesola, Sumantri and Shaw’s collaboration with S. Orsola was to bring the feeling of travel and discovery to them virtually.

“What I find remarkable about this collaboration is that it speaks to the knowledge of both institutions that a full educational experience includes the convergence of cultures, languages, and backgrounds,” Gursky concludes. “I know that the students at S. Orsola enjoyed getting to know Julia, James, and Danny, and hopefully sparked an interest in having a study abroad experience of their own one day.

Six other students are currently carrying out remote internships for credits through the virtual practicum course at the Rome Global Gateway. Opportunities are open to students throughout the academic year and the summer.

For additional information check the Rome Gateway website regularly or email Antonella Piccinin.