This evening on a very warm day in Florence we headed to a park on via Nazionale to give students a chance to discuss the course so far in groups, and then craft a 15 group minute presentation. It went very well, save a couple bits of drama. First, part way through the discussions we heard a loud crash, and looked to find that a van had smashed into a Vespa, which then crashed into the hood of another car. The driver of the Vespa leapt up screaming (in pain, not anger) holding his arm. Amazingly, he later appeared dazed but OK. The driver that hit him ran to him right away to help, obviously worried and upset. The woman whose car the man landed in front of seemed dazed. It all ended fine, but this shows that the chaos of Italian driving can be dangerous.
Later, as we gathered the students after they’d had an hour to discuss their presentations, one student left his back pack unattended for two minutes, and then found it missing. He had nothing of value in there except for one thing: his passport. A guy with a beer had been sitting nearby the whole time and he was also gone. Sigh.
The discussions were really invigorating; each of us spent ten to fifteen minutes with each group, circulating and trying to help them make connections between seminars and experiences. They were encouraged to bring information from other courses they’ve had into the discussion too. Then the four faculty went for an espresso at a nearby cafe as the students planned their presentations.
In all, despite the Vespa accident and passport incident, it was a positive experience. Then tonight the drama continued as a few of our students ended up in a pizzeria where Jersey Shore folk were eating. Our students got free pizza and signed releases to appear on the show. Jersey Shore, Vespa accident, a stolen passport…some mid-trip drama.
Still, the students tonight did well putting on extemporaneous presentations on a complex theme. They got some things wrong, but that’s good. They were talking, discussing, listening and putting themselves out there. They made the attempt to engage the material and find the links between themes and disciplines. Most importantly, they recognize that the point of the course is not to learn about people and dates (though knowing names and dates is good), but to understand themes and how the world was changing. Many integrated all this into the present and my “Italy today” seminar. They are thinking unconventionally across space-time, yet connecting their concrete experiences in Italy with the material. This is an impressive group of students, and I think we have a well designed course here!