How the dream of moving to Italy turned sour for a family

How the dream of moving to Italy turned sour for a family
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(CNN) – Moving to Italy to start a new life in the sun, surrounded by beautiful scenery, amazing food and a fascinating culture is a dream that many people have come true in recent years thanks to the massive sale of cheap houses.

But the dream of a family from Finland that moved to the Sicilian city of Syracuse came to an abrupt end after just two months, and the reasons why have created a media outcry in Italy.

Elin and Benny Mattsson, a 40-year-old couple with four children ages 15, 14, 6 and 3, decided to leave their new life after realizing that the local schools and education system their children experienced were not up to the task. to your Finnish standards.

They packed their bags in October and moved to Spain.

Elin, a 42-year-old artist from the Finnish town of Borgä, also known as Porvoo, decided to vent her frustration through a open letter published on january 6 in the local online newspaper Syracuse News criticizing school life and teaching strategy, accompanied by a photo of the family happily sightseeing.

She wrote that her children complained about loud and undisciplined local students who “yell and bang on the table,” whistle in class, and spend all day at their desks with little physical activity or outdoor breaks to stimulate learning, and no food options. Teachers look “disdainfully at students” or yell, she said, and have low levels of English proficiency.

Even the kindergarten her youngest son attended wasn’t up to scratch, she said, with no toy cars, climbing objects or sandboxes for children to play in.

‘The real life’

Elin said that she and Benny, a 46-year-old IT manager, were so alarmed by this that they decided to change their plans.

“We moved to Sicily at the beginning of September just to escape the dark winters in Finland. We live in the south and there is not always snow which makes the surroundings brighter,” Elin told CNN Travel via text message.

The family rented a beautiful flat near the vibrant old district of Ortigia, a citadel-like island maze of baroque palaces, sunny squares and ancient churches and a history dating back to ancient Greek times.

“I really fell in love with Ortigia, the fresh food markets, the atmosphere there,” he said. “Ironically, I don’t like the environment when it’s too ‘clean’ and perfect. I’m an artist, so I like to see things ‘behind the scenes’, real life. This is what I saw in Sicily and Syracuse.”

If she had known that the school “was that poor,” she would have chosen another location but would have missed out on Ortigia’s beauty, she says.

“Everyone learns how they live, so I’m sure my children also learned and grew through this experience. I also met some very nice and helpful people there, so I have nothing bad to say about the Sicilian mentality.”

Elin Mattsson argued that the schools in Sicily did not meet her expectations.

Elin Mattsson argued that the schools in Sicily did not meet her expectations.

e55evu/Adobe Stock

The publication of Elin’s letter of complaint has sparked a national debate in Italy, with parents, teachers and academics weighing in on the conversation, mainly in defense of Italian schools.

The issue even reached the lower house of the Italian parliament with Rossano Sasso, former Secretary of State for Education and representative of the Nationalist League party, posting on Facebook in support of Italian teachers.

He said he refused to “take lessons from a Finnish painter” who suggested government reform schools with outdoor breaks and fun playgrounds.

‘Very angry’

Italy’s Education Minister Giuseppe Valditara issued a statement warning against “generalizing off-the-cuff judgments” about Italy’s teachers, while acknowledging the need to improve Italy’s education system.

Elin says she is now trying to water down her published criticism, arguing that the Italian translations of her letter written in Finnish that were published by the Italian media were “angrier” than the original.

“I just wanted to point out very simple measures that could be taken, like fresh air breaks outside,” she says.

“I don’t hate anyone or anything. I just realized my kids didn’t like going there, and that’s the first school they reacted to like that.”

She added that she understands if pupils are supposed to sit all day, but she expected the schools to be, if not similar to those in Finland, then similar to those in Spain, where the family had previously lived.

Elin said the family wants to share what they learned from their time in Sicily as a thoughtful lesson for other foreign families yearning to live the Italian dream, recommending that they seek a quieter, rural school or consider homeschooling.

chaotic traffic

In her original published letter, Erin also criticized the chaotic urban environment in Syracuse and the environmental impact of traffic jams that build up when cars line up to enter Ortigia via a single bridge.

“How is it possible to think that the countless adults who rush to school every morning and every afternoon can be functional?” she wrote. “Is total traffic chaos (and what about the environment) practical for families?”

Elin believes that Italian school authorities should spread awareness of the benefits of children walking to and from school alone to reduce car traffic and encourage pedestrian-friendly urban centers.

“In Finland, children go to school by themselves, they use bicycles or walk, and if they live more than five kilometers from school they can take a taxi or school bus. They eat lunch at school, then go home alone when the school day is over. it’s over.

Elin says her doubts began the day she entered high school to enroll her two oldest children.

“The noise of the classes was so loud that I wondered how the hell it was possible to concentrate,” he writes, saying that students’ heads should not be filled “like sausages with too much learning for underdeveloped brains.”

His words have caused quite a stir in Italy, leading to an online debate about whether the Mattssons are right or wrong, or a bit of both.

According to Giangiacomo Farina, director of the Syracuse News that published Elin’s letter, her comments reflect “cultural differences that have provoked an unwarranted media outcry.

“Simply, the Italian school system is very focused on teaching content and less on teaching structures and outdoor play spaces.”

However, he adds, the teaching of Italian could still learn something from Finnish methods.

expanding knowledge

Farina says her online newspaper saw a spike in internet traffic with more than a million readers in the days after Elin’s open letter.

Many Syracuse families posted comments, with some siding with the Mattssons and agreeing that Italian language instruction needs an update.

The mother of a girl who attended the same class as Elin’s 14-year-old son wrote that the Finnish boy once asked where the shower was after physical education and everyone laughed.

She also frequently complained to her daughter about how backwards Italy was and that things in the country were really bad, she added.

Syracuse-based history and philosophy professor Elio Cappuccio told CNN that Italy’s education is “much richer in content, fields of study and general culture compared to other foreign systems.”

He said: “Our students start at a very young age to learn many things and then continue to expand their knowledge. This opens their minds.”

Pierpaolo Coppa, Syracuse’s education official, said it was “wrong to compare the Italian and Finnish teaching models, which are completely different” and that “two months are not enough to judge an educational system.”

“Some points raised in the letter could be discussed further, but the professional quality of our teachers is of the highest level,” Coppa told CNN.

Top Image: The Mattsson family made their home in Ortigia in Sicily. (Travellaggio/Adobe Stock)

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