All posts by wernern

I grew-up loving different languages, enjoying intercultural interaction, eating delicious food and listening to all sorts of music.

Community performance focuses on two young survivors

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While in Palermo, our group attended a multimedia presentation portraying young migrants’ journeys. Based on true stories, the main focus of the play was the experiences of Malik Alali and Adam Hallafa. The two young teens survived their trip across deserts and the Mediterranean Sea, while traveling as unaccompanied minors. Their touching dramas were recounted in the play Il Viaggio (The Journey), directed by German journalist Karl Hoffman (Interview with the director) and Italian director Alberto Cavallotti. The play also featured Arab, African and Italian music and artists who performed at the exquisite Teatro Massimo. You can sample one of the music performances here: Nabil Salameh’s song

The two young migrants are survivors, strong but gentle. Their families chose to send them on their own, sacrificing much, in the hopes to increase their chances for a better life.

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Malik is a Syrian refugee who was sent alone on this long journey. His parents hoped he could find a better life in Europe. Malik escaped the Syrian civil war. He was determined to continue his journey and hoped for a better life. Since his arrival in Europe, he has been reunited with his family and now they live together in Denmark.

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Adam is now a 21-year-old young man. He came from Ghana and made the journey across the Mediterranean by himself. His only family member is his grandmother, who remained in Ghana. She did not hear any news about Adam for a very long time. His grandmother actually thought Adam did not survive the journey, but his desire to live helped him across the Mediterranean. When Adam finally had the opportunity to call and speak to his grandmother to tell her that he was alive, she could not believe the great news at first.
Adam now lives in Lampedusa, he is finishing his high school studies and is also working in a hotel and in a pizzeria. On our very last night in Lampedusa, our mosaic group had the opportunity to enjoy dinner with Adam.

During the performance, there were important signs of community engagement. First and foremost, there was the participation of a large number of children singing and dancing during musical numbers. In the audience there were many parents, siblings and other family members present in support of the event. Many people were filming parts of or even the performance in its entirety.

The mayor of Palermo Leoluca Orlando was also in attendance IMG_2306and during a short performance break, he was briefly interviewed by Karl Hoffman about his work as mayor and his open opposition to the Mafia power within the city.   Mr. Orlando particularly mentioned that the funds collected from the sale of properties seized from the criminal organizations are used to benefit social programs, including projects connected to migrants.

The Besta School in Bologna – Integration Initiatives and our Interaction with their Middle School Students


Our group returned to the Besta School on Wednesday, February 24th in the early morning. We were looking forward to learning more about the institution’s initiatives in integrating diversely ethnic students, with particular attention given to newly arrived students from families with no Italian language background. Although this was a worthwhile focus, the school also provides opportunities to all students to learn English as well as German.

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 We started our day having the opportunity to interact with 24 students during their English lesson. At first, we struggled to communicate with the students, but within minutes we were able to surpass this initial challenge by using rhymes, gestures and music to truly interconnect, despite the obvious language barriers. The continual attempts and the whole group’s determination to understand and be understood, truly paid off as we worked on communicating individually and collectively.


Despite the initial timidity, the difficulties we had with our language skills became secondary. We truly felt interconnected despite of and also because of our limited abilities. The middle school age students were learning and practicing their English skills, often in need of help with words and expressions. Dickinson students and professors also needed help, since our ability to speak and understand Italian varied tremendously. This setting was extremely advantageous as we became interdependent in a most delightful exchange.

Our first common assignment was to work individually, creating our own version of George Ella Lyon’s poem “Where I Am From”. This would give each of the students an excellent opportunity to share something about themselves in a creative and self-expressive way.

Some ideas were written on the chalkboard in order to help the brainstorming writing process. Some of the words that were written on the board in both English and Italian were different names, types of music, food items, various feelings, smells, rituals, beliefs and activities.

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All students were invited to share a few lines of their creation in front of the group. Dickinson students shared some of their lines and Besta School students read some of theirs. This particular exercise emphasized the diverse nature and meaning of identity. It also helped active participants and spectators to feel safe as a unique person, while exploring their origins and life memories. This can be a sensitive topic and approach for the middle school age group, since they usually just try to blend in and belong without standing out.

For our Mosaic group it was very important to have a more accurate outlook on origins and migration experiences. Besta School students revealed a variety of backgrounds ranging from locals from Bologna (in the North of Italy) to southerners from Palermo. Students also shared their families origin from a variety of countries such as Bangladesh, China, India, Pakistan and Albania, among others.

The second class we attended was a Math Lab, where a few students who are also learning Italian took turns participating in a practical exercise applying the concept and mathematical vocabulary they had been introduced to. It was clear that some of them were struggling but they were willing to attempt solving the math problems. The teacher used visual learning as the basis for class involvement and seemed very committed to student success despite the language barrier.


It’s sinking in

It is Wednesday and only three days before our group heads to Italy. The reality of this opportunity has just started to sink in… and then… I had the chance to interact with someone who is geographically close, who shared feelings of nostalgia towards his motherland and who also expressed a strong sense of not belonging to the culture he is experiencing. I was moved by this person’s insight and anguish. I hope to be able to always empathetically listen to others’ stories. Feeling foreigner, no matter what the setting, can be very difficult and lonely.