Sorrento – Week 2 (June 9)

I have now completed my second full week of classes in Sorrento and am nearing the halfway point of my academic program for this summer. I have already noticed significant improvements in my ability to speak and understand Italian. Engaging in discussions in class, watching new movies, and speaking with Italians in town at markets, restaurants, and stores has allowed me to gain confidence when speaking and has proven to be a useful exercise in improving my ability listen, process spoken Italian quickly, and respond appropriately. Over my last few semesters of Italian study at Notre Dame and especially now in Italy, I’ve noticed that I rely less and less on mentally translating words and phrases that I read or hear into English. Italian, in my mind, has started to take on meaning, in and of itself, independent of my native knowledge of English. This allows me to be less clumsy and more fluent in conversation, and it means that I can write in Italian much more quickly and precisely.

In my contemporary literature class, we have just begun reading some early 20th century (World War I era) poetry. Today in class, we read four selections from Giuseppe Ungaretti, a Tuscan modernist poet and essayist who is known for having written extremely short poems on packs of cigarettes during his service in the Italian army. But even though the poems are short, they are intricate compositions, using words whose basic sounds are suggestive of a more symbolic meaning. Such poetry is a prime example of a tradition that would come to be known as Ermetismo (Hermeticism) which is cryptic, difficult to understand, and heavily dependent on context.

In my Italian film class, we continue to watch and discuss important movies such as Federico Fellini’s La strada and Pietro Germi’s Divorzio all’italiana. The former is an example of Italian auteur cinema (cinema d’autore in Italian) and the latter is the essential classic from the genre known as the Commedia all’italiana (Italian Style Comedies). Both are excellent, but I found that I prefer Divorzio all’italiana because, although it is somewhat dark in its subject matter, it is much more lighthearted and easy to understand in terms of its social commentary. Tomorrow, we are watching one of the most famous Italian movies ever made, Fellini’s La dolce vita.

This past week, I was also able to explore the town of Sorrento much more and I feel that I’m starting to get to know my way around. I’ve also been able to find some top notch gelato and pizza places. In addition, I’ve also enjoyed the experience of learning to cook for myself and plan meals. I appreciate the independence and the ability to try new recipes.

Me, my literature professor Domenico, and his two students, Lorenzo and Benedetta at a lecture and reading on Torquato Tasso’s Gerusalemme liberata at the Museo Correale of Sorrento.

Piazza Sant’Antonino – Sorrento, Italy

Sorrento – Week 1 (June 2)

I have now completed my first full week of classes at the Sant’Anna Institute in Sorrento! I arrived here by train a little more than a week ago and am enthusiastic about the opportunity to fully dedicate myself to achieving a greater degree of fluency in Italian. Over the next five weeks, I will take two courses: Contemporary Italian Literature with Professor Domenico Palumbo as well as History of Italian Cinema with Professor Marco Marino. My literature class involves several readings each week as well as weekly compositions of varying length. So far, we have read works by Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, Aldo Palazzeschi, Italo Svevo, and today Luigi Pirandello. It has been incredibly interesting to learn about these early 20th century authors, the literary movements that they helped to create, and their unique historical contexts in Europe with such significant events taking place as the recent unification of the nation of Italy, the First World War, and the rise of Fascism in Italy and its corresponding cultural and literary influences and counter-movements. Italo Svevo and Luigi Pirandello have been particularly interesting because of the way they consider memory in an almost Proustian yet completely unique and provocative way. In my film class, we watch a new movie at each class meeting. The course is a broad examination of Italian film beginning with the Neorealist movement directly after World War II and continuing into the current day. So far, we’ve watched Roma, città aperta, Ladri di biciclette, and Umberto D., all of which are important films that, with the exception of Ladri di biciclette, I had not seen before this course. Over the next week or so, we will transition from neorealist films to some of the most important Italian comedies.

Outside of class, I have thoroughly enjoyed exploring the town of Sorrento as well as some of the surrounding area. I navigated the Neapolitan train station as well as the Circumvesuviana line to arrive here last week, and this past weekend, I had the opportunity to see both Positano on the Amalfi Coast and the island of Capri, both of which are extraordinarily beautiful places. I’m looking forward to getting to know the culture of Sorrento much better over the next several weeks as I continue to practice speaking, reading, writing, and listening to Italian.

Positano, Italy

View of Mt. Vesuvius from the terrace of the Sant’Anna Institute – Sorrento, Italy

Shadowing in a Roman Hospital – May 26, 2019

Over the past two weeks, I have had the wonderful opportunity of shadowing an Italian endocrinologist, Dr. Anna Lisa Bilotta. Dr. Bilotta was kind enough to provide this experience for me on relatively short notice, and living near and working at the Salvator Mundi International Hospital with her has been incredibly worthwhile for me, both in terms of my Italian language acquisition, as well as my knowledge of the healthcare field. I arrived in Rome on May 12, got settled in my small apartment in the Trastevere neighborhood near the Piazza San Cosimato (at the base of the Janiculum Hill), and began working with Dr. Bilotta the next day. In order to work in the hospital, I was required to enter the Italian Agenzia delle entrate (basically the equivalent of the DMV in America) to obtain a codice fiscale, or an identification number with the Italian government. Although this presented some difficulty, I was able to explain my situation in Italian to the officials in the office and eventually acquired the fiscal code.

Dr. Bilotta and her colleagues at Salvator Mundi are extraordinary teachers. Each morning at 9 AM, Dr. Bilotta took the time to sit down with me in her office and explain a number of issues in the Italian healthcare system and differences in her experience between Italy and the United States. She also gave me detailed accounts of her personal medical philosophy, taught me about the basics of internal medicine, and helped me to understand endocrine anatomy and physiology, disorders, and treatments. This was a wonderful exercise in terms of learning more scientific and medical Italian, and allowed me to more deeply understand how Italian healthcare works in both public and private hospitals.

One of the most interesting and rewarding parts of the experience was being able to meet some of Dr. Bilotta’s patients. As mentioned, Salvator Mundi is an international hospital. I was able to encounter extraordinary people living in Rome from all over the world including ambassadors, religious missionaries and students, professors and many others. In some cases, I was even able to help translate Italian terms and medicines into English (and on one occasion, French) so that the patients were better able to understand their prescribed treatments. Above all, I was struck by the compassion with which Dr. Bilotta approaches her patients and the love she has for her profession. Instead of viewing her job as little more than a way to pay her bills, Dr. Bilotta views endocrinology and internal medicine as serious social obligations, ones that she thoroughly enjoys fulfilling.

Lastly, during my two weeks in Rome, I was able to explore much of the ancient city and interact with locals. In my free time, I saw breathtaking art in the Vatican Museums, appreciated beautiful public spaces like the Villa Borghese, and spoke with real Italians in supermarkets, stores, and train stations. After two weeks, I certainly have a new appreciation for the city’s history, as well as its important place in modern Italy and Europe. Now, I am looking forward to taking classes in Sorrento!