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An American Girl in Venice: Chloe, from California, for the Love of Italian

"Campus Italy" is a new column dedicated to foreigners in Italy, who are learning the Italian culture and language. The first story is from a young Californian

Student at Ca' Foscari School for International Education, 25 year old Chloe Donnelly has come to Italy from California. Passionate about linguistics and philology, she fell in love with our Country: "I enjoy studying Italian because I love the language, but also because this type of study helps me become a better English teacher. Italy has a beautiful soul—it permeates everything"

Chloe Donnelli and Daniela Cundro

Name: Chloe

Surname: Donnelly

Born in: Ventura, California

Age: 25 years

Enrolled in: Pre-Intermediate B1 level Italian language course at “Ca ‘Foscari School for International Education”


Italy is sprinkled with foreigners who come to study the Italian language in programs offered by various universities, associations, and private and public institutes. The decision to leave for Italy may be based on personal, professional, or family reasons—or simply an interest in our language and culture. In particular, there are many young Americans who come to study the language, and in so doing, find an important moment of challenge and growth in a world they have only known through the movies, and tales of friends and relatives (perhaps of Italian origin). At last they find themselves immersed in a world that they can see with their own eyes, discovering and appreciating its strengths and weaknesses—and foreigners’ attraction to our country is certainly nothing new.  Among the most beautiful pages of German literature lies the unforgettable “Journey to Italy,” that Johann Wolfgang Goethe wrote between 1786 and 1788 (the first edition of which, would be published twenty-eight years later). Between 1816 and 1817, Goethe published some diaries and letters that were destined for a small circle of friends. This effort to protect the depth and intimacy of his experience in Italy was born of his desire to preserve the decisive years of his Italian stay. And today, readers can be grateful for those pages that, rather than a trip to Italy, represent “a life” in Italy. As well as the lives of students who still today choose Italy as the stage of their personal growth, as did Chloe, a brilliant American girl studying Italian at Ca ‘Foscari School for International Education in Venice, who tells us about her “Journey to Italy.”

Chloe, you are very young, but you already have a considerable breadth of life and professional experiences. Can you tell us how and why you decided to come and study the Italian language and culture in our country?

“It’s true; I may only be 25 but I’ve been fortunate enough to travel a lot, both in the United States and in Europe. Since my early 20’s I’ve felt a growing desire to see the world and experience new cultures, which I’ve been able to facilitate (in part), through my passion for teaching English.  I earned my Bachelor of Arts in “English Writing” at Humboldt State University, located in northern California.  During my time there I pursued a wide array of interests, including Philology, Linguistics, English Literature, and, of course, the study of the Italian language. My first experience in Italy – in San Remo 2015 – was facilitated by an organization called ACLE (Association Cultural Linguistic Educational) who selected me for a position teaching English to children (between 8 and 12) in summer camps for a period of two months.  The following summer I received a scholarship to study Italian at a school in Recanati called ‘Campus L’Infinito’.  After that I knew I wanted to come to study in Italy for a longer period.   I returned to the US to prepare applications for master’s programs, and complete the final semester of my BA, which included an Italian Literature course.”

The program of study in which you’ve enrolled is one you’ve designed to fit your goals and interests.

Chloe Donnelli, in Venice, with a friend

Can you explain to us how you have structured your studies for the next few months, and why?

“At the Ca’ Foscari School for International Education I am attending a Pre-Intermediate B1 level language course.  It takes place over one semester and includes 80 hours of instruction in the Italian language and culture. Several other Americans attend my school as well. In total for 2017 we have 18 American students, hailing from California, Connecticut, Georgia and Washington; their age ranges from 19 to 52.  Personally, I enjoy studying Italian because I love the language, but also because this type of study helps me become a better English teacher. I experience language acquisition from the learner’s perspective, which lends me an insight, and provides an opportunity to make note of various techniques for teaching grammar, vocabulary, syntax, and conversation structure.  I apply this knowledge in my work at a school in Treviso, where I teach an evening language class for adults.  It is my intention that my knowledge of the Italian language will continue to help me in gaining employment and perhaps even acceptance into a PHD program in Italy someday.”

What three adjectives would you use to describe the Italian Language course you follow?

“That’s a good question! I would certainly say the course is “informative” in a global sense, as it deepens my knowledge of both Italy’s cultural issues and the components of its language.  Secondly, I could say “emotional,” because our teacher puts a special emphasis on learning to express emotions in another language. Finally, I must add “international,” because my class is comprised of people from different countries all over the world including Germany, Belgium, Spain, Lithuania, China, and Serbia. I even have one colleague who is a Thai Monk! Studying in an international class is an especially ideal opportunity for me, as I am fascinated by the psychological and anthropological relationship between language and culture.  My goal is to study the ways in which the concepts of personal and cultural identity are informed by the language being used (especially in multi-cultural environments).”

 What would you recommend to students who, like you, want to come and study the Italian language in Italy?

“My advice to Americans who want to come study in Italy is this: realize that the most difficult obstacle will be the bureaucratic process!  You must train yourself to think of this as a sort of preselection.  If you pass this test, everything else will be fine—and if the most difficult aspect of this journey is the bureaucratic one, the easiest is making friends. I’ve already found many people in Italy with whom I feel a real connection. Though I am often too tired, I do enjoy a casual evening out with friends to talk about philosophy and linguistics over a (traditional Venetian) spritz!  If I had to point to Italy’s greatest strength, I would say that I love Italians because of how welcome they make me feel.  Italy has a beautiful soul—it permeates everything from the food to the way the people greet you.  The only difficulty I have felt in this culture is the way Italians often insist on serving you ‘mountains’ of food.  It is hard not to be uncomfortable when your stomach seems about to burst but you also don’t want to be rude!  But this is a small price to pay for the wonderful feeling of being treated like one of the family.  Especially since I miss my own family, far away in California, more and more as the months pass.  It is my dream to bring my grandfather, my mom and my brother to Italy one day, even just for a vacation!”

Chloe Donnelly in Venezia

Before you, many foreigners have come to our country to make their ‘Journey to Italy’. One of them is Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, who published his work in two volumes, the first of which came out in 1816 and the second in 1817. From those dates many years have passed and in these months is the bicentenary of his ‘Travel in Italy’, which is celebrated with an itinerant Festival of Literature, Arts and Travel Cultures. Among its legs in Italy, one of the most significant is Venice. I bring you some his reflections on the city you live in this time of your life.

No one can imagine the anguish and the tightness if he has not seen it. By widening your arms you can almost always measure, in whole or in part, the width of the streets; in those most narrow, people who point their hands on the hips already bending their elbow; there are also larger, also some small squares, but on a general scale it is nothing but a strait”. And again: “If they only keep their city cleaner, which is necessary and easy ‘go of centuries, really of great consequence!”. Regarding the Venetian dialect, Goethe tells a nice anecdote: “Several times, on a canal shore, in front of the water, I saw a poor man who talked of Venetian dialect stories to a greater or lesser of listeners; I do not understand a word, but I see no one laughing, and rarely notice some smile in the audience […]”. Lastly, a note of color: “I had taken the arrangement to hear the famous ‘song of the gondoliers’ tonight, who sing the Tasso and the Ariosto on their typical melodies. […] In a loud voice – because the people appreciate, above all, the power – the man, sitting in a gondola at the shore of an island or a canal, resounds his song to the widest possible distance; it spreads over the calm water mirror”. According to those Goethe’s words and descriptions, how do you think Venice has changed in these two centuries?

“It’s true I have often thought of Venice as a labyrinth, its narrow streets winding through tall, old buildings to intersect at close corners or on bridges. Regarding the filth, I would say that today the roads are kept quite clean, though the water may be a bit dirty and cloudy.  I have little experience with the Venetian dialect, but one anecdote does come to mind.  One day when a group of us were walking to our morning lesson, one girl wanted to stop to get a croissant.  Another girl said there was no time, but the first one replied that we could do it, as we were just five minutes from school. The second girl then said “gold,” and explained that in that context, this word means not “gold” but “optimal.”  The probably origins of this colloquialism seem fairly obvious to me, as the association between “gold” and “optimal” is very tangible: gold signifies money, and money signifies security, and often security of “optimal” conditions.  Regarding the song of the gondoliers, I think I have heard it only once in my time here so far. I was walking to the train station at dusk, when from the canal below me emerged the deep, rich tone of a man’s voice.  Looking out across the water, I saw the silhouette of the gondolier on his boat, the origin of the rich tones echoing into the air. I could not say if it was the Tasso and the Ariosto that he sang… but the melody was sweet–a lullaby–as his boat rocked its passengers, as the city seemed to sigh and prepare for sleep. I feel lucky, and I love it here.  It’s hard to stay angry or sad for too long when all you have to do is raise your eyes, see the sun all around, feel the music, and watch the boats drifting slowly, through one of the strangest and most beautiful landscapes in the world.”


Thanks to Chloe Donnelly for editing version of the interview




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