The curiosity of meeting new people and sharing knowledge with young minds, combined with her desire to visit the land that her paternal grandparents were born led Gail Licciardello, a retired Occupational Therapy Professor from Maine to serve with Global Volunteers in Sicily, Italy. In this blog post, Gail generously shares her reflections on the cultural lessons learned and the profound impact of teaching conversational English.
Volunteering becomes a transformative portal to cultural immersion, a sentiment profoundly echoed in Gail’s Sicilian volunteer experience with Global Volunteers. Beyond the picturesque landscapes and historical landmarks, the heart of any culture lies in its people, and engaging in volunteer work offers an unparalleled opportunity to connect with a community on a personal level. Gail’s volunteer experience in Sicily allowed her to witness daily life and share genuine moments with local people that textbooks and tourist guides might overlook. The essence of cultural immersion through volunteering lies in the reciprocal exchange – as volunteers contribute their time and skills, they receive the invaluable gift of authentic insights, forging meaningful connections that transcend language barriers and geographical boundaries. Gail’s journey serves as a testament to the profound impact of cultural immersion through service, where shared aspirations, laughter, and a mutual understanding of humanity create a tapestry of experiences that linger long after the volunteering journey concludes. “There are so many reasons I like to serve. I enjoy meeting new people and observing other cultures. I also like engaging with young people and sharing my knowledge,” Gail states. Back in Maine, Gail delivers Meals on Wheels and serves as a docent at an estuary/nature reserve, showcasing her commitment to service and community engagement. Embodying the spirit that would eventually lead her to volunteer abroad with Global Volunteers in Sicily, Italy.
Gail’s service assignment in Sicily focused on practicing conversational English with elementary school students. Her four-hour daily interactions with teachers and students provided a deep understanding of life in a small Sicilian city aspiring to improve its economy. She explains, “The primary focus of this service assignment was to practice conversational English with elementary school students. I worked in the schools for four hours each day, interacted with teachers and students and came away with a sense of what life was like in a small Sicilian city that is looking to improve its economy.”
Gail emphasizes the significance of going beyond tourist attractions and interacting on a personal level to truly experience a place. Her insights reflect the essence of her belief that meaningful connections with local communities enhance the travel experience. “Every morning, I would take the 10-minute walk to my school and observe Sicilians going about their business. Driving on those narrow streets, gathering with friends on the corners, stopping at cafés for a morning treat. Then arriving at school, seeing the children full of energy and excitement, especially around this American, who had come to their city made for a memorable experience,” Gail recalls and continues, “At the end of each day at school I would watch as the students lined up to leave school and enthusiastically greet their parents, who were obviously also very happy to see their children.”
A memorable and emotional memory for Gail was when the student surprised her with singing, John Lennon’s song, All We are Saying is Give Peace a Chance. “Tears welled up in my eyes.” Gail says. The sincerity and innocence of a group of 10–11-year-old children singing these powerful lyrics in a language not native to them stirred deep emotions within Gail, and reflects, “It is hard not to think about the chances and hopes for peace across this world. I hope that the “adults” in this world will listen to children such as those I met in Castelvetrano and grant their simple request.” Gail also shares the unforgettable last day at school, where each student made a card for her. She then took photos with each student, stating, “These touching moments made this experience unforgettable.”
Volunteering provides a unique avenue for cultural immersion, offering individuals the opportunity to engage with and understand a community from the inside. “Seeing more than just tourist attractions and interacting with others on a meaningful personal level are a great way to travel and experience the world,” Gail emphasizes, and advocates for a deeper, more enriching experience beyond the confines of traditional tourist attractions.
“Seeing more than just tourist attractions and interacting with others on a meaningful personal level are a great way to travel and experience the world.”Gail Licciardello
In the realm of travel, embracing experiences beyond the conventional tourist attractions can elevate one’s journey to a profound and enriching level. The essence of exploration lies in the meaningful connections forged by interacting with others on a personal level. The conventional tourist path often provides a superficial glance at a destination, but to truly experience the world, engaging with the local community on a deeper, more personal level is key. By immersing in the daily lives of the people, participating in genuine conversations, and becoming a part of the community’s rhythms, volunteers can uncover the authentic nuances and immerse in the culture.
Gail provides insightful perspectives on the Sicilian way of life, “Sicilians are friendly, helpful, love food and love to talk about food. It is obvious that family is very important to Sicilians.” Sicilian culture is a captivating tapestry woven with warmth, friendliness, and a deep appreciation for life’s simple pleasures. Sicilians are renowned for their friendly and hospitable nature, readily welcoming strangers into their midst with open arms. At the heart of their identity is an unwavering love for food, with Sicilian cuisine being a testament to the island’s rich cultural history. Family holds a paramount significance in Sicilian life, evident in the strong bonds that tie generations together. The lively and animated conversations that echo through the narrow streets and vibrant piazzas reflect not only a passion for communication but also a genuine interest in connecting with others. Sicily’s cultural richness is further illuminated by its picturesque landscapes, historical landmarks, and a palpable sense of community that permeates daily life. “I had the opportunity to explore the city and surrounding communities, with tours that highlighted businesses in the area as well as typical tourist attractions,” Gail says. Whether gathered around a table filled with delectable dishes or engaged in spirited conversations, Sicilians embody a harmonious blend of tradition, warmth, and an enduring zest for life that leaves an indelible impression on those fortunate enough to experience it firsthand.
“Sicilians are friendly, helpful, love food and love to talk about food. It is obvious that family is very important to Sicilians.”Gail Licciardello
Giovanni, Global Volunteers Italy Team Leader was an embodiment of the cross-cultural connections that are a hallmark of Gail’s service journey, “Giovanni started the team off with setting goals and expectations, setting a good tone for a cohesive, productive group. He gave a lot of his time to the volunteers, showing us his city, and his love for the city with both its strengths and challenges. He invited us into his home where we met his grandmother, wife, and young daughter. He is such a good ambassador not only for Castelvetrano, but also for Global Volunteers.”
Gail describes her volunteer experience with Global Volunteers in Italy as profound and unlike any other travel adventure. She says, “I have traveled a fair amount in the past, but this experience was like no other travel adventure I have had. Teaching conversational English to elementary school children was a joy.”