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News and Announcements

Italy from Austria via the U.S.: An Accidentally Cosmopolitan Exchange Program at Montclair

Posted in: CHSS News, Inserra Chair News and Announcements, Italian News and Events, World Languages and Cultures

Sigrid Karner-Ruehl

When we think of international exchange university programs, we think of students going to another country to study a subject linked to the local culture and language. Yet, the globalized world we live in and the old history of migrations that it holds, especially in places like New Jersey, make such exchange programs less and less linear, and open up unexpected possibilities.

This has been the case for Sigrid Karner-Ruehl, a graduate student from the University of Graz, Austria, with which Montclair State University has a very established exchange program. Students from Graz take classes in a wide variety of subjects at MSU, but Sigrid’s path has certainly made the international experience even more layered and multi-directional. As a student of Italian Studies in Graz, she took advantage of the opportunities offered by the Italian Program at MSU, one of the ten largest Italian programs in the U.S. While taking classes, she realized that a regular calendar of events is presented on campus by the Inserra Endowed Chair in Italian and Italian American Studies and started attending and interacting with organizers and guests.

“Sigrid stood out as an excellent student as well as a particularly engaged participant in extra-curricular activities,” Dr Teresa Fiore (Inserra Chair) recollects. “When she came to my office to discuss a research project about Italian American history and culture, I realized that she could become part of the Italian Program in more structured forms.” Sigrid was invited to work as assistant for the Inserra Chair’s program of events, and later as a course intern and activity leader for the 2019 edition of the summer Italian intensive course for college credit.

In this latter capacity, she supervised a group of students who resided on campus during the week, and implemented a variety of activities for them, from a visit to the Yogi Berra Museum to trips to a local coffee place and pizzeria to learn how to make a cappuccino and a Margherita through the hands-on teaching of the Italian owners of Monclair-based Italian businesses.

As Sigrid put it in a note left before going back to Graz, “The professional opportunity offered by the Inserra Chair (Italian Program, MLL Dept.) has allowed me to gather a vast array of tools, but mostly to reach a higher level of mastery of the Italian language and to experience a unique educational program that bridges the university and the high school systems. I am grateful for the trust I was given in the different capacities I served in. I will miss this job as well as the opportunities of cultural enrichment offered via the Inserra events.”

Thanks to the support secured by the International Engagement Office for visa applications, Sigrid capitalized on her time on campus in terms of study and training. The summer experience also counted as an internship in Austria, a requirement for her next steps towards her certification as an Italian teacher in Austria. As Sigrid soon starts her teaching career, she will be able to say that she had an Italian experience… in Montclair, New Jersey! – perhaps a not too surprising development given the long Italian history and the vibrant dynamics of Italian immigration to this state.