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OISE students engage in intercultural dialogue and critical democracy studies in Italy

By Sabrina Persaud

July 20, 2012


Students in Verona

Back: Mark Botnick, Marni Stoch, Ambeika Sukhram, Sabrina Persaud, Nicole Kotyk, Mandy Deans, Abinath Brodie, Carla D'Elia
Front: Asif Majid, Caterina Foppapedretti, Donna Kowalchuk, Marta Milani, John Portelli, Agostino Portera, Christy Guthrie, Rita Betro,
Kaitlin Hewitt-White, Naushaad Suliman, Doron Hassidim


The Centre for Intercultural Studies at the University of Verona welcomed 14 graduate students from the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education for 10 days in early July. The goal of the trip was to engage in a course of intercultural dialogue and critical democracy in education, with OISE's John Portelli, Academic Director of Graduate Programs and Co-Director of the Centre for Leadership and Diversity, and Agostino Portera, a professor at the University of Verona.

A cross-section of students from six of OISE's diverse programs immersed themselves in  intercultural dialogue with counterparts from the University of Verona, and engaged in learning experiences outside the classroom.  “I really think that this opportunity is one of a kind.  It offers students an intercultural experience in an unfamiliar environment and challenges, teaches, and engages us in unique context,”noted William Waters Scholarship recipient Ambeika Sukhram.

“This course is taught by two professors who are from two different continents, who agree on certain conceptions but offer different perspectives," John Portelli explained. Currently in its second year, the course is planned, taught and evaluated by Professor Portelli and Professor Portera, allowing students to learn from the experiences and expertise of these two highly recognized and respected scholars. In the course, students explored a wide range of issues, including LGBTQ student organizations in Catholic schools, how immigration policies affect Roma refugee students, symbolic violence through graffiti in schools and systemic barriers affecting Aboriginal students, among many others.

Throughout the time in Verona, the class engaged with studies in theory and practice, visiting schools to observe and learn from students in elementary and secondary schools learning both English and Italian and taught by volunteer teachers who work for a non-for-profit organization. The students in both schools had immigrated from several countries and were being introduced to the languages that would help them integrate more successfully into the Italian educational systems and society.  OISE students praised the school visits as a chance to observe the application of theory to practice and engage with students of diverse backgrounds and experiences in an international setting.