Throughout the fall and spring semesters at FSU Florence I had the opportunity to volunteer at Montedomini. Montedomini is a senior center in Florence, where I was able to go speak with the residents, help them with crafts and activities, and just help out around the room. My volunteer opportunity was probably one of the most rewarding experiences I had while abroad. Seeing all of their smiling faces and learning about their stories taught me so much. I was a little nervous about not being able to speak the Italian language at first, however volunteering at Montedomini improved my Italian so much and everyone was willing to help. Every Tuesday and Thursday at 10am I would take a short walk behind Santa Croce to Montedomini, and volunteer until my class started at 12:45. Although it meant waking up earlier, I absolutely loved my volunteer experience. I would 100% recommend any student traveling to Florence to take part in volunteer efforts no matter what center you choose. Don’t be afraid to jump in, as these experiences and memories will last a lifetime.
Going into studying abroad I was on the lookout for unique opportunities where I could immerse myself into Florentine culture. I was so excited to learn about the handful of volunteer opportunities that FSU Florence had to offer. I immediately signed up for weekly visits to San Paolino’s Immigration Center. As an international affairs student I have always been passionate about the immigration experience and human rights so this opportunity really sparked my interest. My weekly meetings consisted of spending time with the children of immigrant families. The parents, often busy or exhausted after spending a day finding work or getting things in order for their new life in Italy, had little energy to play with their kids before dinner. That is where I and the other volunteers came in. We organized group activities and games for the kids living in the immigration center, trying to promote learning and teamwork. These kids were so great- I looked forward to seeing them every week. You start to form friendships and bonds with the kids pretty quickly which surprised me because there was a pretty tough language barrier to overcome. We relied on google translate and hand gestures to communicate most of the time but this just encouraged us to communicate through different mediums like a shared interest in learning Tik Tok dances or playing hide and seek. By the end of each visit the kids were pulling on your sleeves and giving you hugs asking when is the next time you will be back to play again.
Everyone that worked at San Paolino’s was so welcoming and kind to us. I am very grateful for them as they helped us in the beginning to get comfortable in a new setting surrounded by people whose language we didn’t speak. I truly valued my time at San Paolino’s and am disappointed that my time in Florence was cut short. I think any volunteer experience offered through the FSU program provides such a unique, once in a lifetime opportunity to experience a different part of a foreign culture. There truly is nothing like connecting with someone beyond the convention of language. To anyone that is considering volunteering at San Paolino’s, I urge them to do so with an open mind. There is so much to gain and learn from the workers and the kids there.
I worked with the children at San Paolino. My time there as a volunteer affected me greatly, mostly in ways I did not expect. The most important thing I learned was that not every day will be life-changing; there will be times when you're tired and times when the children don't even seem to want to play with you. But then you look up, suddenly it's over, and you will realize that all of those days added up to a life-changing experience. For me, volunteering at San Paolino was a way to discover Florence beyond just the Duomo or the food; I met people I never would have encountered otherwise, and learned how to interact with others across linguistic and cultural barriers. The parents will tell you stories about where they come from and the places they've been, and once the kids warm up to you, you'll be exhausted from too many piggy-back rides. Not to mention you will quickly learn how to get by only knowing about 10 words of Italian. Each of my shifts lasted 1.5 hours, and myself and the other volunteers would color, dance, make masks, or play hide-and-seek with the kids. Then, when the day was over, I would walk back to my apartment and pass through Piazza della Repubblica where, without fail, there was always a crowd of people surrounding a musician. I remember that I always felt happy on this walk home, even if my shift wasn't the most exciting -- I was just happy because spending time at San Paolino was like spending time with a huge family. There were groups of parents laughing, two kids arguing over a toy, the employees planning an event, someone leaving and someone arriving, and the volunteers got to be there for all of it. The people there know each other so well, and they come to know you, too. And I can promise that when you leave San Paolino, whether just after your shift or for the last time, you will feel infinitely connected to the city of Florence.
I volunteered in both Teatro Puccini and Casa San Paolino. Volunteering at the Teatro Puccini was enlightening. I was to see how all of the components of the theatre worked. Instead volunteering with San Paolino has really stuck with me and changed my perspective on people.
I had to plan ahead for all of my classes and I needed to be free on weekends. Volunteering at San Paolino was the perfect end of the night and it went well with my schedule.
Volunteering at both places I would typically have my school day then I would have some time for work then go straight to volunteering. After San Paolino I would go directly to soccer and then home. I carried everything around those days but it was great! Volunteering at Teatro Puccini took up a little more time as I was out from 6pm-1am.
For San Paolino always have several things planned for the kids. It always works out better that way. Also, they love music, dancing and coloring. For Teatro Puccini I would recommend someone to study Italian and know it at a decent level to pursue this volunteer option.
I volunteered at San Paolino once a week while I was studying in Florence during the Fall 2019 semester. It was not an easy volunteer experience. At San Paolino there are families with kids from all walks of life in difficult circumstances. When I first started volunteering I had a very difficult time communicating with the kids. I speak Spanish and have heard Italian before that point but I did not have the vocabulary to talk to them and play games with them. Over time I researched more words, connected more and built better bonds with the kids. The girls I volunteered with and I realized that we needed to get creative because they don’t have many toys or activities for the kids. We started printing out coloring sheets at school and buying markers and bringing them to volunteer with us. However, the kids are super active so we brought one of our speakers and played freeze dance. Volunteering while studying in Florence is a great idea. It gets you out of the FSU circle and gives you an opportunity to connect with the real community of Florence. The language barrier is the hardest in the beginning but if you make an effort to learn new words on your own time and try to talk as much as you can even if you make a fool of yourself it will get better. I remember one time talking to one of the older girls and she told me that in the two months I had been there I spoke more Italian to her and the other kids than many of the other American volunteers that had already volunteered for an entire year.
It is true some days you are tired, sick, want to hang out with your friends, or study instead of volunteering. But when you walk in through the doors of San Paolino it’s a very grounding experience. Studying abroad is a huge privilege and you can get trapped in the loop of complaining about homework, or expensive flights, or mishaps while traveling and I think it’s nice to try to give back to a city that is so welcoming to you as a student. Overall to anyone that is considering volunteering but is not sure I would say; do it. You won’t regret it.
Here in Florence I volunteered with two different organizations: MyTata and the Montedomini Senior Center. MyTata means babysitter in Italian which fits perfectly as the organization is focused on teachjng English through games and activities to local children. Here I worked with the local youth as they learned to speak my native language. We normally made arts and crafts and sang songs together, trying to constantly encourage them to say as many words as possible.
This is a wonderful opportunity for students who know little Italian because the women who run the organization encourage participants to solely speak English, so the children are expose to the language as much as possible to learn. I enjoyed working with them and would recommend this opportunity to anyone looking to work with great people and interact with wonderful children of all ages.
The second place I volunteered for was Mondedomini, a local senior center. Here I interacted with senior community members through various games and activities. The goal here is to keep the center’s members engaged by asking question or though small physical activities. The people who attend and run this center are very kind and welcoming. I would recommend this volunteer opportunity to students who want to practice their Italian skills in a real-life setting, and to students who may enjoy learning from the older generations in Italy. The seniors here will even help you learn their language, like when they taught me hot wo count in Italian. In exchange for their guidance, I had a chance to teach them how to count in English. Both volunteering locations are near the study center, and the commute is an easy walk. Overall, both volunteer organizations host great opportunities for students to get more involved with the community around them. You het to meet new people and discover new parts of the city. For future students who are interested, this could open doors for chances to form relationships and develop job skills for the future.
-Stephanie Kindos in: Italianoles, the Art of Inclusivity (2019)
While the point of my service was to teach English, I have found myself speaking and understanding more Italian thanks to the MyTata community. They do not hesitate to explain Italian phrases to me, and they told me to always ask for help whenever I need it. Sometimes, I am still unsure of where a station is or which bus is the best option, so I ask in Italian, and even if it is not the best Italian, it’s been the best way to leave my American shell, so easy and comfortable while studying abroad. Between cutting out images of family members and having a child run up to show me his toilet-paper-rollcotton-ball-hair Grandpa he made, I am beyond grateful for the experience MyTata has given me. Not only do I feel more comfortable commuting through a city much larger than I knew, but I have integrated into a community of like-minded individuals who find tremendous joy in the innocent wonders of children and their eagerness to learn.
-Martha Hadley in: Italianoles, the Art of Inclusivity (2019)