Written by Alyssa O’Connell for ILF

Growing up, it was never a question of if I was going to study Italian but when could I start. Who knew that the decision to study a language to be closer to my family would unlock a world of opportunity few my age have the privilege to know. These opportunities included working with Italian organizations in my area, attending banquets, going on an exchange to Italy, and even becoming a marketing director for the Redoro olive oil company in my senior year that would bring me to Italy shortly after graduation.

The Redoro internship opened my eyes to the professional world, furthering my knowledge of marketing and olive oil and providing me with real-world job experience, all while strengthening my Italian language skills. Leaving Italy after the Redoro Internship, I had a feeling that wasn’t my last time seeing Verona, but I didn’t expect to be back so soon. During my freshman year of college, Scolaro connected with me about a new experience she had been working on that would involve me, Verona, and the opera. It was a dream but, in all honesty, she had me at new experience. Coming back from the Redoro internship, I felt reinvigorated by all the ideas my Italian education could bring me: job opportunities, connection to my culture, international friends, and involvement in a city that I hold so dear. Obviously, I was quick to take this new opportunity without any knowledge of what was in store for me. Shortly after my freshman year of college had ended, I hopped on a plane for Verona. As I landed, I was overwhelmed with a sense of belonging as messages flooded in from host families, exchange partners, and friends wondering when I could see them. However, I wasn’t there for all fun and games; each day brought with it 4 hours in the classroom for general Italian and another couple hours of opera studying. Yet, my training wasn’t limited to the classroom; every night you could find me on the stage at the l’Arena di Verona engaging with professionals, learning the craft firsthand, and being treated with respect, even when nerves and excitement interfered with my Italian.

Throughout this opportunity, I was blessed to be supported by people who trusted me and as the guinea pig of the experience allowed me autonomy over my experience. I asked the opera if I could stay extra hours. I traveled to other cities to see how music had shaped the Italian culture there. I even asked to see the offices and design studios of the opera. All were granted with a resounding yes as I showed I wanted to be there and so they wanted me there. After a month alone in Verona, it’s hard to not leave a piece of my heart with it. Parting was bittersweet; however, leaving also meant taking with me new confidence in my abilities, of both the language and my work in the professional world, and a drive to further delve into my Italian studies, to work harder for something that means so much to me. Currently, I’m minoring in Italian at my university and actively working on planning the next stages of the internship and my next trip to Verona. I’ve learned I never really have to say goodbye to Italy, just see you soon, because, with my Italian education, I know there will always be another opportunity that calls me back to my second home.

Alyssa O’Connell
Sophomore at Vanderbilt University
L’Arena di Verona Opera Experience

Taking AP tests always gets me a little nervous but as I walked into the room for my AP Italian test, that sense of anxiety just wasn’t there. Yes, I’ve been exposed to the language since I was born but what really gave me such ease was my AP Italian course. Not only are you expected to speak the language everyday but to communicate and I think there’s a difference. Speaking a language is easy, learn some vocab, maybe a few key phrases and your done. But communication is improvised; it’s being able to further relationships in a language that you’re not used to speaking. I’d be lying if I said my AP class didn’t challenge me but the amount I learned, not only about the language, but the culture, history, and the country itself, made it all worthwhile. AP courses aren’t just for the score; at least, Italian wasn’t for me. This content rich course allowed me to not only succeed on the test but helped me thrive I took the next steps to studying Italian at the university level.

Alyssa O’Connell
Sophomore at Vanderbilt University
AP Italian