A Deeper Understanding of Italian Culture
Gabriella Ballardo ’21 and Grace Lin-Cereghino ’21 tell us about their experiences as the first two Vari Italian Studies Fellows.
by Sarah Stoddard ’23
Italian Studies is a topic that is close to the hearts of seniors Gabriella Ballardo (Environmental Studies and Italian Studies) and Grace Lin-Cereghino (Public Health Science and Italian Studies). So, when they were both given the opportunity to be the first Vari Italian Studies Fellows last summer, they were ecstatic. This fellowship, awarded to exceptional Santa Clara University students who exemplify Jesuit values and are majoring or minoring in Italian Studies, gives students the opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of Italian culture through research or community-based internship opportunities. Both Ballardo and Lin-Cereghino participated in local community-based internships where they were able to practice the Italian language, engage with the local Italian community, and gain a deeper and richer understanding of Italian culture.
“Italian Studies has helped me to feel close to that part of my heritage and gain new cultural perspectives,” Ballardo says. “Given that being Italian is such a big part of my identity, I feel passionate about keeping the spirit of the culture and language alive.” Ballardo’s internship took place at the Italian American Heritage Foundation in San Jose. She worked as a Public Relations Intern, helping the foundation find ways to “expand its audience and promote a more diverse and inclusive image by providing recommendations for its social media pages, newsletter, and website,” as she explains. In addition to this, she created many Italian-themed events using her knowledge of the Italian language and culture.
“Learning the language made me feel closer to the culture,” said Lin-Cereghino, who first began learning Italian in high school. When she came to SCU, she fell in love with the Modern Languages and Literatures department and the wide range of topics she could study in Italian classes. “I’ve gotten to use a different part of my brain with Italian Studies—learning about things I’m passionate about, just in a different language,” she explains. During Lin-Cereghino’s internship, which was at the Museo Italo Americano, she created materials for Italian language classes, assisted with online art exhibits, helped with their virtual gift shop, and more. She also aided the non-profit in adjusting to the virtual environment since her internship took place during the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, both Fellows worked completely remotely during their internships.
The fellowship experience was valuable to Ballardo and Lin-Cereghino in more ways than one. They were both able to practice the Italian language in a professional setting that connected to their career goals in addition to using skills from their other majors and minors. Ballardo’s primary major is Environmental Studies. “I definitely tried to incorporate my passion for sustainability into some of my internship projects,” she says. Lin-Cereghino, who has a minor in Urban Education, wishes to be a teacher after graduating and was able to practice her skills as an educator during her experience. “Part of my work at the Museo Italo Americano was creating classroom materials for their language classes for adults,” she says. “That was really fun—I got to pull in a lot of things that I would use in the classes I peer educate for and really draw on my knowledge of the Italian language.” Lin-Cereghino was inspired by the way the Museo taught language and brought their students a joy of learning. “It helped me contemplate how I want to form my classroom in the future,” she says.
Ballardo and Lin-Cereghino were also able to engage with the community and learn about others’ stories. This is a very important part of the fellowship—gaining a richer understanding of the Italian culture through local and global perspectives. “Through this experience, I was able to learn more about other Italian-American experiences aside from my own, specifically regarding societal integration and discrimination that Italian-Americans have faced,” Ballardo says. Both Fellows were proud to be able to help Italian-Americans connect to their roots and learn how their culture is important to them. Lin-Cereghino explains that when many immigrant groups come to America, their history and language is lost as they are forced to assimilate to American culture. “Now, we see more and more people who want to learn the language that their parents or grandparents speak, and I think there’s something really beautiful about that—people being able to reconnect with pride. I hope it’s something that every immigrant group in the United States can experience.”