Studying Italian can open numerous doors, especially in the greater NY area. Italian can be a vital asset for teaching, the most noble profession and the door chosen most often, as well as for additional professional opportunities in fields that are often overlooked: fashion marketing or sports marketing, accounting, pharmaceuticals, or international development. A university degree in Italian language and culture can prove to be invaluable. My degrees in Italian (from B.A. to Ph.D.) served to reinforce my cultural heritage and formalize my passion for everything Italian. As a university professor at Montclair State, I would like to nurture that same passion in my students; I care about their future, and wish to see them thrive both personally and professionally.
Twenty-first century life and career skills—employability and life-long learning—are now part and parcel of university curriculum objectives. These goals appear so remote from the psychological and cultural value traditionally given to learning Italian that we must now look at Italian through a different lens: modern global economy. Can students develop knowledge and skills by studying Italian language and culture that would give them an edge in the job market? There’s only one answer: But of course!
Paolo Balboni, linguist and professor at the University of Ca’ Foscari in Venice has boldly asserted that Italian language is a luxury as is its culture: from gems like Michelangelo and Verdi, Machiavelli and Fellini to goods like Ferrari and Bulgari, Prada and Barilla. A majority of students fall in love with Italian because they fall in love with its people, practices or products (cars, jewels, fashion and accessories, food); a smaller group are passionate about its cultural riches (art and architecture, music and literature); and an even smaller number of students value the gems enough to embark on the quest of formal learning to feed their passion.
According to the most recent statistics released by the Institute of Education Sciences, there were a total of 358 Italian degrees conferred in the 2013-2014 academic year, and these small numbers confirm that Italian is indeed a luxury. Like many luxuries in the current economic climate, Italian sees a downward trend in degrees granted (as have other foreign languages) because, for many, majoring in Italian is not practical.
A degree in Italian? What are you going to do with that?
An Italian major, by default, leads to teaching, plain and simple. Through an accredited state certification teacher education program, majors in Italian Studies or Italian Language and Literature find themselves in the classroom sharing their passion, promoting the language and culture, and inspiring their students. Advanced degrees, Master’s and Doctoral programs, are another option for those interested in education. These comprise roughly 25% of the Italian degrees conferred, according to the data (58 Master’s and 29 Doctorates). Students from Montclair State University have continued to the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Middlebury College, and the University of Florence for graduate studies.
At the doctorate level, Anthony Tamburri, Dean and Distinguished Professor of the Calandra Institute (Queens College/CUNY) recently declared with pride: “some of my former students are, simply, kicking butt… a full professor or two, a few associate professors, an accomplished novelist, a few assistant professors as well, and a very new associate professor to the group. And they all published books.” Traditional careers for Italian graduates interested in pursuing education at all levels are prevalent.
Italian is not just for teaching
The question that begs to be asked is how can an Italian degree be beneficial in job market? To be truly competitive, an Italian graduate should be prepared to “sweat the asset,” that is, extract more use of a university degree in Italian than is traditionally associated with it. The greater New York area offers numerous opportunities because of the rich, vibrant Italian business community that ask for skills that are honed through formal study of Italian language and culture. A former student initially chose to study Italian “to pay homage to his family roots.” He discovered that his language was useful at his job too at a global supply chain management company with offices in Florence.
Italian helps students go global since Italy and the U.S. are key economic partners. Italy and “Made in Italy” (the third most recognized name worldwide, after Coca-Cola and Visa) is U.S.’s 11th largest trading partner (US Census Bureau 2016), the 9th largest market economy in the world (International Monetary Fund), and the world’s 5th largest manufacturer (United Nations 2010). There are over 1000 Italian companies present in the U.S. and over 1000 American companies with offices in Italy, and a further 7500 companies doing business with Italy (Italian Trade Commission 2013). With these impressive numbers, it only makes sense (and dollars and cents) to have an Italian asset.
If there remain any doubts about Italy’s role in the global economy, watch the Extraordinary Commonplace video produced by the Ministry of Economical Development highlighting “Made in Italy”
Plenty to choose from
Giving an Italian flavor to spice up another major (accounting, communications, graphics, international business, science, etc.) can only benefit prospective career opportunities. A search of Linkedin.com, Indeed.com and Simplyhired.com, the three top career apps and websites according to Huffington Post, reveals that “bilingual Italian” positions are plenty. They include interpreter, translator and subtitler positions, public relations personnel, marketing and social media coordinators, as well as accountants/CPAs and business development specialists. These positions are requested in medicine and pharmaceutical industries, fashion start-ups, mobile and web app companies, large accounting firms and broadcast satellite service providers.
There is also an emerging market sector known as localization, that is, adjusting the functional properties and characteristics of a product or brand to accommodate the language and cultural differences of a foreign market. Currently, there is a job ad for Italian Whatsapp localization and some requirements are “Strong writing and conversational skills in English and Italian. You can compose accurate and appropriate answers to help users. If you are a grammar nut, all the better,” and “Have a strong knowledge of the Italian region and culture, 4 plus years of recent in country experience is a plus.”
Numerous former students have had incredible professional opportunities and that I cannot provide an exhaustive list here, so I share only a few that are representative of rewarding positions for Italian grads: Events and Education Coordinator at La Scuola di Eataly; and Associate Marketing Manager for The Winebow Group (importers of Italian wines), Executive Assistant of Sorgente Group of America that invests in iconic buildings to preserve and restore them; Italian data analyst of AMSTAT Corp., an international company that specializes in worldwide fleets of corporate, business and private jets. At a more international level, an alumnus who also completed a Master’s in Migration Studies now works in advocacy and humanitarian affairs with Doctors without Borders based out of Holland.
Let Italian open the door to exciting, unconventional careers! It makes good sense to benefit from the value of Italian for its cultural heritage and economic development. We need to harness the power that comes with having a global mindset, an understanding of the culture, and being proficient in the language. Italian is an asset.