Study abroad students generally take on one of two roles. On one hand, they become cultural sponges, absorbing the language and life of their adopted city. On the other, some hold onto their home culture so obstinately they become essentially four-month tourists. Students at Syracuse University in Florence, however, have become involved in a another alternative. In conjunction with the Teatro del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino and the Meyer Children’s Hospital of Florence, Syracuse has created an opportunity for a mutual cultural enrichment through an ‘exhange of fairytales’.
Based around the story of Snow White, or Biancaneve, the project includes classroom visits, lectures on childhood development, community service, and it culminates with the realization of Snow White as an opera. Based on the telling by the brothers Grimm, both music and libretto are by Italian-American composer Luigi Zaninelli .
Syracuse students, led by professor Vittoria Tettamanti-Harley, have spearheaded an effort to bring ‘Operation: Do You Speak English?’ to local elementary schools. This aspect of the project, using the didactic approach developed by Tettamanti-Harley in conjunction with the volunteers, aims to encourage familiarity with the story for students in kindergarten through sixth grade via vocabulary exercises, storyboard images and active participation. Tettamanti-Harley began the project last year with a similar presentation of Maurice Sendak’s ‘Where the Wild Things Are,’ based on a concept of cultural exchange championed by Syracuse faculty member Lisa Friend. In the words of Tettamanti-Harley, ‘The idea is that our students work together in order to leave something behind, not only to take from this experience but also to give something back’.