Last August, Serena Spitalieri of Italy’s Centro Informazioni Mobilità Equivalenze Accademiche (CIMEA) office spent three weeks at ECE, and in return, CIMEA graciously extended an invitation for us to send an evaluator to Rome for a reciprocal training period. (Read more about Serena's visit.)
I was chosen to represent ECE for this exchange and spent an amazing two weeks in Rome, from February 22nd to March 8th. While my trip was ultimately cut short due to the outbreak of COVID-19, I still got to experience two weeks filled with learning from our colleagues at CIMEA, exploring Rome and parts of the Umbria region, with many attempts to fulfill the important task of finding the best gelato in the Eternal City!
Indeed, the threat and anxiety surrounding the virus outbreak was prevalent throughout my entire stay in Rome. The usual crowds were nearly non-existent, particularly as the time went on. While that provided nearly private access to many tourist attractions, it was somewhat an eerie feeling. Although I was disappointed to leave Rome earlier than expected, I know it was the right decision. Italy began its total shutdown the day after I flew back to the United States. All of our colleagues at CIMEA have been working remotely since my departure, and plan to continue to do so for the foreseeable future.
Who was there?
During my time in the office, CIMEA was also hosting a colleague from the National Institution for Academic Degrees and Quality Enhancement of Higher Education (NIAD-QE), the Japanese National Information Center, as well as a delegation from the Israeli Council for Higher Education who are partnering with CIMEA on a National Qualifications Framework twinning project. These visitors contributed to the overall learning experience, as they each presented and answered questions about their own countries’ system of education. In addition, the CIMEA evaluators introduced me to their evaluation process, software and technology, and various projects that they are involved in with other ENIC-NARIC centers. We also visited the Conservatorio di Santa Cecilia and the National Information Center of the Holy See.
What did we learn?
I prepared presentations on ECE’s history, organizational structure, and evaluation methodology, the U.S. system of education, and answered specific questions from CIMEA evaluators related to our evaluation process and resources particularly for Francophone Africa. It was truly eye-opening to hear the kinds of evaluation issues CIMEA struggles with, particularly coming from a non-US perspective. Preparing these presentations also allowed me to learn more about aspects of US education with which I was previously unfamiliar, including homeschooling and the AP Capstone Diploma.
Of course, Serena made sure that there was a balance between credential evaluation work and embracing the Italian dolce vita! Coffee (espresso) and/or gelato was never more than a request away, and the two “office dogs” provided ample entertainment and snuggles throughout the day. I challenged myself to speak Italian as much as possible. This was difficult at first, as it has been over ten years since I last had any formal Italian lessons, but it continued to get easier as I kept practicing.
Outside of the office, Serena coordinated a guided tour of the Vatican Museums, including the Sistine Chapel, and of the Colosseum, Roman Forum, and Palatine Hill, which I enjoyed alongside several CIMEA colleagues. In addition, Serena helped to check off a bucket list item of mine by arranging a visit to the towns of Orvieto and Assisi in the nearby region of Umbria.
I am beyond grateful to Serena, Luca (Luca Lantero, Director of CIMEA), and all of the other colleagues who contributed to making my experience in Rome an unforgettable one. On my last night in Rome, I made sure to toss a coin into the Trevi Fountain, so as to ensure my return someday to the Eternal City!
Amy Kawa has been an Evaluator at ECE since 2016. While she works with educational systems from all around the world, she specializes primarily in Francophone and Middle Eastern credentials.