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Learning Through Teaching

Motolani Verissimo '16, Italian Teaching Volunteer

Teaching at New Pathways Elementary School has really opened my eyes to the value of education. I continue to take Italian because I think it’s a beautiful language and I have a genuine interest in it but I never thought that it would lead to such a humbling experience. I volunteer every Tuesday morning from 10-11:15. What I thought would be an extra hour of work each week has proven to be a funny, great and quite humbling time for me that flies by! Even though I don’t spend an overly large amount of time with the kids, I really get a chance to work on my people skills when I’m with them. Learning how to talk and present yourself among your peers is quite important but isn’t always hard. However, learning how to explain a topic and hold the attention of young children is a whole different monster. The children get so excited when I come to teach them. I think that their interest in learning Italian is what makes the class period so lively and interesting.

This opportunity has also been a great way of increasing my fluency in Italian. When I am with the kids, I have to think of more creative and interesting ways of explaining words so that they can recognize and remember them. I think this is the most efficient way to practice/learn because if you can explain something well to a group of children, you must have a firm grasp on the topic.

Lost Italiana: Finding Myself at DePauw

Michelina Ferrara '12 (The DePauw, March 9, 2010)

Broken English interrupts the otherwise continuous pattern of Italian. The scent of pastas and a recently-cooked, gourmet, three-course meal fill the air. The bickering of sisters, the howling of a puppy and the exhaustion of the day culminates into the otherwise excited and vibrant aura - I am home.

My father came to America when he was twenty. Clinging to his ancestry and vowing by tradition while pledging his allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, he longed and desired for the American dream.

My mother married my father right out of high school and fell quickly into the role of an Italian woman: strong, unyielding, and yet, subdued. She and my father built their own business upon the foundation of morality and betterment, knowing that in the future their children would benefit from the privilege of an education and a better life.

Being the first born into this family, I needed to succumb to my familial roots, yet learn to be American as well. At times I felt torn, wanting to rebel against traditions so long ingrained, I felt myself abandoning the tradition and customs for a more modern way of thinking. I look back now and reflect, because I know that somewhere in between my rebellion and my traditions, I found myself.

My family, who always advocated education, turned out to be my greatest molder of dreams. Being the first in my entire family to go off to college, I am the fulfillment of my parent's American dream. Plunging ahead, I bring with me the traditions of the past, the knowledge and passion of the present and the willfulness and enthusiastic desire for the future.

Growing up, I was always surrounded by a community that nurtured and embraced my culture and identity. Excited to come to DePauw, and bring that identity with me, I was met with a harsh reality - there was a divided sense of community that was engulfed by a racial identity that I did not inhabit. I was confronted by a choice: minority or majority.

As I explored my Italian ancestry, my darker complexion and features and my own comfort levels, I found that the reality I was experiencing was not just confined to me.

Italians, in their immigration to the United States, by boat or plane dealt with this identity mix-up as well. In fact, when Italians first began their migration pattern to the United States through Ellis Island, they were harshly discriminated against by other groups already in the country. As Italians made a place for themselves in this new country of dreams, they became white. Italians did not fit the blonde, freckled picture of the American at that time, so they aspired and assimilated to such. This identity transformation and exploration was manifesting itself in me at DePauw.

I can recall being asked by a professor my first semester to write a story about my family. I wrote about how family-oriented we were, and how my Nonna would always cook the most amazing Italian dishes that would bring us together for our weekly, cherished Sunday meal.

As I listened to my classmates, I realized that my family was different. The names we used, the words to describe things, the customs, the background, everything. This was extremely intimidating. Why couldn't I just disappear into the colorless reality of DePauw?

Before I left for college my parents told me to remember where I came from and never forget my roots. These words echoed in my head during my first semester as I struggled to define myself among a seemingly culture-less and homogenous population. The struggle of my father over two decades ago, and the struggle of my ancestors came to fruition in Greencastle, Ind.

A first-generation Italian-American woman finding refuge among difference.

PLAYER Recounts Italian Encounters

Camron Burns '14, Men's Basketball

The basketball team's trip to Italy was a blast and one of the greatest experiences of my life. I never could have imagined that I would be presented with such an opportunity. As a team, we immersed ourselves in Italian culture and played three Italian teams, experiencing a game we love in a completely new setting.

We left Indianapolis on a Friday morning and arrived in Milan around noon - due to the time change - after a ten-hour flight. We received a tour of the city and walked through a very famous, outside shopping center where stores like Gucci, Prada and Louis Vuitton stood next to McDonald's. We weren't there for long and left for Venice that afternoon.

The two days we stayed in Venice were amazing and one of the highlights of the trip. To get to the city we had to travel by boat. The city is magnificent and can only be fully appreciated if seen in person. I even had the opportunity to take a boat tour through the city. The architecture and uniqueness of Venice provided a jumbled maze of incredible sights, food and entertainment.

The second night in Venice we played our first game of the trip against Pallacanestro Mirano. I played my first varsity minutes for DePauw in that game, which is a rare thing, and something I can tell my kids when I get older. We won that game handily, and the team played well behind the lead of our seniors. As part of the Italian tradition, the team had a nice meal laid out for us after the game, including many Italian delicacies and champagne. 

We then went on to Florence and Rome to complete our tour of Italy. Florence was beautiful, with a rich history and even more incredible sights. We played our second game in an outlying town of Montecatini. The team we played was very good and even had their own  small stadium. Their coach was a former player for the Italian national team. They beat us in a good game, but there were no hard feelings as they offered us a meal after the game and both teams got into a group picture. While in Rome we stayed in Hotel California, one of my favorite places of the trip. We won our third game there to go 2-1 in the "Tigers' conquest of Italia," as many of the players jokingly said. During the trip, we immersed ourselves in Italian culture, pizza, language, women and driving. We all had an incredible time, and it was rewarding to be there as a team.