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

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(CNN) – Moving to Italy to start a new life in the sun, surrounded by beautiful scenery, amazing food and interesting culture is a dream that many people have realized in recent years thanks to cheap house sales .

But the dream for one Finnish family who moved to the Sicilian city of Syracuse has come to an abrupt end after just two months – and the reasons created a media frenzy in Italy.

Elin and Benny Mattsson, a couple in their 40s with four children aged 15, 14, 6 and 3, have decided to abandon their new life after deciding that the local schools and the education system that they children receiving according to their Finnish standards.

They packed their bags in October and moved to Spain.

Elin, a 42-year-old artist from the Finnish town of Borgä, also known as Porvoo, decided to vent her frustration through an open letter published on January 6 on the local online paper Siracusa News. ‘ criticism of school life and teaching strategy, accompanied by a photo of the family looking happy.

She wrote that her children complained about loud and unruly local pupils who “scream and bang on the table”, whistle in class, and spend all day at desks they have little physical activity or air breaks to encourage learning, and no food options. Teachers are “suddenly looking down on pupils” or shouting, she said, and they have low levels of English proficiency.

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

‘Real Life’

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

“We moved to Sicily in early September just to escape from the dark winters in Finland, we live in the south and there is not always snow which makes the environment brighter,” said Elin told CNN Travel via text message.

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

“I really fell in love with Ortigia, the fresh food markets, the atmosphere there,” she said. “Ironically, I don’t like my surroundings when they are too ‘clean’ and perfect. I’m an artist so I like to see things ‘behind the scenes’, the real life. This is what I saw in Sicily and Syracuse.”

If she had known about the school “if it was poor” she would have chosen another place but she would miss the beauty of Ortigia, she says.

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

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 pupils joining the conversation, mostly defending Italian schools.

The case even landed in the lower house of the Italian parliament with Rossano Sasso, who was the secretary of state for education and a 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 suggested the government reform schools with outdoor recess and fun playgrounds.


Italy’s education minister, Giuseppe Valditara, issued a statement warning against “snap judgments” on Italian teachers, although he acknowledged the need for the country’s education system. Italy to develop.

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 were “more angry” than the original.

“I just wanted to point out very simple steps that could be taken, like being outside in a fresh air break,” she says.

“I don’t hate anything or anyone. I just understood that my children didn’t like going there, and that was the first school they responded to. “

She said that she understands whether pupils have the right to sit still all day, but that she expected that schools, if not similar to those in Finland, would then be close to those in Spain, where the family has lived before.

Elin said the family wants to share what they have learned from their trip to Sicily as a cautionary lesson for other foreign families who want to live the Italian dream, suggesting they either look for a quieter country school or look at homeschooling.

Chaotic traffic

In her original published letter, Elin also criticized the chaotic urban environment in Syracuse and the environmental impact of the traffic jams that build up as cars enter Ortigia via a single bridge.

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

Elin believes that Italian school authorities should spread awareness of the benefits of children traveling to and from school alone on foot in order to reduce car traffic and encourage pedestrian city centres.

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

Elin says her doubts began the day she entered middle school to enroll her two older boys.

“The noise in the classrooms was so loud that I wondered how badly it was possible to concentrate,” she writes, adding that pupils’ heads should not be filled “like sausages with too much learning for undeveloped brains .”

Her words have sparked outrage in Italy, leading to an online debate over whether the Mattssons are right or wrong – or a bit of both.

According to Giangiacomo Farina, the director of Siracusa News that published Elin’s letter, her comments reflect “cultural differences that have fueled an inappropriate uproar in the media.”

“Simply put, the Italian school system focuses more on teaching content and less on teaching structures and outdoor play areas.”

However, he said, Italian teaching could still learn something from Finnish methods.

Expanding knowledge

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

Many Syracuse families sent him comments, with some siding with the Mattssons agreeing that Italian teaching needs updating.

The mother of a girl who attended the same class of 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 good Italy was back then and that things in the country were very bad, she said.

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

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

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

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

Image above: The Mattsson family made their home in Ortigia on Sicily. (Travellaggio/Adobe Stock)

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