COIL Project (Spring 2021 Montclair-Palermo): Aztec Chocolate in Sicily and Mexico

In Spring 2021 a collaboration between Montclair State University and the Università degli Studi di Palermo will be launched as part of the COIL (Collaborative Online International Learning) INITIATIVE AT MONTCLAIR STATE UNIVERSITY. COIL fosters virtual exchanges among students in different countries with the aim of working on shared projects across university classes and cultural boundaries. Its goal is to provide students in the U.S. with the opportunity to be in touch with students residing abroad, especially at a time of stasis of study abroad programs due to the pandemic. COIL also offers credits towards the International and Inclusive Initiatives badge at MSU.


This COIL project designs a specific collaboration between ITAL 111 “Italian for Spanish Speakers,” taught by Prof. Teresa Fiore (Department of Languages and Cultures, COIL Fellow at Montclair State University), and a class of Spanish language for Italian speakers taught by Prof. Floriana Di Gesù (Department of Letters and Philosophy) at the Università degli Studi di Palermo in Sicily (Italy).* Specific aspects of the project are supported by the Inserra Endowed Chair in Italian and Italian American Studies.

various types of chocolate

The main goal of this COIL project is to create occasions for the students to become aware of their similar but reversed language acquisition paths, learn about the specific topic of Aztec chocolate by researching its history and participating in a targeted cooking workshop, and finally produce short videos that document the chocolate recipe in two languages and with a creative twist (adding a flavor of their choice and explaining why they chose that flavor). Special attention will be paid to vocabulary, phonetics and grammar throughout the 8 week-long unit, in order to make students in both countries even further aware of the closeness of Italian and Spanish, as well as of the need to be aware of their differences. To this purpose, the teaching approach will include translanguaging, translation, and intercultural comprehension within a multilingual vision.

Besides enhancing students’ knowledge and skills, and obviously designing a space for human interactions across cultures, the COIL project aims at offering a virtual international experience that challenges traditional notions of language and space. While American students often equate Italy with Florence and Venice, they will discover the South first, and in the process they will discover how much that South has in common with them as Latin@ students in the U.S. At the same time, Italian students of Spanish who would normally look for language pals in Spain or Latin America will explore the linguistic and cultural legacy of Spain in the U.S. This project complicates the perception of both Italian and American identities while leveraging commonalities.

Ultimately, the project’s goal is to create a fruitful tension between the encounter with an unfamiliar culture and the recognition of the advanced level of familiarity with it, produced by historical legacies and the passing of traditions along the transnational routes of human exchanges over time. Going abroad, even if only virtually, can also mean finding home.


COIL activities plan embedded in the two courses (note that this plan is subject to change)

Final objective: Production of collaborative videos about the making of chocolate bars according to the Aztec recipe (but with a creative twist!) used in Mexico today as well as in Modica, Sicily where it was introduced by the Spaniards.

1. Month of March:
a. Zoom meeting (March 18)
b. Ice-breaker to get to know each other: Padlet board with self-introduction and favorite food linked to Italy for U.S. Latin@ students and Spanish/Latin American food Italian students (March 28)

2. March- April: Asynchronous preparation activities toward the cooking class: vocabulary, expressions, select grammar structures (imperative, prepositions with articles, adverbs, etc.)

3. Early April:
a. Completion of a GF survey for the creation of the teams (April 4)
b. Zoom meeting to introduce themes and plan future steps (April 5)

4. First half of April: Reading/analysis of the recipe, development of script for the video (addition of original/metaphorical ingredient) and purchase of actual ingredients for recipe

6. April 19 (11:00-12:30): Attendance of online cooking lesson with chef Annalisa Pompeo and submission of reactions, ideas and suggestions for the final product (online survey).

7. Late April- mid-May: Asynchronous work carried out by students (Google Classroom and WhatsApp): Production of videos documenting the preparation of the chocolate bars by the students with a description in Italian and Spanish accompanied by subtitles in Spanish and Italian respectively. (Step-by-step deadlines will be provided in order to have a specific time frame)

6. May 17 (last week of classes): Live final meeting on Zoom for the presentation of the final videos and submission of report with feedback and observations. See screenshot below with pics of the participants and faculty supervisors and assistant.

screenshot of zoom call

Note that a meta-level of reflection is required throughout the project: what we do is linked to how and how well we do it, and it’s possible only if there is open communication and mutual support.

Every step of the COIL project builds towards the final project in ITAL 111: the various steps of the project count for 5% of the final grade, and the final project (collaborative video) for 10%.

Students will be asked to fill out a release form for the use of quotes and images: by consenting to their public use, they will support the goals of COIL at large, and as such of collaborative learning across cultures.


*The two faculty members coordinating the project (Prof. Teresa Fiore and Prof. Floriana Di Gesù) came together for the specific purpose of COIL. Their collaboration is an expansion of previous exchanges between the Inserra Endowed Chair at Montclair State University and various departments at the University of Palermo in the areas of Migration and Environmental Studies.

Tiny url:

See initiative details on the COIL page
See video of COIL experience USA-Venezuela in Spanish and COIL experience MSU-Santiago del Chile (Theater)
List of skills embedded in COIL and available for students to acquire and hone.
“The Italian Town with an Ancient Secret” by Lucinda Hawksley (BBC Travel, 2015)
“A Chocolate Tradition Thrives in Sicily” by Kate Singleton. New York Times (1999).


    Materials related to the project (pictures, videos, excerpts from reports) may be shared on public websites or in the media with the purpose of highlighting the educational relevance of the COIL project with its impact on the internationalization of the university experience. Montclair State U students automatically sign a consent form upon admission to the university. Students interested in opting out have an opportunity to do so in the course of the project (faculty coordinators will inform both students based in Italy and the US about this option).

Successful completion of a COIL course will earn a student points toward the badge for International and Inclusive Initiatives: The COIL participation alone is not enough to earn the badge, but combined with one or two other activities, will earn a badge.
Level 3 (Participation – 50 pts)
Involves engagement, which means activities at this level require a higher level of involvement to develop this competency. The goal of activities in Level 3 is to get you to develop some level of skill or proficiency that takes you a step further to becoming an expert.