News: Italian Studies Spring 2021 Uncategorized

Caro Beppe… A Conversation with Beppe Severgnini

Come Sta l'italiano_By Monica Seger

Journalist and author Beppe Severgnini serves as editor in chief of the weekly magazine for Italy’s Corriere della sera newspaper, has long been a contributing opinion writer for the New York Times, and has written over 17 books. Since 1998, Severgnini has also written a daily column for the Corriere della sera, in which he responds to readers’ queries about contemporary Italian issues. This past fall, our colleague Rita Paolino sent a letter in to the column, which is aptly called “Italians,” asking what faculty might do to highlight the continued relevance of studying Italian language and culture in North America. Not only did Severgnini respond in print, he agreed to have a live conversation with us via Zoom about that question and more.

On Monday, March 8, William & Mary Italian Studies students, faculty and over 100 guests from other institutions gathered together online for a lunchtime conversation with Severgnini. After opening remarks from the author, Prof. Sara Mattavelli deftly moderated a conversation between Severgnini and our students, who had prepared a thoughtful collection of questions in advance. Topics ranged from Italy’s experience with the coronavirus, to regional differences within the country, to students’ futures and how they might apply their experience with Italian Studies. Severgnini and guests were particularly struck by a question from student Santiago Lanza, who cited the author’s Ted Talk on “Five Ways to Fail Perfectly.” All in all, it was a rich and thought provoking conversation, and we were delighted to spend time with Severgnini. Please watch the video below for the full conversation.

fall2020 News: Italian Studies

A Successful Semester for the New Italian Club

By Isabel Conti ‘22 in consultation with Alyssa Glauser ‘22 and Judith Tauber ‘21

Despite the constraints of a remote semester, William & Mary’s newly created Italian Club has Italian Club-pistacchio (1)grown and had great success in providing students with conversation hours, cooking lessons, and cultural activities over Zoom. We were able to provide students with an opportunity to practice Italian in a more casual setting and we hope that these conversations foster a sense of community and give students a chance to get to know one another even in a remote-learning environment. Academically, we also strived to deepen the students’ understanding of classroom material and enrich the learning experience with culture-focused lectures and club meetings.

We hosted a variety of events this semester, from game nights to lectures. In describing our goals for the club, we placed particular emphasis on conversation hours, in which we discuss more casual topics and explore Italian language and culture. These conversations are divided by level, and focused on current course material. While we provide starting questions, our goal is for conversation to arise naturally, and to give students a space to talk about their hobbies and interests in Italian. We also continued the Casa Italiana tradition of hosting cooking classes. We made Italian dishes, such as pasta al pesto, and had (remote) meals together. Our club meetings also consisted of different cultural activities, such as a game night and discussions of Italian music and current events. 

The Italian Club also wishes to extend great thanks to the speakers who were able to join us this semester to provide their perspectives and expertise. Giulia Falistocco, a PhD student at the University of Perugia, shared her work on the conception of the 1970s in Italy through contemporary Italian novels. Professor Giovannuzzi of the University of Perugia gave a presentation on Italian poetry of the 1970s and the role of generational differences, the focus of his latest volume, Dittico. We were also thrilled to welcome back Chiara DiMaio and Antonella Nicholas, both of whom have been involved with the Italian program here at William & Mary, for their perspectives on cultural differences between the United States and Italy. 

The Italian Club plans to continue operating remotely during the spring semester, so as to make our activities as accessible as possible. We look forward to resuming our conversation hours, cooking classes and other cultural activities, as well as possibly adding movie nights to our schedule this spring. We also plan to welcome Italian Club interest meeting picProfessor Patrizio Ceccagnoli of Kansas University, an expert on Futurism, for a guest speaker presentation. 

We extend our gratitudine to Professoressa Mattavelli and the Italian program, whose support, advice and aid in advertising have helped make this semester such a success! Grazie mille also to our peers who supported us by contributing their enthusiasm and insight to our events rendering our conversations and meetings fun and stimulating. We know we all came away inspired.

Italian Club events will resume in the new semester. Buone vacanze e buon capodanno

Fall 2020 News: Italian Studies

Fascism in Italy: A Student Perspective

By Judith Tauber ’21

As an alumna of Professor Ferrarese’s Fascism in Italy, I’m very glad to see that the course will be offered once again in Spring 2021: it is without a doubt one of the best courses I have taken in my last 3 ½ years at William & Mary.

Professor Ferrarese examined the fascinating phenomenon that is Fascism from a variety of approaches, interweaving an exploration of the historical period with philosophical interludes, the screening of films, an examination of artistic movements, a discussion of gender and race, and an analysis of excerpts of literary texts.

We began the semester briefly summarizing the social, political and economic events leading up to the creation of the first fasci in 1919, followed by a discussion of the movement’s growth, paying particular attention to Fascism’s rhetorical strategies and inspirational precursors, particularly Futurism and D’Annunzio’s expedition to Fiume. What was especially striking was the insight into how fragile democracies are and how we should never assume that a version of Fascism cannot establish itself in our own societies. I also found the part on how Fascism maintains itself by diffusing a spectacle void of ideology but deadly in consequences to be thought-provoking.

Mussolini & Cinema (From Wikimedia Commons)
Mussolini & Cinema (From Wikimedia Commons)

Next, we examined life under Fascism, from cultural activities, racism, and the position of women in society to colonial projects and Mussolini’s attempt to create the new Italian. I especially liked that we took the time to investigate how Fascism affected individual lives without losing track of the bigger picture. The films discussed were particularly illuminating in this respect.

After investigating Fascism’s relations to the Church and the cinema industry as well as its other manifestations globally, we turned to its demise and reincarnations. I found the part on how neofascism manifests itself to be extremely relevant to today’s society.

I came away with a clear and deep understanding of an intriguing and complex whole, a comprehension that has enriched my perception of the world. If you have not yet taken this course, I strongly urge you to do so this spring!

Fall 2020 News: Italian Studies

An Afternoon at the Opera

By Rita Paolino

The global pandemic has impacted the lives of all of us; we all know that. Among the many things Covid19 has taken away from us is the possibility to enjoy performing arts in person. In fact, since March 2020, most theaters and opera houses across the country have been closed. Thus, while we could not go to the opera, we were able to bring opera, and more specifically Italian opera, to William and Mary.

Opera is a complex form of art in which music, dance, and theater come together to create the most fascinating experience of all. It takes us to faraway worlds, fascinating cities, tragic and passionate love stories, and cruel lies, all with the beauty of wonderful, catchy, entertaining melodies. Despite its old age, opera music often reflects the sentiments and thoughts of today’s people. The storylines, the characters, and the many facets of the human soul: it is all in opera. Opera is magic and it has been magic since the 1600s, when a group of musicians, intellectuals, artists, and philosophers, the so-called Camerata Fiorentina, created this form of entertainment that aimed to reproduce the perfection and emotional intensity of the Greek drama.

An Afternoon at the OperaA little piece of this magic was brought to our students on October 21, 2020 thanks to the Italian Studies Program. In fact, a zoom event entitled “An afternoon at the Opera”, was held online within the homecoming celebration events. The artistic director of Virginia Opera, Maestro Adam Turner, and two very talented professional singers, Ms. Symone Harcum (soprano) and Ms. Whitney Robinson (mezzo soprano), joined an enthusiastic and interested group of students of Italian to talk about Italian opera and the use of the Italian language in this form of art.

Maestro Turner spoke with the group about the beginning of opera in Italy and how well opera was received once it started spreading in the United States. Nowadays, some of the most prominent world opera houses are in this country, such as The Metropolitan Opera House in New York City, The Los Angeles Opera House in Los Angeles, and the Lyric Opera House in Chicago, just to mention a few of them. Yet Italy remains the “country of opera”, thanks to the production of composers such as Rossini, Donizetti, Verdi, Puccini, and many, many more.

Ms. Robinson and Ms. Harcum spoke with the students about the use Italian in operas, and the challenges of combining the correct pronunciation of a words with its meaning while singing it. The highlight of the event was the opportunity to watch our guests on stage. It was a pure delight to see maestro Turner accompanying at the piano Ms. Harcum, and the singers singing a scene from “Cinderella” by G. Rossini. The event closed with a lively Q&A session.

We all look forward to the day when we can again return to enjoy live performances. In the meantime, we are all thankful to our Virginia Opera guests for allowing our community to grasp a bit of the beauty and magic of Italian opera.

Graduates 2019-2020 News News: Italian Studies Spring 2020 More

Italian Studies Graduates 2020

Congratulazioni to our Italian Studies graduates:

Tianyi Vanessa Cai (Art & Art History Major, Italian Minor) – recipient of the Italian Studies Book Award

Tyler Cox-Philyaw (History Major, Italian Minor)

Kathryn Donati (English Major, Italian Minor)

Marisa Lemma (Government Major, Economics Minor, Italian Honorary Minor)

Zoe Nelson (Government Major, Self-Designed Italian Major) – recipient of the MDLL Outstanding Achievement in Italian Studies

We wish you all the best for your future endeavors!

Italian Studies 2020

Graduates 2019-2020 News News: Italian Studies Spring 2020 More

A Special Commencement for Italian Graduates

By Prof. Monica Seger

This year’s spring commencement was, like so many things right now, quite different than usual. Rather than gathering on campus with friends and colleagues from throughout Modern Languages and Literatures for a department-wide ceremony, students and faculty in Italian Studies celebrated from afar with a Zoom commencement of our own. Just before 2:00pm on Saturday, May 16, we checked our hair, made sure that at least the top half of our outfit was presentable, grabbed a glass for a virtual toast at ceremony’s end, and sat down in front of our individual computer screens throughout the Commonwealth and beyond. Although different and distanced, the ceremony that followed turned out to be incredibly special.

Ambassador Varricchio

This was in no small part thanks to our keynote speaker: His Excellency Armando Varricchio, the Ambassador of Italy to the United States. Just one week before the event, Italian Instructor Rita Paolino had a brilliant idea: as long as we were using the remote platform for our commencement, why not reach out to the ambassador’s office with an invitation? Like the rest of us, he would simply need to connect online rather than travel to Williamsburg. It was thanks to such remote connectivity, for example, that we were also able to welcome students’ far-flung family members, as well as a few of our beloved alumni. Declaring tentar non nuoce (it doesn’t hurt to try), we issued the invitation and were surprised and delighted to be met by an enthusiastic yes.

Not only did the ambassador stop by our virtual commencement to wish our graduates well, he delivered a heartfelt address then stayed with us until our virtual toast and final farewells. Along with 30 or so other attendees, he listened attentively as we thanked our teaching assistants; recognized members of Gamma Kappa Alpha, the National Italian Honor Society; paid tribute to our International Fellow, Chiara di Maio; and celebrated each of our graduating seniors in turn: Tianyi Vanessa Cai, Tyler Cox-Philyaw, Kathryn Donati, Marisa Lemma and Zoe Nelson. While the whole ceremony was an intimate and festive tribute to the accomplishments of our students and the benefits of studying another language and culture, Ambassador Varricchio’s address was undeniably the highlight. Effortlessly combining ceremonial gravitas with a friendly élan, he spoke of William & Mary’s tradition of Italian Studies dating back to Thomas Jefferson; of the deep ties between North America and Italy; and of the inspiration to be found in studying Italy’s deep cultural traditions from Dante to Fellini.

Cheers ItalianPerhaps most significantly, Ambassador Varricchio spoke directly to our graduating seniors, recognizing their accomplishments and encouraging them to seize the potential for progress and positive change, even in challenging times. It was an unforgettable way to end this unprecedented academic year, and a truly special experience through which to mark the impressive undergraduate career of our graduating students. We wish them all the best as they move on to exciting next steps, including teaching appointments, research fellowships, and graduate study, and we thank the ambassador for his generosity of time and spirit. Here’s to continued cross-cultural learning and to future collaborations, whatever the platform!

Watch the Ambassador’s remarks here.

Alumni Updates: Italian Studies Graduates 2019-2020 News News: Italian Studies Spring 2020 More

Italian Senior Spotlight: Zoe Nelson

Zoe Nelson (Government Major, Self-Designed Italian Major ’20) shares her experience in the Italian Program over the past four years. In bocca al lupo per il futuro, Zoe!

Zoe Nelson«The Italian Department’s smaller size was a fantastic fit for me, as it allowed for me to form meaningful individual relationships with other Italian Studies students, along with all of the Italian professors. My professors’ expertise and their supportiveness empowered me to learn so much more about Italian language and culture than I could have anticipated upon arriving at William & Mary. Under their guidance I was so grateful to have the opportunity to work as an Italian tutor, spread my love of Italian through being a teaching assistant, and create multiple independent studies. I feel so grateful that I had professors who were so invested in both my intellectual growth and me as a person, and who spent so much time and effort helping me with one-on-one meetings to practice speaking Italian and figure out my future career path. In particular, looking back on my four years in the department, my fondest memories include experiencing Professor Mattavelli’s infectious joy for Italian during my first semester of college, the pride of the first time I was able to read a novel in Italian with the help of Professor Seger, and my weekly individual meetings with Professor Ferrarese during my last independent study. After graduation I am moving to Boston to do psycho-oncology research on how to better help patients and their families from a psychological point of view. I plan on continuing to incorporate Italian into my everyday life as much as possible, and look forward to meeting new friends there with whom I can speak Italian! Grazie mille per tutto!»

Graduates 2019-2020 News News: Italian Studies Spring 2020 More

Italian Senior Spotlight: Tianyi Vanessa Cai

Vanessa Cai 1

Tianyi Vanessa Cai (Art & Art History Major, Italian Minor ’20) shares with us her special relationship with Italian language and culture. Grazie Vanessa!

«Being a violin player and a fan of the virtuoso Niccolò Paganini, I registered for an Italian class when I entered college hoping to learn more about the language and its culture. The class was so engaging that I decided to continue despite the initial challenges.

I spent a summer in Florence in 2017. Florence is like a living dream. I fell in love with the feeling of randomly wandering around the city — the golden sunshine, talented street artists, pigeons, and gelatos keep reminding me of the beauty in life. Taking art history classes in museums and churches provoked me to declare my major in Art & Art History, and incited my interest in Renaissance Art. Subsequently, I did an independent study on Sandro Botticelli’s painting Primavera in Galleria degli Uffizi.

Last summer I went back to Italy, and did another program in Siena. The surreal experience of Palio (the biannual horserace) left with me unforgettable memories. Living in a contrada, going to contrada dinners, and standing among the heat on Piazza del CVanessa Cai 2ampo with numerous ardent spectators, I was amazed by the Sienese’s passion for preserving such a Medieval tradition.

The study of Italian language opened a brand new door to me by bridging me with people and culture from another part of the world. I have met countless amazing people in Italy who are still inspirations in my life in various aspects.

I am grateful for my four years with the Italian Department at W & M. The professional and caring professors have introduced me to Italian cultures from a diverse perspective, and have shaped me into a more mentally mature individual.»

fall2019more News News: Italian Studies

Italian Faculty-Student Research Project at ACTFL

In the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures, advanced language students have had the opportunity to work as Teaching Assistants for many years. The assistantship model has changed since its inception but the unique role of undergraduate TAs in language classes remains a key feature of our department. Professor Mattavelli, who became interested in teacher preparation and mentoring during her graduate studies, has been training and supervising undergraduate teaching assistants since her first year at W&M. This experience has been very positive and fulfilling. The undergraduate TAs with whom she had the pleasure to work are really extraordinary and embody very positive examples for students in beginning classes.

Screen Shot 2019-12-21 at 10.12.16 PMScholarly research on undergraduate teaching assistants is still rather scarce and focuses mainly on peer-teaching in fields other than foreign languages (with the exception of some studies in German and Spanish). Professor Mattavelli decided to explore the topic more in depth and submitted a proposal to the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) annual convention. The objective was to highlight advantages and challenges of working with undergraduate TAs from a two-fold perspective and called for the collaboration with an undergraduate teaching assistant. W&M student and Italian TA Antonella Nicholas worked with prof. Mattavelli on the development of the project and co-presented with her at the conference.

IMG_5746 3

In their presentation, prof. Mattavelli and Antonella Nicholas examined the roles and responsibilities of undergraduate TAs and supervisors, discussed training and mentoring provided to the apprentice teachers within the Italian program and the Modern Languages department, and presented students’ feedback. They both shared their perspective and assessment on the teaching experience and offered examples for successful peer-teaching instruction. Antonella focused also on the importance of this teaching experience in terms of skills learned for future careers as well as personal and professional rewards.

The presentation was very well received by the audience and prof. Mattavelli is happy to share that Antonella did a wonderful job and received many compliments from other faculty in attendance. Overall, this was a great collaborative experience in the spirit of W&M’s faculty-student research projects and close mentorship.

Screen Shot 2019-12-21 at 10.16.08 PM

Alumni Updates: Italian Studies Fall 2019 News News: Italian Studies

Evening at the Italian Embassy

Last month, our Italian Studies Program participated in a series of events in Washington D.C. hosted by the W&M Alumni Association.

Seger - Talk DCOn November 7, Professor Monica Seger gave a talk at the W&M Washington Center and shared her latest research which is based in Italy’s Puglia region. Professor Seger studies the rich wave of novels and films that have emerged over the past decade in response to environmental challenges in the coastal city Taranto. She argues that creative texts, whether on page or screen, allow a broad audience to learn – and care – about Taranto’s dynamic culture and natural environment, despite recent hardships.

group embassy

On November 8, Professor Sara Mattavelli and Professor Monica Seger participated in a special event called “Evening at the Embassy” – a W&M DC Alumni Chapter tradition – that was hosted at the Ambasciata d’Italia.

Two-hundred W&M alumni, students, parents, family and friends gathered at the Italian Embassy to learn about all the connections between William & Mary and Italy. The Italian Program showcased its faculty’s research, program’s courses and extra-curricular activities. We also had the pleasure to share with all attendees the opportunities the program offers for students engagement on campus (such as the Italian House or the Honor Society Gamma Kappa Alpha) and study abroad, with particular emphasis on the W&M Faculty-led Florence program.

DOC20251  embassy 1

IMG_5606 .  DOC20198

Fall 2019 News: Italian Studies

Italian House: Plant-based Eating for a College Lifestyle

The Italian House and International Fellow Chiara di Maio were featured in the 3rd episode of “Plant-based Eating for a College Lifestyle”, a video series by W&M Sustainability Interns.Pasta alla Norma One of our Italian Major, Zoe Nelson, who is also an Intern at W&M Dining, participated in the video.

Chiara, Zoe, and our students prepared a dish called “Pasta alla Norma” which is a typical Sicilian recipe and one of the most famous together with cannoli. The dish was created in honor of  composer Vincenzo Bellini’s Norma, an opera produced at La Scala theater in Milan in 1831.

The ingredients of this vegetarian dish are simple but make for a delicious meal: eggplants, tomatoes, basil, olive oil, garlic, salt, ricotta salata (cheese, optional) and pasta! Look at our students in action in the video shot by theW&M Sustainability Interns.


Fall 2019 News: Italian Studies

A New Mural for the Italian House

On October 4th 2019, two of our students/artists, Alyssa Glauser and Laura Brancati, added a new masterpiece to the walls of the Italian House. It reproduces the world-famous Creazione di Adamo (The Creation of Adam), a fresco painted by Michelangelo on the Sistine Chapel’s ceiling that can be admired in the Vatican Museums.

The resemblance to the original is astonishing! Bravissime!

Screen Shot 2019-12-21 at 10.41.57 AM   murales 1 copy

More pictures on our Instagram!

News: Italian Studies Spring 2019 Uncategorized

2019 GKA National Italian Honor Society

Our Program is proud to recognize the outstanding undergraduate scholarship in the field of Italian Studies of the following students who were inducted in the National Italian Honor Society this Spring:

Vanessa Cai (Art History and Italian Studies, ’20)

Emily Knoche (European Studies & French & Francophone Studies, ’19)

Marisa Lemma (Government major & Economics minor, ’20)

Hannah London (Art History & Italian Studies ’21)

Antonella Nicholas (Public Policy, ’20)

Alessandra Scholle (Classics & Linguistics ’20)

Judith Tauber (European Studies and Italian Studies, ’21)


News: Italian Studies Spring 2019 Uncategorized

Slow Food in a Fast Food World

By Judith Tauber

Last summer, I conducted my Freshman Monroe Research Project on the Slow Food movement under the guidance of my wonderful advisor, Professor Mattavelli. I had been exposed to the principles of Slow Foodwithout realizing itnearly my entire life because my family places immense importance on choosing only organic, local foods. However, I wasn’t formally introduced to the Slow Food movement until taking Intermediate Italian with Professor Mattavelli during my first semester at William & Mary. I was drawn to the topic and later found myself wondering whether the organization had chapters in the United States, and if so, how these impacted their communities.

Slow Food was founded in Bra, Italy in 1986 by Carlo Petrini, mostly in response to the opening of a McDonald’s in Rome. In many respects, Slow Food is an alternative to fast food: it supports local, traditional food systems and values healthy, high-quality, sustainable and humane food practices, as is expressed in their motto good, clean and fair food for all. Today, the movement has about 78,000 members in one hundred and sixty countries[1].

IMG_4812For my research, I chose to focus on how American collegiate Slow Food chapters address problems in food production and subsequently interviewed representatives of Slow Food University of Vermont, Slow Food Emory and Slow Food Clemson. I then explored existing literature on the principal topics these groups discussed—migrant justice, food insecurity, and the importance of local food—and summarized my findings in a forty-page paper written in Italian. From the interviews, I found that each group primarily aims to educate the public using a variety of events, which are usually cheap or free; that a chapter’s location greatly impacted its topics and activities; and that all three representatives highly praised the Slow Food movement for its flexibility and adaptability.

Moreover, this project has transformed me both personally and professionally. For example, my eating habits have changed: I almost always cook for myself now, even making homemade pasta, pizza, and ice cream from scratch. I also tend to my own small herb garden and visit the farmer’s market as often as I can. Furthermore, I found that it was far less challenging to write a lengthy academic paper than I thought, even in a foreign language. In fact, this undertaking—despite being the one that originally intimidated me the most—was the one I most enjoyed! I loved being nearly fully immersed in the language: I was absorbing new vocabulary and sentence structures with every paragraph I wrote. In addition, I savored the gradual clarity that came with arranging everything I had learned into an organized paper. I also greatly enjoyed the thrill of sharing my findings with the academic community via my paper and my presentation at the Summer Research Showcase.

In short, if the opportunity presents itself to you to explore a topic of interest in depth, I urge you to make use of it: research is an exhilarating experience! For more information on my research project, please visit

[1] “Slow Food International.” Slow Food International,

Fall 2018 News News: Italian Studies

(Italian) Language at Work

By Arika Thames (Theatre and Gender, Sexuality, & Women’s Studies double major ‘19)

Arika in Genova


This summer I had the pleasure of living and working in Italy for six weeks. After studying Italian for two years I was determined to spend my summer in the country in some capacity. Instead of studying abroad, I searched for jobs where I could have that same cultural immersion while gaining valuable work experience. I found a wonderful company named Educo Italia which organizes hundreds of English-immersion summer camps around Italy. I gravitated towards this organization because they use theater and games to teach the language which is something I want to do professionally upon graduation. As a tutor I taught English lessons in the mornings, led fun camp-wide activities in the afternoon, and worked with my students to put on a small play at the end of every week.


genoa camp
Arika and coworkers in Italy

This experience was the first time that I ever traveled abroad by myself, so I was considerably nervous, but after a week all of my nerves went away. Educo provided me with great resources and support so that I never felt alone. I moved around to a new city every week which allowed me to see more of Italy than I could’ve ever imagined. Besides my week in Genova, most of the camps were in small towns so us tutors were truly embraced and made to feel like members of the community. My fellow tutors and I were shown around to nearby sites by our host families because they were so excited to show off where they call home. I loved seeing Italy from the perspective of those who lived there as opposed to a tourist’s viewpoint.

My time working with Educo this summer was exactly what I needed going into my senior year. While it was challenging work, it made me more confident in my language abilities as well as cultural competency. I’m now far more prepared for my next step towards a career in theater education and hopefully that future includes Italy!

News News: Italian Studies

“Ciao Amore!”– A Reflection on the Generosity of Italian Host Families

By Antonella Nicholas (Public Policy major and Italian minor, ’20)

Antonella with her Italian host mom
Antonella with her Italian host mom Maria Pia (W&M Summer in Florence)

When I arrived in Italy,  I found myself immersed in a hurricane of terms of endearment. Before starting my studies in Florence, I stayed in Rome for a few days, and in restaurants, shops, and downtown, I always heard “Ciao, bella” and “Grazie, amore.”  It felt like a big Italian hug; almost as if they welcoming me into their eclectic cultural family.  I suppose that if Rome was a hug, then Florence had to have been a loving tackle. A Firenze, with my host families, the frequency and variety of endearments stunned me. When I woke up: “Buongiorno, amore!”  When it was time for dinner: “Pronta, bimba?” When I had a question:  “Dimmi, cara.” When it was time to go to sleep: “Buonanotte stellina!”

It seems to me that these affectionate appellations reflect the kindness and hospitality of Italian families, especially that of host families. Over the course of ten weeks I stayed with two families, each of whom welcomed me with open arms.  I’ll admit, there were times when I wondered if I could spend so much time away from my family in the United States; however, the hospitality of my famiglie italiane dispelled any doubts, and made me feel at home even though I was a stranger.  They helped me to orient myself in the city, and they advised me about which monuments to visit. Thanks to them, I know the best gelaterie and where to find a true bistecca alla fiorentina. Every day at dinner my gratitude was multiplied–pasta, pizza, pesto, pollo, pomodoro, basilico, insalata, tiramisù, and my favorite, spaghetti aglio, oglio e peperoncino.

Antonella with her Italian host mom Cristiana (third party study abroad program)

Fantastic food was just a fraction of my experience with host families. I am a student of the Italian language, and therefore had a mission to improve my communication skills. Speaking in the casual environment of a home forced me to acquire a new vocabulary.  When I made a grammatical error, my mamma italiana corrected me. In this way, I was able to communicate with the other students in the home in a more informal way and understand the conversations of the family. Most valuably, I found that the best way to learn Italian is to watch TV.  In my first family, my host mother’s four-year-old niece came to visit us a few times, and we watched children’s cartoons. In the home of my second family, almost every day we watched a game show in which the competitors had to guess a word only knowing the first letter and two related words. This is how I became familiar with countless colloquial expressions.

When I arrived in Italy, I was bombarded with endearing nicknames–now, I can’t imagine what my life would be like without hearing “ciao amore” five times a day! Jokes aside, my stay in Italy with host families was fundamental to my understanding of Italian language and culture. In fact, they have inspired me to host students when I have a family myself.  The generosity I received from families in Italy and from Italians in general could fill Brunelleschi’s Duomo.

News News: Italian Studies

Voyage of Discovery in Italy

By Alexa Conti (class of 2021)

Every year, the National Italian American Foundation (NIAF) sponsors 20 Italian-American college students to travel to Italy (for free!) for their first times. The Ambassador Peter F. Secchia Voyage of Discovery Program is meant to strengthen the Italian American identity by bonding young Italian-Americans to the country, culture, and heritage of Italy; to help them gain an understanding of their heritage for the next generation; and to understand the historical significance of Italy and the current contribution Italy is making to the US and the world. The trip also offers students the opportunity to perform community service in areas of need during their stay in Italy.

This summer, I was fortunate enough to be awarded this opportunity. I spent two weeks in the southeastern region of Puglia, famously known as Italy’s “Heel of the Boot”, reconnecting with my cultural roots and refreshing my love for where I come from.

Alexa at Polignano a Mare in Puglia
Alexa at Polignano a Mare in Puglia

While both of my parents hail from southern Italy, I was exposed to customs and traditions native only to Puglia. For example, while pasta is a staple of the Italian diet, orecchiette is the pasta type most characteristic of this region.

Puglia is an incredibly diverse region. On my left was the mountain range and on my right was the Adriatic Sea. Puglia is known for its intense olive oil production as well as the abundance of cozze, or mussels, from the sea. Some major points that were visited during the trip include three UNESCO sites (Castel del Monte, the Trulli of Alberobello, and Matera) the easternmost point of Italy, Otranto, and the region’s capital, Bari.

The most unique aspect about this experience was that I got to experience it with other Italian-American students from around the country. Unless you live in a heavily populated community with other Italian-Americans, it’s usually hard to meet people who identify with their Italian heritage. Throughout the trip, we were all able to share and compare stories from our crazy Italian backgrounds, from our families to holidays to idiomatic expressions in each of our dialects. In addition to an augmented sense of pride for my ancestral country, I know that I also walked away with a new group for friends and expanded community, all bound by this “voyage of discovery”.

Flash forward four months after the trip, NIAF hosts an annual anniversary gala in Washington, D.C. that which all of the Voyage of Discovery alumni are invited to. The theme of the gala is based around that year’s region of honor. The food, drink, decorations, dances, and anything else needed for the gala were imported from Italy, and more specifically, Puglia. Many important Italian and Italian-American guests were invited to the event, including the Ambassador of Italy to the United States, the President of Puglia, and the CEO of Bristol-Myers Squibb.

Overall, the entire experience is one that I hope every Italian-American can be involved in and remain a part of for the rest of their lives, because I know I will be.

News News: Italian Studies

My First Trip to Italy

By Marisa Lemma (Government major & Economics minor, ’20).

Marisa on a trip to Cinque Terre

I had been dreaming about going to Italy for as long as I can remember. I remember telling my parents even in third grade that I would one day visit Italy. I would pore over my “First Thousand Words in Italian” book trying to soak up as much of the language as possible, and I had my sights set not just on studying Italian, but on studying it in Italy someday. After taking Italian for four semesters at W&M, it had become somewhat of an obsession for me.

So when I was accepted into the Florence program for this past summer, I had a lot of pre-conceived expectations. Luckily, Italy did not disappoint. I visited ancient sites in Rome, watched incredible sunsets in Venice, saw beautiful landscapes in Siena, went wine tasting in Chianti, tried the world’s best gelato in San Gimignano, and put my feet in the bluest water I’ve ever seen in Cinque Terre.

First night at the homestay: Marisa (right) with roommate (center) and host mom (left)

But out of all the places I visited, Florence was my favorite. My host mom made the most amazing food, and with my art history class I got to visit all the city’s main sites, including more breathtakingly-beautiful churches than I can count and the Galleria dell’Accademia, home of Michelangelo’s famous David statue.

While I was abroad, I practiced my Italian a lot. My host mom spoke no English, so I was fully immersed in the language at my homestay. I was the only American in my Italian class, so when I didn’t know a word, I couldn’t just translate it to English – I had to try to define it in Italian. Though this was difficult, my speaking ability improved greatly, and I now find myself asking “come si dice…?” less and less.

Even though I’m back in the US now, I’m still enamored with the country and its culture, and I’m counting down the days until I can go back.

News News: Italian Studies

The Impact of a Language

By Erin Kitchens (Anthropology major and Italian minor ’19)

View from the tower of Lucca over the city

I found Italian mostly by happenstance. On a whim I signed up for Italian, remembering how much I had admired the landscape and the melody of the language when I had visited as a 13-year-old. This decision, which I decided in five minutes, would shape my entire undergraduate career.

I would be lying if I said my relationship with Italian has always been easy. Having never spoken, or thought in, a second language I was completely lost when having to form sentences for myself. After the first Italian exam (which I failed spectacularly) I was filled with determination. This language would not get the best of me! And so, I continued slowly, and with many errors, the process of allowing another language to integrate itself into my life and thoughts. I believe that the way that we view the world is fundamentally shaped by the language which we speak. Some phrases in English don’t even exist in Italian. To learn a new language is to learn a new way of seeing the world.

In total I spent eight months of last year studying and doing research in Siena, Italy. I had previously spent a summer in Florence but while there I was still shy about my language abilities. I knew that all those around me were native speakers and clearly knew their own language. Meanwhile I made simple conjugation and agreement errors.

Overlooking the city of Arezzo on a winter day

Coming back to Italy a second time I knew my outlook had to be different. These people knew I was not a native Italian speaker and they were here to help me learn. So, I enthusiastically threw myself into being able to communicate in Italian, not just focus on grammatical structure. With time my grammar improved, and words began to flow more easily. I stopped having to translate each word and let myself get caught inside of the language. Understanding Italian for what the Italian meant, not just the English translation.

Studying Italian has allowed me to broaden my intellectual and personal boundaries in ways I could not have imagined. Just because something is not easy doesn’t mean that it is not important. In fact, some of the hardest things are the most important.

News News: Italian Studies

Studying in Italy: an Invaluable Experience

By Kelly Konrad (Linguistics and French & Francophone Studies ’20).

Kelly on a trip to Venice

During the summer of 2018, I spent a month studying in Florence, Italy, where I took Italian language and art history classes at LinguaViva, an institution designed for international students. Spending time studying in Italy was the best choice I’ve made so far as a student—the lessons I learned and the knowledge I gathered there is invaluable to my studies and my life in general. I was acclimated to the nuances of Italian culture, the rich history of the country and the language, and amazing people who live there. But above all, I gained a sense of independence I never had before.

Transitioning from high school to college obviously came with greater freedom as I was away from my family , living on your own for the first time. This independence, however, is nothing compared to what I experienced from studying abroad. Exploring the city and living with an Italian host family, I had to rely on a language that was not native to me and begin to understand cultural differences that hadn’t occurred to me before; it helped me understand my own beliefs and culture on a deeper level, expanding my understanding of myself. Another key piece in developing my independence as both a student and young adult was being frequently met with new decisions, an intrinsic aspect of going abroad. It was also an excellent practice in enjoying exploring a new area on my own, coming to terms with the city at my own pace.

In all, my time in Italy has served as an invaluable experience to me in becoming an independent person, and has given me a greater appreciation of everything around me.

Fall 2018 News News: Italian Studies

World Pasta Day at the Italian House

By ChIMG_1528iara Di Maio

Is there a better way to celebrate World Pasta Day on October 25th than making pasta from scratch just like our grandparents used to? We invited Chef Eric Christenson, owner of LOKAL, a nearby restaurant, to the Italian house to teach us how to make different types of pIMG_1548asta. Eric is an experienced chef and learned some of his cooking techniques in Italy. As if this weren’t enough, he also learned to speak Italian. “Italian food is all about quality”, he said while his hands mixed flour and eggs to create the perfect dough. He chose his ingredients carefully as he strove to make his dishes as healthy as possible.

In this cooking masterclass, Chef Eric taught students how to make both several pasta shapes and gnocchi. He showed us how the dough is made and used a pasta machine to make it thinner and more translucent. For the tagliatelle, he folded the dough and started cutting it in long strips about half an inch wide.


While some students started working on that, Chef Eric moved on to  explaining the ravioli and penne. However, the gnocchi required a different process because it has different ingredients and, therefore, a completely different consistency. IMG_1544

Christenson showed the students how to shape the gnocchi in several different ways. 

Chef Eric emphasized the fact that making pasta is fairly easy. However, after having tried it first hand, we know it takes a lot of practice. Students learned many tips and tricks to make pasta and we cannot wait for Eric to come back to the Italian house with other tasty recipes. In the meantime, we can all go have lunch and chat with him at LOKAL. 

IMG_1549  IMG_1551

Grazie mille, Eric!


News News: Italian Studies Spring 2018

National Italian Honor Society 2018 Induction Ceremony


The Gamma Kappa Alpha National Italian Honor Society acknowledges superior scholastic performance in the field of Italian language, literature, cinema, and culture of students in higher learning in the United States and Canada.

In spring 2018 the Gamma Kappa Alpha Chapter of William & Mary proudly recognized the outstanding undergraduate scholarship in Italian Studies of the following students:

From the left: Sarah Baker, Zoe Nelson, Rachel Dubit


Sarah Baker

Rachel Dubit

Erin Kitchens (studying in Italy)

Emily Murray (studying in Italy)

Zoe Nelson


The professors in the Italian program would like to extend their congratulations to these wonderful students!


Inductees with faculty members.
Inductees with faculty members in Italian


News News: Italian Studies Spring 2018

Conversation With Film Director Pierfrancesco Diliberto (Pif)

In March 2018 students in Professor Mattavelli’s class Italian Through Film had an exciting opportunity to skype with Pierfrancesco Diliberto (known as Pif), TV host and director of the movie The Mafia Only Kills in the Summer. The students watched the movie, read some articles and prepared a few questions for him.

One of the most striking elements of the movie is the way in which the mafiosi are depicted. Pif explained that, through the use of comedic elements, he aims at highlighting the difference between the myth created by films like The Godfather and the reality of the mafia. And because he grew up in Palermo (Sicily), he can laugh about the mafia in ways that others can’t.


Pif answered a few questions about the role of the mafia today and explained how things have changed since the assassination of Falcone and Borsellino, anti-mafia magistrates, in 1992. Some examples are the fact that he has never received threats for his mocking of the mafia in the media but, more importantly, today people all over Italy can watch a show that makes fun of the “boss of bosses” Salvatore Riina on national TV.

The students enjoyed listening to Pif’s perspective. Emily Knoche (class of 2019) valued the chance of hearing someone’s first-hand experiences: “Pif was able to give us more nuanced insight into the narrative of the Mafia that we would not have necessarily understood solely from the film and readings.” Kate Donati (class of 2020) appreciated how direct and genuinely interested in the conversation Pif was: “There was no feeling of him placating us or simply entertaining our questions, he seemed to genuinely be considering his answers!”

206 studentsWhen asked the million-dollar question about the most pressing problem in Italy today, Pif had a very interesting answer as Kelly Konrad (class of 2020) noted: “he mentioned the lack of true national sentiment, and he made many comparisons of how Italy differs from other countries, including the United States, in that aspect. It was very interesting to hear his take on the issue and how he was able to relate and compare it to our experiences as Americans.” And because our conversation happened after the general elections in Italy, the class was interested in Pif’s opinion on the topic. Christian Virgona (class of 2021) noted how Pif’s comments on the Italian political situation “drew some comparisons to our most recent election here in the US where a person with no political background won.”

In general, this was a great experience for the students who were able to converse in Italian with Pif and, as Judith Tauber (class of 2021) said: “it was impressive that we had the opportunity to talk to a well-known Italian actor and film director.” Grazie Pif!