What are the challenges that Italian products face in the American market? What are the cultural values that underlie Italian businesses in the metropolitan areas of New York and New Jersey? To what can we attribute the persistent success of Italian businesses? How can training in Italian culture be useful in the business world in the United States? These are some of the questions that twenty students of Italian at Montclair State University will pose to Italian businessmen and women active in the New York area as part of the Business Italian Style project that combines academics, economics, journalism and videography.
Born of a collaboration between the Inserra Chair in Italian and Italian American Studies at Montclair State University, La Voce di New York and Art Motion Picture, an audio-visual company with a particular emphasis on the technological evolution of modern equipment and new languages, Business Italian Style is part of the curriculum in a Commercial Italian course in the Italian Program (Department of Spanish and Italian) at Montclair State.
While still teaching sector-related vocabulary and communication skills, as is traditionally done in a college language course of this nature, this Commercial Italian class opts for a new approach in terms of offering students the possibility of interacting with various sectors of the local Italian economy, from fashion to food, design, and art. The end product is a series of video interviews in Italian to be subtitled in English, and articles in Italian that will be published on La Voce di New York.
The list of people who made themselves available to be interviewed by the students is quite impressive: Cecilia Alemani, director of the public art program for the High Line; Sabbia Auriti, COO of the N Beverage Group; Melissa Daka, chef and owner of the Sicilian restaurant Eolo; Federico Materazzi, Executive Vice President in America of the Poltrona Frau Group NA; Laura Mattioli, founder of CIMA, Center for Italian Modern Art; Alberto Milani, CEO of Buccellati; Gaetano Pesce, noted architect and designer; Tiziano Zorzan, fashion designer and founder of a new brand carrying his own name.
“In this way, students activate various forms of knowledge of the Italian language and culture in a hands-on context that allows them to have direct contact with the professional world before graduating,” says Enza Antenos-Conforti, who teaches the course and who has developed a rich, interactive blog on WordPress to prepare her students.
With actual interviews approaching this week, the students have acquired a new understanding of the material, thanks to targeted readings. Angelene Agresta, who is taking the course this semester, explains what she has learned: “A better comprehension of the history and philosophy of specific Italian businesses active in the USA and techniques for accessing the Italian professional world in order to get a job through approaches that may be different from the ones employed in the U.S.”
The project was launched on September 15th at Montclair State University with a presentation by Maurita Cardone and Giuseppe Malpasso, partners of the project, respectively for La Voce di New York and Art Motion Picture, a videography studio with headquarters in Italy and New Jersey. Through a visual presentation, the journalist provided an introductory overview of past and present Italian entrepreneurship, along with an effective vade mecum for the interviewer (especially for the beginner) called The Art and Science of the Interview. “The students of this course do not come from the world of journalism, and for them, approaching these professionals and asking questions may seem difficult, even more so in a language that is not their own…but I believe it is a good exercise. After all, the people being interviewed are all Italians who live abroad: who can understand and support better than us those who must work in a new language?”
Director Malpasso shared direct experiences and models to be followed at the pragmatic level that have a significant effect on the final versions of the video interviews. For Malpasso, this project constitutes a unique opportunity to show young people the reality of the job: “It is like showing these students their future in a crystal ball, reinforcing on a practical level the knowledge they acquire in class in a theoretical way.”
More specifically, the synergy lies in engaging various areas of specialization that complement one other. Maurita Cardone acts as the liaison to the world of business and Giuseppe Malpasso supervises the video production. Both comment on the textual and video content via the blog for the class. In addition to the Commercial Italian course, the project embraces a form of Cooperative Education, the term used by Montclair State University for an internship. Student Jarrett Strenner of the School of Communication and Media is responsible for the shooting and editing in collaboration with a graduate student from the same university, Omar Portilla. By weaving together the use of the Italian language and the vocabulary of the media sector in formal exchanges with an Italian videographer like Malpasso, Strenner will earn credits towards his degree in Television and Digital Media with a minor in Italian.
Projects like Business Italian Style represent a new model for the study of Italian, beyond the more traditional and still valid combinations of Italian and art history, pedagogy, or opera, for example. Ultimately, the frame of the project is related to the fundamental question that many Italian teachers are asking: what purpose does an Italian degree serve in this historical moment in which degrees in the humanities do not have the same role they had in the past? What doors does the knowledge of languages open when it is connected to cultural training and is also receptive to new stimuli coming from the professional world? The answers to these important – and pressing – questions are neither easy nor immediate. Projects like this one give us the possibility of experimenting with new routes and dynamic formulas: they constitute learning opportunities not only for students, but also for professors and professionals in various fields, in the attempt to create new spaces for the study of the Italian language and culture, especially in geographic areas as “Italian” as ours.
For information about the project: Montclair State University, Business Italian Style.
*Teresa Fiore, Inserra Chair in Italian and Italian American Studies.