Making Erasmus generation feel closer to Sicilian culture - ESN Section in the Spotlight October 2019
The first ESN Section in the Spotlight of this academic year takes us to the capital of Sicily, in the south of Italy. This month, we’re diving into the history and mission of ESN Palermo.
One of the oldest sections of the Italian network, ESN Palermo, was founded in 2001 and its current team of 40 members works to let the Erasmus generation feel closer to Sicilian culture. The magnificent Italian island is famous for its warm welcome, for everyone from all around the world that visits and spends a part of their lives there.
Their team is divided into 7 work teams: Travel, Culture, Social, Communication, Marketing, Sports and Events and each team immediately involves their newbies, giving everyone the chance to be free to express themselves, to share their dreams, opinions and ideas in order to make the section grow. When it comes to choosing which events happen, ESN Palermo works by brainstorming events during several meetings. They always prefer new ideas over events that they have already done, this way they can evolve as a local association.
In one of their innovative events, they let their Erasmus be involved with famous Italian dishes. During “Cooking Classes”, the volunteers gave information about the history of the recipes and its origins, the historical period the recipe was born and spread, popular cultural elements of that time and some way to say it in a Sicilian dialect. This is how they share the ancient history of Palermo through its cuisine. Erasmus can learn to cook a real Neapolitan pizza from popular chefs of the city that teach them secrets of the job. If a popular chef doesn’t do the trick, ESN Palermo invites grandmothers and mothers of its own members to share original recipes of popular dishes like the famous Arancina.
ESN Palermo loves to innovate, and they found a new way of doing a city tour – by doing a game! Their city tours are called “Treasure Hunts”, where they divide the Erasmus into teams, give them a puzzle piece of the map of Palermo and a piece of paper with a riddle to solve. Each team has to move to a different point of the city centre and solve puzzles about the history of monuments, proverbs, words in Sicilian dialect and also interact with locals.
Another incredible event that they organise promotes integration through sports. “Mediterranean Antiracist” is a soccer tournament that involves local associations that work in the fields of immigration and social inclusion, in which the Erasmus team up with African boys that come to Europe on boats in search of a better future. This event is great to share the noble values of sport and the desire to be a part of the fantastic and multicultural city of Palermo, breaking down cultural differences and spending an amazing sunny day in a public garden.
But the biggest and most important event ESN Palermo organises is one that fights the stereotype that Sicily is only known for the Mafia. The mission of the city of Palermo is to tell the world that things are very different than they were 25 years ago. It is not the “Capital of the mafia” but the “Capital of hospitality”. For this reason, they created the “Tour of memory”, a tour of some places in the city that they see every day, ignoring that they are related to the war that honest Sicilian people are fighting against the Mafia. The trekking has stops near plaques, trees, banners and flowers that are significant. Over the years, institutions and citizens have decided to put up symbols in the streets to remember the places of birth or places of murder of the heroes of Palermo, remembering that the city does not give up on the fight against crime.
The event usually has an attendance of around 40 people, always curious to know more about the history of the city.
ESN Palermo invites local students and institutions to their official events, and they organise events during the year, with student and youth associations, that promote mobility and active citizenship. Something very peculiar about ESN Palermo is that each Erasmus doesn’t have only one local buddy. Instead, based on each nationality, spoken language and field of studies, the Erasmus are placed in “buddy families”, where each family has 3-5 ESN volunteers. This helps the integration of the Erasmus students; it makes it easier to meet new people and it also makes the process of answering any question the Erasmus can have faster.
In May of 2019, ESN Palermo hosted the CNR, where they aimed to show the great culture of the Italian city with tours, conferences with local institutions and typical meals such as risotto, pizza, arancine, baked pasta, rotisserie, cheese, organic honey and locally produced jams. At the end of the CNR, ESN Palermo hosted a gala dinner in the ancient villa Niscemi, at the mayor’s house, that is usually closed to the public and is only used for official ceremonies. The mayor opened the 18th century building in person and free of charge, to thank the representatives of all the European sections for having given the confidence to its city by approving the candidacy of ESN Palermo.
This Italian section builds a special relationship with their Erasmus students, making them feel at home while far away from home and making sure that they are part of the culture of the city. ESN Palermo works to create the identity of a European citizen and a citizen of the world. Their secret? The warm Sicilian welcome spirit of its volunteers reserved for their amazing Erasmus.
Starting my path as a volunteer in the network, I was more than thrilled to discover that ESN does not only stand for parties and drinks. In fact, it is so much more.