When my friend and well-known teacher trainer Carmine Rodi sent me an email asking if I wanted to take an all expenses paid trip to the hills of Italian Umbria for a one-week intensive course on storytelling and social change, I thought he was joking.
“Well obviously I do, but that’s not real,” I had said.
“Of course it is!” He said with his easy Italian lilt.
He sent me a link, and Bob’s your uncle, it was real.
Carmine is a trainer with the Erasmus + program, an EU initiative serving mostly educators, but really anyone interested in professionally developing themselves. This session was entitled Narratives for Social Action, and for one week myself and 15 other education professionals from Wales to Egypt lived summer camp style with each other in an old school building in the quaint village of Sermugnano that has been used for this very purpose for the past 12 years.
Each day was filled with workshops, discussions, and activities relating to narratives and storytelling with the aim of enabling us to better share our messages with our students, and ultimately, the world.
The week started out a bit…different than I expected. Instead of diving straight into discussing the nuances of teaching and the ways in which we disseminate our messages, we talked about Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey. Carmine (who is also a very talented comedian) lead a joke writing workshop. We had a guest speaker—who didn’t speak English—do clowning workshops with us, teasing out the lofty concepts of comedy and tragedy and how they impact us on an emotional level. We played with masks and walked in circles pretending to be ancient Italian women with massive bosoms trying to seduce one another with our eyes.
Where on earth was this going?
Exactly where it needed to.
If the first half of the week was filling the space with chaos, then the second half was honing it. Carmine and his colleagues expertly wove the seemingly haphazard into absolute cohesion. The group took what they learned about archetypes and story structure and applied it to marketing messages in politics, business, and their own lives. It became clear that people all over the world were united in their love of story, and the messages that really stick are the ones that feed that need.
Theory turned into practice and with plenty of time for reflection and personal work, we meditated as groups and individuals on how we can better forward our message to those who could benefit from it most using the ancient art of storytelling. The final day was ours to share our best practices, and being a group of teachers, we had plenty of our own material to fill the hours. The closing ceremony saw emotional speeches about what we’d learned and how we’ve changed.
The work itself was only half of the benefit for me. The real treasure of this program—and any development program—is the people you meet. Never before had I been privileged to spend so much uninterrupted time with brilliant people so passionate about making the world a better place. As a freelancer, I often feel isolated and unsupported, but this week in Italy reminded me that there are others out there ready to help you develop yourself, and in this case, totally for free!
People aren’t meant to work alone, and we need each other in order to grow. The Erasmus+ program understands this fundamental need for cooperation and immersion, and provides a litany of beneficial courses not only for educators. Topics of seminars include soft skills for presenters, keeping yourself healthy in a stressful environment, and youth work, just to name a few. If you decide to come along, you’ll not only learn more than any online module could teach you, you’ll have fun doing it. So, click here to browse the programs, and maybe see you on the next trip! :)