"The extracurricular language-related opportunities that I had at UW were some of the most defining parts of my college experience."
Major(s) and Certificate(s): Italian, Linguistics, South Asian Studies Certificate
Language(s): Italian & Hindi
Graduation Year: 2015
Current Location: Budapest, Hungary
What have you done since graduating from UW-Madison?
The summer after graduation, I worked as a Community Literacy Intern at Literacy Network in Madison, where I planned individualized ESL lessons for community members. Since the end of August, I have been doing a year of service in Budapest, Hungary, where I work part-time in an NGO that focuses on Roma (Gypsy) Advocacy and part-time as an English assistant in a middle-high school.
What motivated you to study this/these languages?
My junior year of high school, I lived as an exchange student in Italy and became fairly fluent in Italian. I chose to continue studying it at UW to keep up my fluency, improve my grammar, learn more about literature and culture, and meet other people with a similar interest in the language. I first started studying Hindi freshman year as part of a FIG about musical cultures of South Asia. Since I knew UW offered so many diverse languages, I wanted to study one that I didn’t think I would have many other opportunities to learn. After the FIG, I decided to continue with Hindi, because it was fascinating to learn such a different language system from what I was familiar with (English, Italian) and I really enjoyed the cultural component of the classes. As a Linguistics major, I also thought it was important to be working with these different languages to have diverse reference points for the structure of language as a whole.
How have these languages enriched your life?
Being able to speak Italian and Hindi has allowed me to interact with my community and experience life in Italy and India on a level that wouldn’t be possible otherwise. You can lose a lot in translation, and even though you can get by mostly anywhere in English, I think learning the language of a place where you are staying shows respect for the native people and their heritage. Speaking these languages has also given me the ability to consume and appreciate music, literature, film, news, etc. in their original form. I can now get the play on words in a Bollywood movie or hear the intended rhyme of Dante’s Inferno. On a personal level, learning these languages has given me new ways of expressing myself. There are things that I can communicate better in Hindi or ways to say things that I would only use in Italian. I think it has also made connections in my brain that not only make it easier to understand/learn new languages but also see relationships in other parts of life.
What do you remember about your UW language classes? How were they different from other classes you took?
My Italian and Hindi classes were always some of my favorites. My Hindi classes were generally fairly small and had a family feel. We would have a lot of interaction in class, work with each other on projects, and at the end of each year, we would meet outside of class to cook food together or have a party. In the case of both Hindi and Italian, one of the best parts of class was not just learning about the language but learning in the language. It was certainly more challenging in this regard than a class in English, but it meant that you were always getting something out of it, even if you didn’t like the particular lesson, and it was hard to get bored.
How valuable were your out-of-classroom experiences?
The extracurricular language-related opportunities that I had at UW were some of the most defining parts of my college experience. I learned about Italian Club my freshman year and almost directly got involved in an officer position. Over the three years that I was on campus, being part of this organization helped me develop leadership skills, work in a team, form close relationships with professors, learn about and coordinate with other organizations, meet some of the closest friends I ever had, and all the while continue to explore and share my love of Italian language and culture. My sophomore year I was a part of Piazza Italia, the Italian learning community in Adams Hall. I had the opportunity to improve and gain confidence in my Italian by speaking every day and explore cultural topics with many different professors though the weekly seminars. I also got to spend my day to day life having conversations and hanging out with people with a diversity of perspectives and life experiences. I think some of the most valuable things I learned that year and some of the best memories didn’t come from the classroom but from shared meals, 2 AM discussions, and the occasional hilarious miscommunication.
The summer after my sophomore year I did a 6-week, intensive language program in Italy. It was a great opportunity to focus entirely on studying and using Italian every day, both in class and in daily life. We also had a course on history and culture, and we were able to enhance our learning by visiting places in our city and surrounding area that related to the topics. My junior year, I studied abroad both semesters in Varanasi, India. I not only had incredible opportunities to continue learning Hindi – at school, living with a host family, interacting in the community – but also was able to learn a lot about history and culture, about the diversity of life experiences, and about myself. Living in India for a year certainly wasn’t easy, as so many parts of day-to-day life were different and involved extra-mental (and sometimes physical) energy to get through. But staying there long enough to get past the culture-shock and Western ideas of what I needed to be happy allowed me to see and experience all that India has to offer, which is a lot! As I previously mentioned, I feel like my experiences in Italy and India were shaped by my ability to speak Italian and Hindi, respectively. I was able to learn more and interact with people on a different level because I made an effort to communicate in the language, and the desire to meet people where they were instead of making them use English was almost always appreciated!
How have you maintained or improved your language(s) since graduation?
Since graduation, I have continued to read books, listen to music, and watch movies in Hindi and Italian to keep up with the languages. I have also made an effort to keep in touch with friends from class and from study abroad to continue practicing conversation. In my current position, I have also had the opportunity to assist in Italian classes at the school where I assist in English classes.
What advice do you have for current language students?
Find fun ways to bring the language you’re studying into life outside of class — listen to music, watch a movie, read an article, go to a restaurant, join a conversation table, etc. The more exposure you have to the language, the easier it will be to learn and remember. If possible, study abroad in a place where they speak the language you are studying. It’s not only one of the best ways to learn, but meeting people and discovering culture through the language will give it a special significance to you.
What is your favorite word or phrase in a language you know?
Hindi: मनपसन्द [pronounced ‘manpasand’] — “favorite” (literally ‘what my heart likes’). Italian: in bocca al lupo — “good luck” (literally ‘into the mouth of the wolf’)