Picture of Tony and Stephanie

 Link to the CCRI Home Page Community College of Rhode Island

            By Tony Scaduto


(Anthony Scaduto recently retired as an editor and feature writer for Newsday, the Long Island newspaper, after spending more years in New York journalism than any polite person should ask about. He is the author of ten books, including "Bob Dylan: An Intimate Biography," "Scapegoat," which proved that the man who was executed for kidnapping and killing the Lindbergh baby was most probably innocent, and a detective novel. He is thinking seriously of writing a book about Umbria.)

Orvieto, in the province of Umbria, became "CCRI Italia" this past summer as Professor Maria Mansella herded 24 students to the charming, ancient hilltop town for three weeks of intensive study in the Italian language and culture. Her idea, Prof. Mansella says, was to "teach beginning and intermediate Italian in two intensive courses, to immerse the students in the culture, and to prompt them to interact with the Italian people." "And it worked wonderfully," says one of the students, Stephanie Trudeau of Brooklyn. (Four of the students were from Brooklyn, joining up with the CCRI students when a similar program at Brooklyn College was cancelled.) "After the first week, not only were some of us speaking in Italian to shopkeepers, waiters and others, but we felt comfortable chatting up people in the streets and wherever we happened to go," Ms.Trudeau says. "Unlike major cities like Rome and Florence, very few of the people of Orvieto speak English, so you're forced to use the Italian you’ve learned in class. Prof. Mansella didn’t merely teach Italian language and culture and assign materials out of books, but she arranged jaunts to a number of major cultural sites, including the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican, Florence’s Uffizi Gallery, teemimg with the most impressive treasures in the Western world, and to two sagre, celebrations by people of nearby towns, under tents, with dancing to live bands, lots of food and a chance to intermingle with the local citizens. The CCRI Italian Club picked up a large part of the bus transportation costs – admissions to museums, and the cost of a dinner for all at a local restaurant that’s built over 2,500 year old Etruscan storage rooms that go down about 65 feet below street level. Donn Gennari, president of the club, was one of the students. Orvieto, believed to be the oldest continuously active city on the Italian peninsula, is on a high, flat plateau rising from the fertile valley below. It is one of about a dozen towns built by the Etruscans some 3,500 years ago, when what later became Rome was occupied by primitive mud huts. Mansella also brought into the classrooms three local Italians, a teacher and a retired police officer, Leda and Aldo Papa, and another teacher, Luisa Costantini, who has an apartment in Orvieto that she goes to whenever she’s not in Houston. "Imagine it," she says, "I teach English with a broken Italian accent to Spanish immigrant children in Texas." The three guests discussed their lives and careers, in Italian, with Professor Mansella helping with English when some students didn’t completely understand. Our guide on the cultural field trips was an art historian, Chiara Coletti. Chiara, who speaks nearly perfect English, is in her late twenties, has a Ph.D in art history. Her speciality 16th and 17th century art, and is an aspiring history professor. She is able to bring to life the paintings, sculpture and architecture that she discussed with us in several cities and, a joy when one starts getting confused with the plethora of paintings on museum walls, she gave us a sense of the progression of great art from the medieval up to more recent centuries. "Maria [Mansella] always tried to motivate her students by putting them in close contact with Italian culture, food, atmosphere and the people," Chiara says, "believing that emotionally linking people with the language they’re studying is the best way to get them totally inside that language."For the kids of Orvieto, walking the ancient streets, meeting friends, stopping for espresso or gelato, is a nightly routine. Some of Prof. Mansella’s younger students--a couple were fresh out of high school—often went out after dinner to mingle with Italian kids. "The people around town corrected my Italian a lot," says one of the students, Teresa Dalpe, "which was helpful in learning the language. The younger kids tended to be judgmental, political and opinionated, and I didn’t like that. But other than that I loved being in Orvieto and learned a lot. "Students are planning to hold a forum on Wednesday, November 19, 2003 at 12:00Noon at the Knight Campus, Warwick. They would like to share their experience with the community. "Learning a foreign language can be a lot of fun. It helps to understand each other better and it gives us confidence and strength to succeed in a world that is getting smaller and smaller". Everyone is welcome to attend!



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This page developed and maintained by Maria C. Mansella . Send comments and suggestions to mmansella@ccri.edu © 2003, Community College of Rhode Island - All rights reserved.