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University of Minnesota Scholarship Winner Blog 2018 - Elena Cattaneo

My name is Elena Cattaneo and I am this year’s recipient of the ICC Massimo Bonavita Memorial Scholarship. I am a rising junior at the University of Minnesota studying Neuroscience and Italian and I want to thank you for choosing me to receive this scholarship, as it will allow me to pursue my lifelong dream of learning Italian.

I was born in Zurich, Switzerland and moved to Minnesota at fifteen months old, where I grew up speaking German and English. Most of my relatives are from Ticino, the Italian-speaking canton of Switzerland and I try to visit them regularly. As a child I forged friendships with my cousins, all the while speaking different languages, and as I became older my desire to learn Italian and communicate properly with my family became stronger every time I returned to Switzerland. A large part of my decision to attend the University of Minnesota was due to its Italian program, and I have been lucky to be taught by incredible teachers and professors for the past two years. I have learned more than I thought I would in such a short amount of time, and already my ability to communicate with my family has flourished. I can only imagine how much more I will learn this fall while studying at the University of Bologna, where I hope to take courses in Italian literature and history.

I am so grateful to the ICC for helping make my dream to immerse myself in Italy’s beautiful language and culture a reality. I believe that this opportunity will not only allow me to learn a new language, but it will also allow me to grow and learn about myself in a way that can only be done by leaving the comfort of normality, and by vulnerably embracing a new way of life.

September 2018

It’s hard to believe that just one month ago I arrived in Bologna nervous, unsure of my language skills, but so excited. The first few days were action packed and eventful as I met new friends, tried unfamiliar foods, and explored the city. Every day was a fun new adventure, but the excitement of the novelty was spotted by many moments of uncertainty. During the first week I got lost every time I went somewhere new and little things like grocery shopping or asking to taste a flavor of gelato caused me stress and anxiety. Sometimes when I spoke Italian to locals, they would respond in English. That always diminished my confidence and I wondered if I would ever feel truly at home in this city.

Here I am 30 days later taking classes at the University of Bologna taught exclusively in Italian, easily navigating around the city relying solely on landmarks and street names, and speaking freely and more confidently (thanks to a two-week intensive grammar course). I can direct you to my favorite gelateria and the best osteria in town. I know where all the UniBo students go to enjoy the cheapest aperitivos, I have a favorite park and running route up Bologna’s hills, and the owner of Bar Cartoleria knows my coffee order. I have begun to find my “spots” in this city, making it my home, and I couldn’t be more content!

Ferrara, Emilia Romagna, Italy

Pasta making at an Agriturismo

Mosaics in Ravenna, Emilia Romagna, Italy

The view from Santuario della Madonna di San Luca. Bologna, Emilia Romagna, Italy.

Mural in Dozza, Emilia Romagna, Italy

A beautiful sunset in Dozza

Me with some friends from the Bologna Consortial Studies Program in Dozza

Two Minnesota Gophers attempting to make an “M” in front of Mount Vesuvius in Naples, Campania, Italy.

Procida, Italy

Parco Villa Ghigi – my favorite place to run and a great view of the city!

October 2018

Before coming to Italy I felt that I understood the power of language and its ability to foster connections, as this knowledge and my desire to better communicate with my Italian-speaking relatives is what motivated me to study Italian in the first place. Although learning a new language is a long and hard process with absolutely no instant gratification, my trip to Naples, Italy with three friends from the Bologna Consortial Studies Program at the end of September confirmed my belief and validated every sacrifice I made and any hesitation I had about studying abroad.

I think about Naples constantly and while I do reminisce about the incredible sights we saw, the food we ate and the things we learned, I find myself thinking primarily about all the people we met and the conversations we had. What set this trip apart from any other was our interactions with the locals.  

One evening while on the hunt to find a pizza fritta (fried pizza, a must eat when in Naples) we stumbled upon the “Enne Market Alimentari Maria”, a small store similar to an American deli. There was a sign outside advertising a “frittata di pasta”, which was one of the many foods my Neapolitan roommate told me I had to try while in Naples. We bought the frittata, chatted with the employees and Maria herself, and stepped outside to eat. Shortly after, Maria came out holding an arancina fritta for us to try, which we gladly did. We asked her about how it was made and when she realized our excitement and interest in this new food, she came out with a handful of other things for us to taste. She was just as excited to share her food with us as we were to try and learn about it all.

That same night we asked a group of guys our age where the best gelateria nearby was and ended up chatting with them for over thirty minutes. They even tried to teach us some of their Neapolitan dialect, but after too many failed attempts we decided to try and master Italian before getting mixed up in the various dialects.

The next day on the Island of Procida we walked into a small art studio, and running in behind us came the owner and artist, Luigi Nappa, an older man who had just been drinking a coffee at the bar next door. He was thrilled to show us his artwork and once he realized we were native English speakers that also spoke Italian, he was even happier to share his work. He even read an original poem to us from the book that he published, and almost an hour later we finally left the art studio with posters in our hands, gifted to us and created by Signor Nappa himself.

I reflect on this short trip to Naples, and am content knowing how unique our adventure was. I am sure the average tourist that descends from a massive cruise ship to spend 12 hours in Naples learning how to make a Margherita Pizza does not fall in love with this city in the way we did. Looking back on how much my language skills have developed since I came to Italy I know that had I come just two months ago, I would not have had such an incredible experience. Learning Italian has allowed me to explore this country from another perspective and to foster connections with my family and strangers alike. It has opened up a whole new world for me that I am excited to continue exploring.

The crew on the Island of Procida, Campania.

From left to right: Daniel, Me, Emma, and Ally (a fellow Minnesota Gopher!)

Just a few of the MANY treats we ate throughout the weekend. The top two are called “lingue di suocera” and are a pastry typical of Procida. The triangular pastry is called “sfogliatelle” and in itself is a good enough reason to return to Naples.

The view from my cousin’s balcony. Lugano, Ticino, Switzerland. 

Enne Market Alimentari Maria, or simply “Maria’s”, in Naples, Campania.

Urbino, Marche.

Inside the Palazzo Ducale of Urbino, Marche.

Urbino, Marche.

American friends and me making banana pancakes for my Italian roommates.

Bologna, Emilia Romagna.

Some friends from the Bologna Consortial Studies Program and me with the director Saverio Costanzo at the Lumière Theatre in Bologna where we attended a screening of the first two episodes of his new HBO TV series adapted from the book “My Brilliant Friend” by Elena Ferrante.



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