How the dream of moving to Italy turned sour for one family

(CNN) — Moving to Italy to start a new life in the sun, surrounded by beautiful scenery, incredible food and fascinating culture is a dream that many people have realized in recent years thanks to the sale of cheap houses.

But the dream of a family from Finland moving to the Sicilian city of Syracuse has come to an abrupt end after just two months — and the reasons have sparked a media frenzy in Italy.

Elin and Benny Mattsson, a couple in their 40s with four children ages 15, 14, 6 and 3, have decided to give up their new life after deciding that their children’s local schools and education system were not up to their Finnish standards. standards.

In October they packed their bags and moved to Spain.

Elin, a 42-year-old artist from the town of Borgä in Finland, also known as Porvoo, decided to express her frustration through an open letter published on January 6 on local online newspaper Siracusa News criticizing school life and educational strategy. by a picture of the family happily looking around.

She wrote that her children complained of loud and undisciplined local students who “yell and bang on the table,” whistle in class, and sit at their desks all day with little exercise or breaks in the fresh air to encourage learning, and without to eat. Teachers look “contemptuously at students” or shout, she said, and have low levels of English proficiency.

Even the kindergarten where her youngest attended was not up to standards, she said, with no toy cars, climbing objects or sandboxes for the children to play with.

‘The real life’

Elin said she and Benny, a 46-year-old IT executive, were so shocked by this that they decided to change their plans.

“We moved to Sicily in early September to escape Finland’s dark winters. We live in the south and there isn’t always snow that brightens up the area,” Elin told CNN Travel via text message.

The family rented a beautiful flat near the vibrant old quarter of Ortigia, a maze-like island citadel of baroque palazzos, sunny piazzas and ancient churches and a history dating back to ancient Greek times.

“I really fell in love with Ortigia, the fresh markets, the atmosphere there,” she said. “Ironically, I don’t like the environment if it’s too ‘tidy’ and perfect. I’m an artist, so I like to see things ‘behind the scenes’, real life. This is what I saw in Sicily and Syracuse.”

If she had known the school was “so poor,” she would have chosen a different place but would have missed out on the beauty of Ortigia, she says.

“Everyone learns as they live, so I’m sure my children have also learned and grown from this experience. I also met very helpful and nice people there, so I have nothing bad to say about the Sicilian mentality.”

Elin Mattsson argued that the schools in Sicily did not meet her expectations.

Elin Mattsson argued that the schools in Sicily did not meet her expectations.

e55evu/Adobe Stock

The publication of Elin’s letter of complaint has sparked a national debate in Italy, with parents, teachers and students joining the conversation, mainly in defense of Italian schools.

The issue even made it to the Italian lower house with Rossano Sasso, a former secretary of state for education and representative of the nationalist League party, posting on Facebook in support of Italian teachers.

He said he refused to “take lessons from a Finnish painter”, who envisioned the government’s reform schools with outdoor breaks and fun playgrounds.


Italy’s education minister, Giuseppe Valditara, warned against “general impromptu judgments” about Italian teachers in a statement, while acknowledging the need to improve the Italian education system.

Elin says she is now trying to tone down her published criticism, arguing that the Italian translations of her letter written in Finnish published by Italian media outlets were “boostier” than the original.

“I just wanted to point out very simple measures that can be taken as fresh air breaks outside,” she says.

“I don’t hate anything or anyone. I just realized my kids didn’t like going there, and that’s the first school they reacted to like that.”

She added that she understands that students are expected to sit still all day, but had expected the schools to be, if not comparable to those in Finland, then close to those in Spain, where the family previously lived.

Elin said the family wants to share what they learned from their Sicilian sojourn as a lesson of caution to other foreign families eager to live the Italian dream, and recommends they either find a quieter country school or look into homeschooling .

Chaotic traffic

In her originally published letter, Erin also criticized the chaotic urban environment in Syracuse and the environmental impact of the traffic jams created as cars queue to enter Ortigia over a single bridge.

“How is it possible to think that the countless adults rushing to school every morning and every afternoon can be functional?” she wrote. “Is total traffic chaos (and what about the environment) practical for families?”

Elin believes that Italian school authorities should raise awareness about the benefits of children traveling alone to and from school on foot to reduce car traffic and boost car-free city centers.

“In Finland, children go to school alone; they cycle or walk and if they live more than five kilometers from the school, they can take a taxi or school bus. They have lunch at school and then go home alone when the school day is over.

Elin says her doubts started the day she entered high school to enroll her two older boys.

“The noise of the classes was so loud that I wondered how the hell it was possible to concentrate,” she writes, saying that students’ heads should not be filled “like sausages with too much scholarship for an undeveloped brain .”

Her words caused a stir in Italy, sparking an online debate about whether the Mattssons are right or wrong — or a bit of both.

According to Giangiacomo Farina, director of Siracusa News that published Elin’s letter, her comments “reflect cultural differences that have sparked an unwarranted media uprising.

“Simply, the Italian school system is very focused on teaching content and less on educational structures and open-air play areas.”

He adds, however, that Italian education can still learn something from Finnish methods.

Expand knowledge

Farina says his online newspaper recorded a spike in Internet traffic with more than a million readers in the days following Elin’s open letter.

Many Syracuse families commented on it, and some joined the Mattssons in agreeing that Italian education needs an upgrade.

The mother of a girl who was in the same class as Elin’s 14-year-old son wrote that the Finnish boy once asked where the shower was after physical education, and everyone laughed.

He also often complained to her daughter how retrograde Italy was and that things were very bad in the country, she added.

Elio Cappuccio, a history and philosophy teacher at Syracuse, told CNN that Italian education is “much richer in content, fields of study and overall culture compared to that of other foreign systems.”

He said, “Our students start learning many things at a very young age and then continue to expand their knowledge. This opens up their minds.”

Pierpaolo Coppa, an education official in Syracuse, said it was “wrong to compare the Italian and Finnish education models, which are completely different” and that “two months is not enough to assess an education system.”

“Some of the points raised in the letter can be discussed further, but the professional quality of our teachers is of the highest level,” Coppa told CNN.

Top image: The Mattsson family settled in Ortigia in Sicily. (Travellaggio/Adobe Stock)

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