Name: Michelle Gulino
Year: Class of 2011
Hometown: Brooklyn, NY
In middle school, I was known as ‘The Gladiator’ for my ability in Latin, the only foreign language my school offered from fourth to eighth grade. One could argue whether or not Latin actually is a foreign language— let alone a language— for hours on end, but regardless, that little taste of something that wasn’t English did get me started on my language acquisition quest. In high school, I was excited when a new world of languages was opened to me: two were offered! I opted for French over Spanish, but not even thoughts of crêpes and freshly baked baguettes could quell my anxieties about the language; indeed, I thought the Listening Exams were harrowing enough until I reached my first Economics course at Hopkins. Today, Romance Languages is my second major (in the end, I couldn’t actually abandon French, and my summer stay in Paris did reinforce my initial attraction to the language) and a wonderful complement to my primary Political Science major, but it is clear to all those who know me that my heart belongs to the Italian Department at Hopkins and the language itself.
I grew up in a homey neighborhood in Brooklyn, heavily populated by Italians, or perhaps more appropriately— Sicilians, my brethren (my mother likes to remind me that Italians and Sicilians are not entirely one and the same). The holiday season brought with it delightfully tawdry green and white mistletoe and snowflake decorations hanging from one lamppost to another all along the entirety of Court Street. At the hair salon or the butcher’s shop, I’d hear second-generation Italian slang and learned some words which, as I would only find out fifteen years later, were not even remotely close to properly spoken Italian.
I began Italian studies my sophomore year of college, and it was love at first lesson. The language came so much more naturally to me than French had, and while I thought both languages were so beautiful, Italian had a natural allure to it. The fall of my junior year, I was fortunate enough to spend a semester in Washington, D.C., where I took a six-person Intermediate Italian class at the acclaimed School of Advanced International Studies and was the youngest of my peers by about eight years. Undoubtedly, I was extremely intimidated the first day of class, especially having heard that nearly all of the graduate students had already spent a year in Bologna, but by the end of the semester, I was the only student who was asked to take the Language Proficiency exam, which I passed, even above my level. Then junior spring, I took advantage of Hopkins’ opportunities to study abroad, went to Rome, and fell in love with the city, all of Italy, and its people and culture, specifically the language, which I was now taking at the Advanced level.
I am, admittedly, a die-hard New Yorker, but I must say that I met its match when I arrived in Rome. I had been to Rome once before, only for a week on a school trip my freshman year of high school. This time, though, being equipped with the ability to converse with Italians, after only one year of college Italian, I desired to seek adventure everywhere, to follow the advice of the words ‘vivi davvero’ and live for real, and I did just that. In addition to opting to live in a home stay, I even had an internship at La Croce Rossa Italiana (Italian Red Cross) that was conducted entirely in Italian, and in the summer, I was an au pair in Tuscany for one month, living with three Italian children and speaking only in Italian. Being in Italy, I experienced a rebirth, a very fitting renaissance; I had imagined Rome would be an enticing femme fatale, a city which I would lasso into my throng of other beloved cities around the world. When I arrived in New York at the end of my seven months abroad, I hesitantly went through the doors at the airport; I was oddly back in the U.S.A., and very much out of place.
Thankfully though, upon returning to Hopkins, I did everything I could to get my fix of Italian and satisfy my thirst to speak the language, by taking three courses in Italian, one of which inspired the subject of my independent study, and getting information on guest lectures offered in Italian. A great benefit of studying Italian at Hopkins is that the Italian Department is small, providing for close one-on-one interaction with professors who know everyone by name and can offer their full attention. The program requires completion of language courses through the Intermediate level and eight courses thereafter— many of which can be completed abroad— in the Italian Civilization and Italian Literature series. An independent study can also be used to satisfy a requirement, and it does not have to be solely language or literature-based; my independent study, for instance, explores gender relations in Italy, particularly focusing on the ways in which women and their corporal images are portrayed in the media and what societal notions on the composition and production of feminine beauty in Italy dictate.
Being able to write a final paper entirely in Italian and having your professor compliment you on your “outstanding Italian” that is “clear, articulate, and of the highest level” is a wonderful feeling. These days, I miss everything about Italy, and I would even take the dreadfully unreliable Italian postal system at this point, if it meant just one extra day there. For now, though, I at least have the comfort of the Italian Department at Hopkins to offer me additional learning tools whenever I desire them.