I recently had the chance to chat with alumna, Grace Rambo, about her experiences living and teaching in Italy for more than nine months! After studying Italian for over nine years, she participated in some great programs through Penn State, as well as ones she discovered on her own.
How many years have you been studying the Italian language and are you fluent?
I studied Italian language for nine years — since I was in eighth grade! I would say I’m close to fluency, but every once in a while I forget the word for something simple like “glove” and I wonder if fluency is more elusive than I realize. However, after receiving an excellent foundation at Penn State and then living abroad three times, I feel confident in my abilities to speak with any native speaker — and I think that’s a true measure of fluency.
Where have you traveled in Italy?
I participated in the Todi summer study abroad program, I studied for a semester in Florence through the ISI Palazzo Rucellai program, and I lived in Italy for nine months while I taught in a high school. I’ve been to cities like Siena, Rome, Verona, Milan, Bergamo… and the list goes on. One of the most interesting places I ever visited was the city of Bari, in Puglia. One of my goals this past year was to travel south, since I’d never been. It was certainly a new experience; the city has a much different rhythm than anything I’d ever experienced before.
Tell me about your experiences teaching in Italy.
I worked in Italy through the SITE Program — a paid internship experience where schools in the north of Italy are paired with young graduates who have made the decision to teach for a short period of time, often without prior experience. I ended up at a tourism and graphic design high school called the Zenale e Butinone, where I taught advertising, law, art history, geography of Australia, tourism, and literature (only a few topics of which I actually knew anything about prior). I taught these topics in English, and that was usually the only part of my day where I spoke (or thought, for that matter!) in English.
I always say it was one of the best and most difficult experiences of my entire life. I lived in a small town called Treviglio, outside of Milan. Where before I had been in fairly well-established places, in Treviglio, most people had never met an American before. Very few of my colleagues knew English, except for those who specifically taught it. It was an adventure unlike my other abroad experiences; I was totally immersed in this different way of life. High school in Italy differs so markedly from high school in America in terms of teaching style, grading, and other formal systems, but none of that mattered because connecting with the students there was massively rewarding.
How long did you live in Italy for and what did you do while you were there?
For this most recent experience in Italy, I lived there a total of nine months. It was my most immersive experience, because besides teaching, I also worked as a tutor, did freelance translation, and on the weekends spent time with my Italian friends. I pushed myself to experience the small town way of life, but also to take advantage of the bustling city life in Milan. I went swing dancing in Milan, saw musical performances, worked with my students to put together a play, and spent many nights cooking with my colleagues. Many people, when they first study abroad, take comfort in staying close to the other people in their program, which is natural. For this last experience, however, I had no choice but to get out there!
Do you have any advice for students considering majors/minors in the Italian language?
I majored in Italian at Penn State, and minored in art history as well as architectural history. My advice to others would be to consider Italian, because you never know the opportunities it’ll open up for you. I wanted to turn back around after Penn State and become a professor of Italian literature, which is admittedly a competitive arena. But after teaching lessons abroad on web design, social media marketing, and advertising, and realizing how much I enjoyed it, I turned to digital media and publishing, and am now getting my master’s at NYU for publishing: digital and print media.
I never would have expected to end up here, but it’s thanks to my fantastic experiences at Penn State and afterward. I would tell students to follow what they love, and trust that studying Italian will open doors to experiences and opportunities they never would have thought possible.