Thinking Like an Italian: Alumnus Joseph Fontana

Alumnus Joseph Fontana, who grew up on Long Island, New York, graduated from John Cabot University in 2020 with a degree in Italian Studies. He is currently back on Long Island tutoring Italian and English online.

What made you decide to come to JCU?
As I was preparing to receive my associate’s degree from a community college on Long Island, I realized that my passion for studying Italian literature was growing. So I decided to begin looking for universities that offered programs in Italian either for translation or teaching. It had never occurred to me that I could complete my bachelor’s degree in Italy. Fortunately, I happened upon the John Cabot website and could not believe that such an opportunity was possible. After spending more time on the JCU website and looking into the Italian studies program, I couldn’t shake the feeling that this would be the school I would eventually be attending.

Joseph Fontana

Joseph Fontana

You already spoke Italian before coming to Rome. Why did you choose to major in Italian Studies?
Before coming to Rome, I knew Italy quite well.  My entire life I had been coming to Italy every few years to spend a few months with my relatives in the Liguria region and by the time I enrolled at JCU, I could converse comfortably in Italian. While I was able to communicate well in the language, I still felt like I viewed Italy through the eyes of an Italian American. An intense curiosity of Italian culture had taken hold of me in my late teens as I became more aware of all the aspects of Italian culture that still seemed foreign to me. I yearned to understand the way my cousins and aunts and uncles thought and had a desire to recognize the cultural influences that motivated their actions. In short, I wanted to begin thinking like an Italian and not like an Italian American. Majoring in Italian Studies at JCU not only gave me the tools to better understand my Italian heritage but also enriched the time I spent studying in Rome. Every day was a learning experience for me both inside and outside of the classroom. I walked the cobblestone streets of Trastevere each day learning and appreciating something new about Italian culture and as time passed, everything began fitting together like pieces of a puzzle.

What did you like the most about your major?
I truly enjoyed the coursework that I completed for my major but, if I had to choose one aspect that I liked the most it would have to be the opportunity to learn more about Italy and Italian culture in Rome. I believe Italian Studies benefits from being one of the most unique majors offered at JCU for this reason. Students of Italian Studies at JCU have opportunities to put into practice what they learn in the classroom at every corner. I loved being able to go out into the city and discuss what I saw with a professor the next day and understand another piece of Italian culture in such an organic way.

What did you do your undergraduate thesis on?
I chose to write my undergraduate thesis on the history and progress of the Italian LGBTQ movement and the standing that the LGBTQ community currently has in Italy. As someone who openly identifies as gay, I was very interested in having a deeper understanding of how members of the gay community are viewed in Italian society. From there I began researching the history of the community and the progress it has made over the years. I came to understand the limitations that are still imposed on the LGBTQ community and the work that still needs be done in order to allow for true equality in Italian society.

Tell us about the extra-curricular activities that you were involved in at JCU. How did they enrich you?
I knew that I had been given a very unique opportunity to finish my bachelor’s degree in Rome and truly wanted to experience as much as possible in the few years that I was a student there. I decided to begin volunteering with STAND after reading a book about the journey that migrants took throughout Africa in order to come to Italy and Europe. I was so moved by what I read that I felt the urge to do something more productive and help others in need. The experiences I had with STAND and the various volunteer activities I participated in throughout Rome completely changed my outlook on volunteering. The effort and professionalism I saw my peers put into their work helping the community continues to inspire me today. Another experience that had a significant impact on me was my work as a Resident Assistant. Working in the student dormitories while being enrolled at JCU was certainly a challenge but the experience helped me to grow both professionally and personally. The skills that I learned both in a professional office setting and in emergency situations and everyday interactions with students taught me invaluable lessons that I will certainly fall back on in my future career.

What are your plans for the future?
At the moment, I am waiting patiently with the rest of the world for the COVID pandemic to come to an end and for normal life to finally resume. Once travel is feasible and more accessible again, I hope to begin working possibly in translation or teaching either in Italy or overseas in an international community.