Last week, I went to Naples for an ERASMUS staff exchange with our latest Italian partner, the University of Naples “L’Orientale.” Following a visit from Professor Anna Maria Cimitile, a colleague from Naples who gave an inspiring series of lectures and seminars here at LJMU last March, my stay concluded the first year of this fantastic partnership. Teaching in Naples for a week has been a highly enjoyable and invaluable experience, which I recommend to both staff and students in English and LJMU more widely.
Naples is one of Italy’s most beautiful cities, a ‘porous’ city where, philosopher Walter Benjamin famously wrote, you can experience ‘a stretching of frontiers that mirrors the most radiant freedom of thought.’ Situated in the heart of the Mediterranean sea, it offers a vast array of historic and artistic milestones, from ancient archaeological sites to music and performing arts festivals, a thriving theatre scene, and the breathtaking landscape of the Amalfi Coast and the isles. It is a vibrant, lively, bohemian place, where you can stay up late enjoying the bustling outdoor nightlife thanks to the warm climate. Apart from being the place where modern pizza was invented, in Naples you can taste a wide range of amazing Italian dishes and attend cultural events of all sorts. Our partner institution is one of the oldest universities in Europe: founded in 1732, “L’Orientale” was one of the first institutions in Europe to offer degrees in foreign languages including Chinese and Arabic. Their English Department has its main site in the city centre, in a historic building near the Duomo. You can see Roman ruins from the corridor windows and feel the proximity of the so-called ‘Spaccanapoli,’ renowned for its characteristic bars, restaurants and bookshops: a real ‘Napoli splitter’ traversing the beating heart of historic city centre.
The Department of English at “L’Orientale” is a welcoming environment, where you can easily feel at home. Anna Maria Cimitile was greatly helpful and all the students I met showed their enthusiasm and interest for the proposed teaching materials. As part of my ERASMUS exchange, I delivered three sessions of a course in postcolonial literature and gave a guest lecture on their doctoral programme, in which I presented my current research. Teaching in a different setting is an immensely rewarding experience: I had to engage with different teaching methods and interact with students from a different educational system. In Italy, English is taught alongside other ‘modern languages’ within a comparative literature research culture. This means that students taking English literature courses may also be studying all sorts of different subjects, from German, Swedish and French literature to cultural anthropology. The learning interests and background of students can greatly vary and may pose different challenges. This allowed me to reflect critically on the core values and approaches that inspire my teaching at home, making my pedagogy better and more thorough. This is, in the end, the real value of the ERASMUS exchange for staff: being out of your familiar context, you need to reframe your attitude to teaching, re-negotiating what you usually take for granted in your everyday work. Indeed, this made me realise that international mobility is vital to a more self-critical and socially conscious pedagogy. Teaching this way helps you come back home with a much stronger sense of the value of working for a diverse, international, cosmopolitan teaching environment.
My experience in Naples made me think of a renowned maxim of 12-century theologian Hugo of Saint Victor, often quoted by critic Edward Said: ‘The man who finds his homeland sweet is still a tender beginner; he to whom every soil is as his native one is already strong; but he is perfect to whom the entire world is as a foreign land.’ Not only does being abroad require you to try to make the unfamiliar setting more ‘familiar.’ More radically, it works back on your everyday teaching ‘at home,’ which can be deeply transformed by distance. Indeed, teaching as if the entire world were a ‘foreign land’ is the most inspiring and precious thing that can be learned from international mobility programmes.
To find out more about ERAMUS exchange possibilities in Naples and across Europe next year, please get in touch.