The summer before 8th grade I accepted an invitation from a friend to go to Northern Italy. On this magnificent ten-day trip, I saw for the first time a world beyond the United States. From the golden, undulating hills of Tuscany and its walled medieval towns to the labyrinthine canals of Venice navigated by working-class Charons, Italy had my heart. As much as the history fascinated me and the architecture awed me, it was the melodic language, bouncing off cobblestone streets and flowing out of open windows that gave Italy a unique magic. Many years after this trip, it came to my knowledge that Duke, the university I would be attending, required three semesters of a language. Recalling my days in Siena and Florence I decided I would give this lilting language a shot.
Italian 203 marks my completion of the language requirement, but I must admit, as much as the constant assignments irked me, I truly valued my growth in both understanding the culture and communicating with my hard-learned grammar and vocabulary.
Many assignments included in this portfolio reflect my new understanding of Italian culture and how I used this understanding to complete the task at hand. At the beginning of the semester, my partner Drew and I created two commercials that sold products to an American audience and an Italian audience. For the American commercial, we utilized homegrown patriotism and discounted pricing to make our sell. For the Italian commercial, however, we emphasized the quality of our food and its fresh, regionally grown origin, knowing that Italians would be more attracted to this aesthetic and rustic approach. An example of this cultural predilection would be the Slow Food movement we learned about through a documentary and supplementary worksheet attached in this portfolio. This assignment helped me understand the importance of regional over national pride in Italy, how each region has its own distinct dishes, and how globalization has threatened this heritage. In fact, I always knew food was important to Italians before Italian 203–I just never grasped how big of a cultural identity Italian food actually is. In fact, when I interviewed Emanuele Macchi, a senior in my fraternity from Novara, he said the thing he missed most about Italy next to family was the food. Interviewing Mani allowed me to compare our American culture with his Italian culture and how these differences play out in the classroom and in social relations with our peers. In 101 and 102, we skimmed the surface of Italian culture; in 203, we took a dive, and the water felt great.
This understanding of Italian culture could not have happened, however, if I did not have the communication skills to interview Mani, for example, in the first place. Our vast array of assignments had me doing all types of communicating. In making the film “Santino, il Rapper,” I had to write dialogue between characters that needed to sound like a convincing conversation and even have one character verbally assault another one all in rhyme. In my oral blogs, specifically my blog reacting to the “Il Mezzo Ipad,” I had to summarize and offer my opinion all without a document to read off. In my cooking video, I had to present to my viewers step by step instructions on how to make a fried egg. And lastly, I even connected my ability to communicate with my ability to be a salesman in my group’s Nasher Museum presentation. I lectured without a prompt on how the museum should build an outdoor garden, drawing from an Italian cultural love for the outdoors, to attract more students.
The two final items in my portfolio are symbolic of the work with grammar and vocabulary I achieved as a student. The first is a review worksheet on the subjunctive, reflecting my mastery of a new tense. The second is my essay on my Bob Dylan museum, a testament to my growth in that I have gained the vocabulary to talk at length about a musician I am passionate about.
This portfolio marks that I am no longer the naïve boy walking through Siena listening to the undecipherable music of Italian, but rather a young man who when he returns to those cobble stone streets next fall to study abroad, will be able to contribute his own voice to that great choir.