John Cabot University’s community-based reading and cultural exchange program between JCU and Italian high schools Italy Reads began in 2009 thanks to a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts for The Big Read Rome.
The program’s success resulted in a fully JCU-sponsored expansion of this American cultural exchange program into the wider Italian high school community, now known as Italy Reads. The program extends to 40 Italian public and international high schools and Italy Reads participants include over 100 English teachers and students.
Each year Italy Reads volunteers read the selected book for the semester (with The Great Gatsby as last year’s novel). John Cabot volunteers take an obligatory, yet brief, online training course on the book, attend training sessions, and ultimately receive their school and class assignments. Most students volunteer in Roman high schools, but some travel to high schools in Naples as well.
Volunteers help the teachers and students understand the plot, theme, tone, etc. Although the volunteer’s job is to teach the class about the book, Italian students usually find some extra time to ask volunteers about life in America and get to know the JCU students on a peer to peer level.
This program is not strictly for degree seeking students. John Cabot encourages its visiting students to join Italy Reads to enhance their cultural experience while living in Rome. Visiting students can become more immersed into the Italian culture and learn about the Italian school system. Each volunteer receives a certificate of participation after sucessfully completing a semester of service with Italy Reads. Not only will a visiting student return to the United States with a better cultural understanding of life in Italy, but he or she will also leave with a unique experience to include on his or her resume.