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.

Besta 9Besta 5

 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.

IMG_1005Besta more

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.


Bologna’s “Besta” Middle School

As it rains outside, we’ve piled into in a colorful classroom with neon green trimming. Bookshelves line the walls and we hear children chattering in the hallways. The morning bell rings as we begin to talk to English teacher Guiliana Pancaldi. We’re at Bologna’s Istituto Comprensivo No. 10, a middle school whose mission focuses on normalizing diversity. Istituto No.10 differs from its counterparts in Bologna as 34% of its students are immigrant children. Guliana explains this further as well as issues of integration, learning curves, and cultural adjustment.

The school’s mission is “integration, well-being for students, and increasing knowledge for secondary school as well as life.” One tool used to to achieve this mission is the use of learning intensive labs, Guiliana tells us. According to Italian law students cannot be placed in grades more than one year above or below the target grade for an age group. This means a 12 year old student who may be at a first grade reading level cannot be put in class with students below age 11. To counteract this Istituto No.10 has subject specific labs. Students in need of extra help in certain areas such as English or math are enrolled in a small specialized class separate from the regular flow of curriculum. In labs, the teaching is fit to the student’s pace and the class size is much smaller allowing more room for personalized and effective learning. Guiliana says children who have migrated to Italy are often in need of lab time depending on their level of Italian. Some students know no Italian when they arrive at school which makes everything more difficult for them. Lab are meant to help ease this difficulty and ensure all students are being properly prepared for future.

Guiliana explains classroom demographics are also an important in terms of integration.

Teaching children aged 11-14, each classroom is constructed to have diverse and proportional demographics of students. Foreign students are put in classrooms with native born Italians, and classes attempt to be 50% boys and 50% girls. Students’ nationalities include Pakistani, Afghani, Romanian, Peruvian, Czech, and Chinese among many others. It’s key to normalize this diversity at school, says Guiliana, because often it’s not normalized outside of school.

thirty-four percent of the school’s students are immigrants. With this in mind one of us asks how the teaching of Italian culture and respect of a student’s home culture are balanced. Crucifixes adorn seemingly every room in the school, and the Vatican has sponsored an optional Catholic education program for one hour per week. It’s a hard balance, explain Guiliana, and one that makes communication between staff and students imperative, as well as parent/teacher relationships. It’s clear that Istituto No. 10 has a vested interest in the personal lives of students and uses this relationship to help strike a cultural balance. It seems teachers are encouraged to be aware and use their best judgement in certain instances. Respect for a student’s home culture is a priority among the staff although in cases of violence at home she admits there will be intervention or at least a denunciation of that lifestyle.

In addition to Guiliana we also spoke to the headmaster of the school, Emilio Porcaro, who has begun work with an adult school in the area. He spoke of the past negative media attention place on Istituto No.10. As there’s a high percentage of foreign and immigrant students, there has been past controversy over the nature of the school’s mission and strategy. A portion of the public accused the school of segregating foreign students and creating a “ghetto”class but after an investigation of how the tailored labs were working, the school has become a model for others schools needing to integrate immigrant children.




Meeting Hayat

Meeting Hayat El Youssoufi
On Tuesday afternoon the mosaic group met in the Dickinson Center in the city center to speak with a woman named Hayat, who was the former president of the Consiglio dei Stranieri for the Province of Bologna. When Hayat first came into the room, I addressed her in Arabic by saying, “Marhaba!” which means hello. She seemed genuinely surprised that I addressed her in Arabic. When she came in she was first wearing a scarf around her neck, a crotched [CSCU1] hat and long sleeves. She seemed really happy to be there with us. However when she sat down next to me on the couch, she seemed nervous. We immediately jumped into the interview and she started to describe the council that she used to run.

Hayat is now a 30-year-old Italian citizen. When she was 14 years old, she and her family migrated from Marrakesh, Morocco to Imola, Italy. She graduated from the University of Bologna with a degree in Economics and when she was 21 years old, and she was elected as the President of the Foreign Resident’s Council. During that time, the council consisted of 30 members, 4 women and 26 men. The Consglio dei Stranieri was a council that the Bolognese provincial government created in 2007to give apolitical voice the migrants living within the district and to give their opinion/advice to the regional authorities on migrant issues. When the council was created in 2007, 9,200 people out of 43,000 possible voters who lived in the province of Bologna voted. The voting percentage was 21% and within that 21% number of voters, they were split up by 17% of women voters and 25.2% percent of men voters. On the ballot, there were 275 possible candidates (for more information, please see below for the link to their website).

The council only had the power to advise the Bologna government on what they should do. An example Hayat gave was the topic of Hijab. When France was in the process of implementing laws that the Hijab was banned, Italy too was discussing the issue. She said that due to the Italian people’s perceptions and opinion on what the Hijab is, the council wanted to discuss and bring to light the true meaning and significance about the covering. She said the Hijab was not a form of oppression and degradation. Contrary to popular Italian thought, it was a sign of freedom and confidence. The council decided to advise the Bolognese government that the Hijab should be allowed, however due to security measures, the Council advised that the naqab (the full facing covering) should not be permitted. Other topics that the council discussed were issues on violence against women, discriminatory laws against foreigners, security, and refugee problems. In 2014, the council ended due to the Bolognese provincial government changing its structure.

During the rest of the interview, Hayat provided commentary about the difficulties she faced as a young woman serving as President of the council. Due to her being 21 years old, some of the other members did not treat her like the intellectual woman she was, but instead as a little girl. She stated that she needed to prove herself as a leader and eventually the initially difficult members within the council respected and followed her lead. In addition, she talked a little bit about her family. She spoke very lovingly about how her father truly was the one to push her to do her very best and to run for presidency of the council. In regards to her mother, she mentioned that her mother always encouraged her to not marry young like she did, but instead pursue her education, and have her independence and liberty before she started to think about marriage. Hayat’s mannerism and facial expressions were very loving and happy when she was talking about her parents.

It was a great pleasure to interview this amazing woman. She has done great things not only for her own community, but also for Bologna. There were times within the interview that we would make eye contact and there was this warm and special connection between the two of us. During these times she would give me such a big welcoming smile that would touch the corner of her eyes. I’m really looking forward to working with her next week with the Clothesline project that focuses on gender violence.

Here is the weblink to the city council!

-Nadia N B Hajjar






A Migrants Journey: What Happens in Italy

It is hard to believe that we have already been in Bologna for a week already! The time seems to be flying by as all of our days are packed with interviews and interactions with different people. I can tell that Bologna is starting to feel like home for me and everyone else in the mosaic! Whether it be from finally being able to navigate the Bologna streets, or finding your favorite gelato place (I am pretty sure La Sorbetteria is everyone’s favorite), we are all starting to feel comfortable and fall in love with this beautiful city!



We started off our second week here with an amazing interview with Emi Ferdous who works for the organization Lai-Momo. According to their website ( Lai-Momo is  “a cooperative society that provides services in the field of communication, carries out research and provides technical assistance for development… We possess in-depth knowledge of topics relating to migration, European integration and relations with ACP (Africa, Caribbean and Pacific) countries.” Lai-Momo does various things within the Bologna community and also they publish material related to African culture. In our meeting with Emi we focused on her and Lai-Momo’s work with migrants who come to Italy.

Myself (Hyla), Ralph, Isaiah, Nidia and Maddie, as well as professors Marini-Maio and Borges, all went to interview Emi. We all met up at 2 to take the bus to meet Emi at her apartment. We got there before she did, since she was on her way home from her work at the reception center that Lai-Momo helps run in Sasso Marconi. We all hung outside a caffè next to her apartment building while we waited for her to come home. When she arrived she took all of us up the 5 flights of stairs to make it into her apartment, a trek she makes multiple times a day. She graciously invited all 7 of us into her home and found seats for all of us to sit with her in her living room to talk. The room felt comfortable and warm, you could tell a family lived here. We all appreciated how hospitable she was with us.


We began our interview learning about Emi’s own story as a migrant. She was born in Pakistan, but after the Bangladesh and Pakistan civil war in 1971 it was no longer safe for her and her family to remain in Pakistan since her dad worked for the government and many people had a problem with that. She and her family escaped to Bangladesh when she was about 8 years old. She had a hard time adjusting to the life in Bangladesh, and talked about how it was hard to be Pakistani and live in Bangladesh. She also had to learn Bengali. Her trouble living in a new culture and the language barriers she faced are similar to the problems many of today’s migrants to Italy face.

She grew up in Bangladesh and then in 1993 she migrated to Italy and has lived here in Bologna ever since with her husband and 20 year old daughter. She also faced a number of troubles when she migrated to Italy from Bangladesh. Again she came to a new place where she didn’t know the language or the culture. She also faced issues when it came to having her educational degrees in history, art, and archeology recognized in Italy. It was hard for her to get opportunities in Italy when she first arrived. However, she worked hard to learn the Italian language and got a post-diploma in Italy for mediation and diplomacy. This opened the doors for her to be able to work with migrants through Lai-Momo.


Emi then told us about the process migrants go through once they are received in Italy. It was very interesting to learn about this process. We have spent a lot of time talking about migrants’ journeys, but it was interesting to learn what happens to them once they successfully make it into Italy. Migrants are taken to the first receiving center and three main things happen here. First they go through identification, second they are given a health screening, and lastly they do the C3, which is the formalized request form to ask for asylum. They usually stay at the first receiving center for 4 to 6 weeks. After that they are sent to the 2nd center, the hospitality center, like the one in Sasso Marconi where Emi works. Here they work on their applications for asylum. With the help of legal aids, the asylum seekers write out their story and describe why they need asylum. They stay at this 2nd center for anywhere from 1 year to 16 months depending on how long it takes for their asylum request to be processed. Their asylum request is determined by the commission, which is made up of four members; one from the government body, one from the police, one for the UNHCR, and one from the Ministry of the region. One member of the commission interviews the asylum seekers and then all four members meet to discuss and decide the outcome.

The process of requesting asylum can be a very lengthy process, so in the meantime while the asylum seeker is staying at the hospitality center in Sasso Marconi, there are different opportunities available to them. The first priority of the center is that the (im)migrant learn Italian. Italian classes are given, so they learn the language and can begin looking for a job, which the center also helps them with. The center works to give them the important skills they need to be successful on their own while they are waiting for the outcome of their asylum application. It is crazy to think that someone could spend over a year in Italy learning the language and possibly working just to have their asylum application rejected and then to be deported back to their home country!

Emi described for us her typical day at work.There are two shifts, one from 8 am to 3 pm and the other from 3 pm to 11 pm. There are 5 to 6 people working per shift. She usually works the first shift. Once she arrives at work she helps with receiving the new people to the center. They need to be registered, showered, given a health assessment, medicated if necessary, given food, and then are assigned to a place to stay and are sent to rest. Next from about 9 am to 1 pm she works with the police to fingerprint them, their photos are taken, and id’s are made. Then she has a lunch break from 1 pm to 2:30 pm. After lunch she organizes the tasks for the people coming in to take on the next shift.


Meeting with Emi was a wonderful experience and it gave us a lot of insight into the process of first receiving the migrant, as well as what happens to them as they await the decision of their asylum application. In the end of our talk with her, Emi talked about the idea of how when we make borders, we make problems, and then we want to solve the problems, but in all reality we need a world without borders. With so much talk about stricter border controls, and putting up fences, it was refreshing to hear Emi’s outlook. We all left Emi’s apartment feeling a lot more knowledgeable about Lai-Momo and the work they do, as well as what happens to the immigrant once they make it into Italy and as they await their asylum application decision.



Welcome to Bologna: Macro and Micro Perspectives of Mediterranean Migration

February 21, 2016

“Forget the word ciao.”  This was the advice that Professoressa Clarissa Pagni gave us upon our arrival at the Dickinson Center in Bologna on Monday.  The first, and often only, Italian word that people know is ‘ciao,’ but as Professor Pagni told us during our orientation, what many people don’t realize is that this is the informal way to say hello and should only be used when greeting your peers or children or those you know well.  In most cases, the formal greetings ‘buon giorno’ (good day) and ‘buona sera’ (good evening) are more appropriate and are a sign of respect for people you do not know.

After our orientation, we enjoyed a comprehensive lecture from Professoressa Michela Ceccorulli, a professor at the University of Bologna and the Forum on the Problems of Peace and War (Florence) who also teaches at the Dickinson Center for European Studies in Bologna. Her talk, “The European Union and Migration: from Schengen to the Ongoing Refugee Crises,” outlined the many laws, policies, and agencies involved with migration.

She began with an overview of the European Union, which consists of 28 countries in Europe and the Schengen Area which includes many but not all members of the European Union as well as some non EU members. Under the Schengen Agreement of 1985, citizens of Schengen member states are allowed to move across the internal borders of the Schengen Area without being subjected to border checks. EU members which join the Schengen Area further enhance the rights of their citizens who are already guaranteed the right to work, travel, or live freely in all other European Union countries.




Understanding of the Schengen Agreement and the policies within the European Union is crucial for discussions about migration. Because of the lack of internal border checks within the Schengen Area, many migrants want to arrive in a Schengen state so that they can then travel within this area to work and live. It they are able to get to Italy or Greece or Spain, they then can freely move through or stay in other Schengen countries. Because of on-going economic and political crises in Syria, Libya, and Tunisia (and in other countries in Africa and the Middle East), a large number of migrants are crossing the Mediterranean sea. Currently, Italy and Greece are experiencing disproportionately high numbers of incoming migrants compared to the rest of the countries in the EU.  Professoressa Ceccorulli included the following graphs in her lecture which show the increasing numbers of sea crossings through the central Mediterranean to get to EU borders.



In order to alleviate pressure from the increasing numbers of migrants arriving at the EU’s borders, the EU introduced a border control agency called FRONTEX in 2005. It replaced Operation Mare Nostrum, an Italian governmental initiative which was dedicated to searching and rescuing boats of migrants in the Mediterranean.  Policies and agencies in the EU today are becoming more focused on deterrence rather than humanitarianism.

As she wrapped up the lecture, Professoressa Ceccorulli left us with some open questions about migration that are strongly debated today and that we hope to answer through our research in this mosaic: is there a link between migration and terrorism? Should migrants be integrated into the EU countries and if so, how?  Can the EU use migration as a solution to its aging and changing population? And most importantly, is the refugee crisis and the break up of the Schengen Area a threat to the EU?

Following the lecture that provided a macro overview, we learned more about migration from a grass-roots, micro, humanitarian perspective through an interview with Nago Ka, a Senegalese immigrant who lives in Italy. Today he works as a translator and interpreter for newly arrived migrants, especially unaccompanied minors, who are applying for asylum in Italy. One of the many poignant parts of this interview was when he shared with us that he does not have a TV or a radio because he “wants to think and to open the pathway against one dimensional thinking.” Unfortunately, the media today often portrays stories in a biased and linear way and gets readers and watchers to think too unidimensionally  (Maddie).

Meeting Nago Ka

He stood outside the Dickinson Center gates on via Masala in Bologna, Italy. He was well dressed, which communicated to me that he had established himself in Italy. Nago was an older man with graying edges to his hair. He waited patiently at the gates to be let inside the building. As I approached him he began to smile at me, and as a natural response, I smiled back at him. I was extremely excited because it was our first full day in Italy and I had been hearing about him since the beginning of the semester.  My professors had told me that Nago worked as a translator for migrants seeking asylum in Italy. Additionally, they told me that Nago works as a community activist for migrants and has played an instrumental role in helping immigrants establish safe spaces and cultural institutions to help create a better migrant experience in Italy.


He waked into the Dickinson Center with his hand cocked for a handshake and said “Buona sera. I’m Nago,” He had a firm handshake and he looked me in my eyes. I held his hand tightly and concentrated on looking him in his eyes to express my respect and appreciation for him visiting. Nago strolled confidentially like a person with great purpose. I could tell he was happy to be there and I knew I was about to learn a lot. Nago told me that he didn’t speak English but told me everything had been going well that day. As I led him to the lobby of the Dickinson center where he was met by Professor Borges and Professor Marini-Maio his smile grew even larger as he hugged the two people he was familiar with and they began to discuss the project and what they had planned for today. I focused on providing good hospitality by offering him drinks and snacks. This was extremely important to me because there was a language barrier between us and I wanted to make him as comfortable as possible. However, I realized that he had already made himself comfortable. He was open to everything and  told Professor Marini-Maio he had no problem being recorded, speaking in Italian, getting mic’ed up, etc. I was relieved and no longer felt nervous about the interview.


During the interview Nago captured my intellectual spirit several moments, especially when he said, “I don’t have a TV or radio because I just want to think.” When he said this I thought about how much social media, politics, and blogs attempt to undermine and influence our thoughts to support a certain political party. In a way, it seems as if the people who are in control of the media are trying to program our minds to be monolithic and to accept the news stories that they create. If we allow ourselves to fall into this way of thinking then we will lose our ability to analyze things in a critical manner and from a holistic point of view. It is extremely crucial that we, as citizens, are able to think for ourselves because it allows us to support or protest issues from our own measures of morality. If we were able to achieve this, the world would not be segregated into right and left wing political parties.

Nago’s knowledge on the ways the media and politics affected the identities of migrant communities motivated him to dedicate his time to helping new migrants. He said that he stressed the importance of knowing how to speak the Italian language well to these young African migrants. He said that knowing the language would afford them the respect of the Italian people. This reminded me of how young black men and women are viewed in America as uneducated and inarticulate if they don’t speak proper English. Nago referred to himself as a warrior who has been working to recreate the narrative for African migrants in Italy. He characterized the thought process of many Italians who thought of Africans in a negative light as one-dimensional. Italians who over generalize these African migrants as being thieves, lazy, and criminals miss out on meeting extraordinary people like Nago. However, Nago also acknowledged that African migrants play a role in the existence of these stereotypes. Nago cautioned   new migrants to not do bad things like stealing, no matter how desperate they are.

Nago through his work as translator, community activist, and educator continues to debunk the stereotypes about African migrants in Italy. Nago is a man of wisdom, conviction, and great moral character. Nago is a man whose hard work continues to make a positive impact on his peers who are African migrants, Muslims, and the youth. Nago is the type of man that one wishes to have as a father, uncle, and/or friend (Isaiah)

The purpose of this mosaic is to learn as much of the full story of migration as possible.  We spent one month before we arrived in Italy, reading and writing about the history, perceptions, and reasons behind migration.  I believe that I can speak for my classmates when I say that the amount of work we had caused many late nights in the library, but it expanded the depth and breadth of our knowledge of migration in ways that we could never have thought possible in one month.

As our mosaic begins working in the field in Italy, we are continuing to open our own pathways against one dimensional thinking, whether we are learning about the nuances of Italian greetings or the complex components of migration.  We hope that this blog will reflect the expansion of our knowledge of migration and that you will join us in shedding the one dimensional thinking that surrounds us (Maddie and Isaiah).



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.