Welcome to a new Global blogger

Published on 5th March, 2010 in Global Bloggers by Leah Kaplan

We’d like to welcome our newest Global blogger to the site, and we’ll let her introduce herself…

English alla Bolognese: Leah’s adventures in EFL teaching

leahI came to Bologna as a university student on a semester abroad and fell in love. I fell in love with my Bolognese husband, but also with the medieval center and its miles and miles of red and orange porticos that protect you from the intense summer sun and the incessant winter rain. It was a dream for a girl from the monotonous rows of cookie cutter houses of the suburbs of Chicago. I went to schools that looked just like the ones on the American TV shows broadcast throughout the world, and grew up eating hamburgers and Cornflakes crusted chicken and playing soccer on primly cut spring green fields. Don’t get me wrong, it was a great childhood, but perhaps it also explains the appeal of living in Italy for a culture vulture like myself. Now I step out my door to the graffiti written by the partisans celebrating Fascism’s fall on the side of my house.

Out in the countryside, far from the Bologna city glamour, a couple of years ago I started teaching English in a little school in the oddest of places: an industrial zone between Bologna and Calderara di Reno. Calderara di Reno is located in the Emilian Motor Belt, where Lamborghini, Maserati, Ducati and Ferrari were born. It’s a sleepy little town of the “bassa” or the Northern Italian plains and it’s a good place to go if you’re looking for little old ladies that make heavenly tortellini while chatting in Bolognese dialect. And I know my tortellini: teaching English was initially a way for me to pay the bills while I got my Masters in History and Culture of Food at the University of Bologna.

Barbara, my punk-chic Dr. Martens wearing, multiple piercing sporting boss, has the chutzpah of the dear Little Engine That Could. Although in many places language learning has been turned into a business where profits and ritzy locations often count more than actual learning, she is keeping the flame of culture alive in this most unlikely of places. I get her: in the end, in many ways, my Chicago suburb isn’t so different from Calderara. In Bologna, you have the Europe’s oldest University churning out erudite graduates; in Calderara you have factories churning out car parts (albeit very fancy and expensive ones). Barbara’s enthusiasm and dedication to her students, despite swimming upstream against a river of shopping centers and Big Brother reality shows, sold me from the get-go. We teach the whole gamut of language learners: companies, adults and kids both big and small. The kids present a unique challenge as we spend a lot of time “cleaning up” after the messy education reform that has left language teaching in the Italian public schools with a multitude of gaping holes.

Thanks to the hundreds of hours of conversation I log with my students, many of them involved in some way in the car industry, I’ve had the rare privilege of seeing what lies behind the glossy photos of olive trees and fields of sunflowers. Bologna’s a pretty good place to do that, and the school that I work at even better. Each year I uncover new layers of what it means to live in Italy and in Europe that go far beyond Lonely Planet dreaming.

Stick around, maybe there’ll be more than just a recipe for Bolognese sauce in it for you


  • Keep this blog coming. Love it.

    Anne Kaplan on 5 March, 2010
  • Oh Leah, Oh Calderara di Reno,lucky you are to live and work there. As members of the European Educational Publishing Group,we used to meet in Calderara di Reno. A lovely place,with blossoming cherry trees, enthusiastic publishers rushing for the Book Fair and never-ending talks into the night. That was my first experience with the ‘Global English.’

    Mihaly Benedek on 7 March, 2010
  • I love Bologna, Leah, and am enjoying your posts. Hope to meet you someday!

    Amy Jost on 15 March, 2010
  • Thanks! I’m enjoying yours as well…can’t wait to see what the global bloggers still to come will write.

    Leah Kaplan on 16 March, 2010