By Meghan Reisenauer ’19

Last January, I had the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to travel to Hawai’i for research through the CEE department’s TREX program. This year, I wanted to spend my last IAP (yes, my graduation is impending!) traveling somewhere completely different, like Italy! I signed up for MIT’s Global Teaching Labs program to teach environmental science to high schoolers somewhere in the world. Italy is the most popular GTL program, and I have many friends who have done it in the past and recommended I go for this IAP. So, I decided to spend a month in Europe!

Being a tourist in Europe

This was a very exciting opportunity for me, as I have essentially no experience in teaching. I really wanted to gain public speaking skills, learn how to communicate my ideas effectively and problem solve. I knew this would be especially difficult yet rewarding, given that my students would have learned English as their second or third language. This definitely added another layer of complexity when I was planning my lessons, since I wanted to use accurate scientific language, but also make sure the words would be easily understood to a non-native English speaker.

I was pleasantly surprised that almost everyone I have met and taught in Italy so far have been nearly fluent in English! The younger generation is particularly talented due to the emphasis on teaching English in schools. One of the only words my students did not understand was in my presentation about plastic pollution in the ocean – I suggested using reusable straws as an alternative to plastic waste, and none of the students had heard the word straw before! Overall, the students’ comprehension and ability to ask questions in near-perfect English has impressed me immensely.

A main square in Udine, Italy in the evening

My host family also speaks very good English, but I am still immersing myself into Italian culture and food while I am here. I walk through the beautiful narrow streets of Udine with my host mom each morning to our large high school, and have incredible lunches with pasta, bread, vegetables and lots of cheese! The family has three cats that are the best for keeping us warm during our naps each day after classes are over.