Have you every visited a place or met a person and just known that they would always be a part of your life? That is how I felt the first time I spoke to Nicola Schroeder and the first time I visited Alghero, Sardegna. Nicola and Angela Canessa are the founders of what I think is the best Italian Language school for foreigners, Alghero’s Centro Mediterraneo Pintadera. Over the years, Jack and I have enriched our language skills and cultural acumen by spending time in Alghero and studying at Pintadera. Knowing Nicola for years, I was taken aback by our recent phone call. The school was in trouble – big trouble – caused by the pandemic. No tourists equals no income from anywhere. During the pandemic, unlike bars and other businesses, Italian Language Schools are not eligible for any government assistance. That means all the teachers, administrators and support staff are not bringing in any money. Nicola was literally my first friend in Italy – literally my first friend and one I value – I would hate to see the school she worked so hard to build close.
Ever the organizer, Nicola has connected with other language schools throughout Italy to develop a collective lobbying effort and organization – Scuole LICET (Lingua Italiana, Cultura e Turismo). What follows is that story, generously shared with us by Nicola Schroeder.
During the spring of 2020, in the middle of Italy’s total lockdown, we (Pintadera) received a phone call from Roberto Tartaglione, a prominent figure in the field of Italian language teaching, author of significant and innovative textbooks, and decades ago the founder of an important school in Rome. Angela and I were delighted and flattered that such an important person was even calling our little modest language institution out in the boonies of remote Sardinia! He laid out his concerns for the future of Italian language schools. I remember him saying that we would be lucky if we got back to operating in the summer of 2021. At the time, it was probably end of April, we were convinced this would all be over by the time summer started. Little did we know…
In order to get the government’s attention as to our importance in the country, it was Roberto’s idea to join forces – us, Italian language schools up and down the Italian peninsula and on its islands. I embraced the idea and got other Sardinian schools involved.
Italian language schools for foreigners are active promoters of Italian culture and language, those that come to Italy to attend one of our courses are the same people that visit our museums, our archeological sites, they rent cars, go to restaurants, stay in hotels or flats, they spend money! Yet, we, Italian language schools, promoters of tourism and the “italia” brand worldwide are not recognized by the government. Our category has not received government funding, despite having been shut down in early March.
Unfortunately, so far there are no real fully documented statistics on Italian language schools in Italy. We think there are about 200. I was in charge of researching and doing excel sheets of all the schools in Italy, region by region. There’s an association called ASILS which groups 43 of the older and larger schools, those that were set up in 80’s and early 90’s. LICET includes we smaller schools dispersed all over Italy, those that sprouted as the low-cost airlines started bringing foreigners to the smaller towns. We’re 50 schools now with an average of 350 students a year each, who stay on average 2 weeks. Official calculation by ASILS says that each student spends 1800€ in Italy including course fees. So, let’s say there are 200 schools and they average 200 students per year who each spends 1800€… that makes €72,000,000 in expenditure in Italy by Italian language students, It’s probably more, or was more.
ASILS schools claim their turnover is 75-95% less this year than last. LICET Schools are about 70% less. I think in general the larger schools are more desperate than us peewees. The big Italian language schools had lucrative agreements with American colleges and loads of Chinese students. These all disappeared overnight. I remember when President Trump pulled American students out of Europe, sometime in March, I was on the phone with my friend from Florence and she said that 24,000 Americans left Florence over one weekend and that would mean the city’s end, so much had they become dependent on the U.S. student income.
LICET’s objective is to be recognized by the government, not only as Italian language schools but also as the promoters of tourism that we are, and receive subsidies to be able to survive. And we want to offer our expertise and contacts to continue to promote Italy, its language, culture and heritage. We would like to be part of the recovery plan.
Thank you Nicola for the update. The group has been working diligently to address the issue and be heard by the appropriate government agency – Ministero per i beni e le attività Culturali e per il Turismo. Here is an earlier article from the Italian daily paper – LA Repubblica. What follows is a translation of the crux of the story –
For this reason, the newly formed LICET association addresses the Ministero Beni Architettonici Cultura e Turismo directly, asking not only for support, but proposing a collaboration: “Our activities, scattered throughout the national territory, in large cities or small centers, are two hundred magnets capable of attracting foreigners and giving a strong impulse to the relaunch of that important tourism that is talked about so much in the country’s plans for rebirth. – concludes Roberto Tartaglione – Each school has mailing lists, contacts, small propaganda machines capable of enticing foreigners to return to Italy; every school has been doing this for years, just to develop its own business. Today is the time to do it all together to relaunch a market beyond individual interest.”
Call to action – First – like the LICET Facebook page. Then, why not send an email to the person who is in charge of the Ministry of Culture’s Facebook page – after you send a Facebook Message! Let the Ministero per i beni e le attività Culturali e per il Turismo know if you came to Italy to study at a school and how the schools help promote tourists. Let us put on our advocacy hats and help the language schools get some government help. The Ministry’s Twitter handle is #MiBACT. I am tweeting that they need to help the schools and you can too. Check out their website and send a letter. This is my idea not Nicola’s. I’m from New Jersey we leap into the fray.
Making plans for 2021 or 2022? Besides coming to visit me and Cooking in the Kitchens of Pontelandolfo, enhance your visit by studying Italian at Centro Meditteraneo Pintadera.