The PIE: How did you start working in international education?
Priscilla Gatto: I started in this position in January last year, but I am not new to the sector and I am well aware of the importance of an international experience. Previously I was working for a university in the UK, and before I was living in Amsterdam, and before that, I lived in Africa for one and a half years.
I have always worked with young people, of course in different backgrounds. And that’s what I like about this job: every day with young people, from different backgrounds, different cultures, different motivations, and different expectations for their future and their career.
I feel privileged to motivate students to take advantage of the opportunity to do work experience abroad – I did it as a teenager and it changed my life. I always tell students during the induction sessions that we run before departure that they have to be ready to do an experience abroad because it’s a professional and personal investment.
“Many students change a lot during their experience”
And many students change a lot during their experience – their personality changes. They start off very shy and then they don’t just improve their English, but gain confidence and develop skills they didn’t know they had.
The PIE: Tell us more about Sagitter Training.
PG: It’s a company that provides work experience for young people aged 16 to 30, so students and young professionals. We are certified by the Italian Chamber of Commerce in the UK, so we are dealing with many projects with Italian students and also with companies that want to set up in Italy.
We aim to provide real work experience, according to the students’ qualities, competencies, language level, and we collaborate with Italian high schools. Thanks to the Alternanza Scuola Lavoro project (part of the EU-funded PON projects) we have been offered the opportunity to send students to the UK and other European countries to understand what it means to do a work experience abroad, so they can combine an English course together with their work experience and other specific job-related workshops that we offer.
“I feel privileged to motivate students to…do work experience abroad”
Students come to London and they usually study in the morning and they carry out work experience in the afternoon. We have been working with a wide range of partners in the language school landscape in London, but we are still looking for more and more partners in order to support requests – in summer we have a lot of request for English schools.
We have a lot of students coming every year, most come during the summer, and most want to come to London to have a work experience. Almost 80% of them have been offered a job, which is very positive for us. We hope that the English schools and companies based in London become more aware of this program with Italy so we can secure more opportunities for our students.
The PIE: You mentioned you do a course to prepare students for their experience in London. What do you teach them? What do you think students should know before embarking on to an international adventure?
PG: We care a lot about pre-departure preparation. We try to organise this in Italy – we go to the school and do a presentation focusing on the country the students are going to visit. We always underline that first of all they have a great opportunity to go abroad in a new country where they will learn a new language, and we always tell them to be very flexible, because living in a big city like London requires flexibility – and patience.
We also underline that they need to be very punctual – when they start either an English course or a work experience we also tell them to ensure they are on time.
I think the students are also very happy to learn these details in the real world of work, even though they are just 16 or 17, and we always see the students mature during their project. What we also tell them, especially the ones doing their experience in a host family, that there is a much broader cultural and religious diversity in London, something they may not be used to in Italy. It’s important for them to experience multiculturalism, I think. And of course about the food…which is completely different from Italy. We tell them to be ready for a completely different kind of food!
The PIE: What are the main challenges for the students?
PG: Usually, during the first week, there is a lot of complaining about the food. Some have complaints about the family or their workplace. But after the first week everything is perfect and usually, they say they want to live and find a job in London, so at the end, the result is 100% positive.
“After the first week… usually they say they want to live and find a job in London”
The PIE: Do you think Brexit will impact on the availability of this type of experiences?
PG: Not really. I am very concerned about Brexit, but as far as we know until 2020 everything is confirmed, but even for the future if a student wants to come here and do a work experience or a language course, they may not have to apply for any visas or any specific permit.
I want to be hopeful and I don’t think the situation will change a lot, it won’t be so tragic. I think the challenge is that we need to ensure that schools in Italy are still aware of the availability of this type of experience in the UK.