In which we admit that our situation has changed

by Laura A

“But in your case, Article 18, letter Z on the regulations on fishing for indigenous shrimp doesn’t apply, but rather Article 105b, CPV.6, letter C of the ordinance…”

I don’t know where this cartoon came from, but it seemed to fit the spirit of this post. Amazingly, the law exists!


Before we left, I mentioned that we had some decisions coming up.  As you might guess, they had to do with bureaucracy.  In order to be considered for universities in Europe, Sarie will be going to school.

When we first looked into the European diploma hurdle, it looked surmountable.  European high schools have five years as compared to the US’s four, but the Italian Ministry of Education’s (MIUR’s) website says you can enter an Italian university with one year of college and 4 APs.  Some Italians had told me that online college was okay.

Other European countries’ requirements don’t have the year of college requirement, only a diploma and some decent AP scores.  Admittedly, Germany doesn’t accept the GED, but there might be other options, like an online diploma certification program.  We figured that once we settled in, we’d figure out the details.

But by the end of last year, we still had no solid information. Finally, we were able to set up a series of meetings with educational bodies in Italy.  One was with the conservatory Sarie attends. Everyone thought that the conservatory had discretion in admitting and graduating students to/from their university-level program. The conservatory’s director had said, “Bring us what you have. We’ll see what we can do.”  The Italian Consulate in New York thought the GED was fine.  The only problem was that we couldn’t get anyone to tell us exactly what it was we needed to do to get Sarie’s education certified. Instead, they’d pass the buck.

The meeting with the conservatory director, which started over an hour late and was in Italian, followed a protocol that, to an American, would seem like a ceremony.  It adhered to a formula: a long and polite preamble, the petition, and the response.  When we finally got to the response after another hour of talking, I got three points only:  The conservatory could do nothing without a certain stamped piece of paper, it had to come from the Ministry of Education, and the director didn’t recommend going there.

Why?  That was the one part which, having looked for information all year, I understood: If you went to MIUR, you’d get four different contradictory answers. Besides which, I’d already had a friend make a clandestine call to someone she knew there, who had told her that Italian high school was the only option. So, at the end of the meeting, the director made us an appointment with some officials at a local high school.  I was told we were very lucky to get this appointment.  We thanked the director profusely.

At the high school, we were told cheerfully that the Ministry didn’t care what sort of diploma you had. But then they saw a clause:  Oh, that’s just for Italian citizens who live in other countries.  After that, there was much tapping of keyboards and back and forth in Italian.  I could follow it well enough to know that they were simply exploring, in quick succession, all the options I’d explored myself during the year, including the MIUR website. Finally they looked up. “Do you think you could become an Italian citizen?” they asked Sarie.  “It’s really the best way.”

For non-Italians, citizenship takes ten years.

That’s when I had one of those, “Wow, it’s really fundamentally different here,” moments. The rules mean nothing if you can’t find anyone who will admit that they are valid, and who knows how to implement them. This is hard for Americans to understand. Many Americans don’t like dealing with the IRS, the DoE, the DMV or the USPS–not to mention FAFSA. But these bodies have websites with published, comprehensible procedures, and if you follow them, it may be time-consuming and expensive, but generally it works–eventually. In Italy, at least in my experience so far, it’s completely different. You ask a question, and you get a shrug. You get four different answers. Eventually you realize, “I’m at the mercy of the person behind that desk.” Only in this case, we couldn’t even get anyone to tell us what desk we were looking for.

Now truth be told, Sarie didn’t have her heart set on going to conservatory in Italy anyway.  But I wasn’t finding out anything more about schools in other countries–Germany, Finland, the Netherlands, France–than I was in Italy.  I knew we’d have some version of this problem wherever we went, except in Great Britain and the US, whose conservatories are very expensive.  And we were running out of time.

As it happens, the same week as these meetings, we’d gone to a private British school for Sarie to meet with a new math tutor.  And as a courtesy to the tutor, I talked to the school’s director.  Before that, I had never seen a viable option for attending high school in Italy, because the English-speaking school I knew about was far away and very expensive.  And our Italian friends agreed that starting high school over in Italian wasn’t the best idea.

But here I saw something doable:  The school was small, two years old, in the center of town, and in some subjects (those for native English speakers learning Italian) Sarie would be in a class of two.  She would get subjects she needed, like chemistry, higher math, and Italian, which I found difficult to provide at this level. (I couldn’t find a supplier for chemistry equipment in Italy.) And it was an IB, or International Baccalaureate program.  The diploma would be accepted in every country.

I’d always said that if it turned out to be better for Sarie to go to school, that’s what we’d do.  And when I looked back on the past year, I had to admit that what we’d done didn’t feel much like homeschooling as we’d known it.  Sarie was always busy studying or practicing.  We hardly had time for any discussion, rabbit trails, or practical skills.  And in a new city, we hadn’t even gone to one museum together.  Trying to meet so many requirements simultaneously had squeezed all the fun and intimacy out of our homeschooling.

Regardless, I mourned at first.  I loved homeschooling, and so did Sarie.  And I didn’t mind working hard and researching the law to continue homeschooling.  But given her choice of field, and our circumstances, she now needed a more structured, more certified approach.

When we got back from our trip to the US, we did get one last piece of validation for our homeschooling years: An excellent score on Sarie’s first AP test.  We don’t need it now, but it was nice to know she could pull it off.

So, Monday after next, Bob will go back in the US again on business, while Sarie will go off to her first day of school with a class of 20 Italians who want to improve their English, and one South African.  Not exactly what I’d imagined, or would have asked for, but I trust that it will be good enough.