For Soraya Dalia, a student at Palisades Park Junior/Senior High School, a summer experience at Montclair State University translated into a deeper understanding of the Italian language and culture. Dalia was among the students who attended the Early College Summer Italian Intensive Program, an experience the students say – in the language studied – is “perfetto.”
“I really enjoyed learning about aspects of Italian culture that were completely new to me,” says Dalia of the three-week immersive experience at Montclair State University.
Thematic units, including immigration and Italian identity, “Made in Italy” (food and fashion) and sustainability, introduced students to contemporary Italy as well as the profoundly Italian fabric of the New York metropolitan area.
“We’re very lucky because we can bring together the high school experience and the university experience in the most ideal Italian area outside of Italy,” says program director Teresa Fiore, the Inserra Chair in Italian and Italian American Studies and professor of Italian at Montclair State. “This year, offering the program was a challenge due to COVID, but we were able to do it thanks to the positive response of students, teachers and donors.”
“Since 2017, our aim has been to connect high school and college Italian as we feel that there is often a link missing there,” adds Patti Grunther, the program coordinator and Italian teacher at Watchung Hills Regional High School. “Our students, instead, enter their senior year of high school with a greater sense of confidence, and that is incredibly important when speaking world languages.”
Spending three weeks on a college campus also has its benefits, Grunther adds, pointing out that half of the students lived in the residence halls under the supervision of the course instructor, Tiziana Rinaldi, who coordinated targeted activities for them such as visiting the Yogi Berra Museum. “Students see what kind of academic programs and opportunities are available and they figure out how they can fit in.”
“If it weren’t for this course, I don’t think I would have wanted to study Italian in college,” says Vincent Falcone, a 2019 summer program participant who now attends Montclair State, majoring in Italian.
This was also the experience of Cristina Latino ’21, who attended the first Italian immersion as a high school student from Wallington, New Jersey. Field trips to “must-see” Italian destinations, including the culinary hotspot Eataly in New York City, provided inspiration, she says. “It opened my eyes that I could get a job in an Italian company doing something that I absolutely love.”
Latino parlayed the summer experience into a focus of study at Montclair State and graduated with a double major in Language, Business and Culture (Italian concentration) and Fashion Studies. “It all started in the Italian Intensive Program, and I can’t imagine what my life would be like if I hadn’t attended,” says Latino, who was among the guest speakers this summer, sharing her internship experiences.
Other speakers introduced students to post-war Italian art at the Magazzino museum in Cold Spring, New York; Italian architecture in Montclair; pizza and olive oil making by recent immigrants from Italy; Italian journalism in the U.S., and Sicilian art and literature.
Among the activities planned in and outside the classroom, the cheese tasting at The Greene Grape in Brooklyn stood out because it was led by Emilia D’Albero ’15, now a professional cheesemonger, who only a few years ago as an Italian major at Montclair State took advantage of the opportunities offered by the Italian program from assistantships to internships and scholarships.
The Summer Italian Intensive is offered by the Inserra Chair in Italian and Italian American Studies and the Italian Program (Department of World Languages and Cultures). Partners include the Early College Program, Summer Sessions and IACE with the generous support of the Inserra family with full scholarships and a contribution from the Italian committee COMITES.
Story by Staff Writer Marilyn Joyce Lehren
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