At first, it was just Anna Vincenzi, assistant professor of history, who made her home teaching at Hillsdale College. Now, she’s joined by her husband, Lorenzo Bonaiti. And they’re bringing Italy to Hillsdale.
After moving to the United States six years ago, Anna and Lorenzo now teach in Hillsdale’s history and language departments respectively. Lorenzo is teaching “Beginning Italian” for the first time, with hopes of creating an Italian program alongside the other foreign language programs.
But Anna and Lorenzo did not always plan on teaching in Hillsdale.
A home in Hillsdale
Through the Bonaiti’s front door lie numerous reminders of Italian culture. Accents fill the room as the couple prepares a meal in the kitchen.
“Would you like a coffee or espresso?” Lorenzo offers. There is a big difference between the two.
Three-year-old Costanza, their daughter, talks excitedly about her baby brother Alex, switching back and forth between English and Italian while conversing with her parents.
“When I was a baby, I was just this big!” Costanza exclaims, holding up two little fingers.
“We speak Italian to Costanza and Alex,” Lorenzo says. “And they speak Italian when they are with us. But when they are among themselves, they tend to use English.”
Lorenzo brings in mugs of American coffee, not Italian espresso, and with Costanza in his lap he begins to tell his story of a life in Italy.
Classmates in Italy
Before moving to the U.S., Lorenzo and Anna met at Milan Catholic University.
“We were classmates in an Italian literature class,” Lorenzo says.
The Italian universities are very different compared to American universities, Lorenzo explains. The size of their campus was large compared to Hillsdale, but the student body was very different.
“There were maybe 20,000 students enrolled,” Lorenzo says.
“Probably 30,000!” Anna says from the kitchen, chopping potatoes and vegetables.
Attendance was not mandatory and students would often come in just for their exams while they worked full-time jobs, Lorenzo said.
“Back in college in Italy, I wasn’t thinking about America,” Lorenzo says. “If I had stayed in Italy, I would have probably become a teacher in high school. But teaching was always in my thoughts.”
The next chapter
In 2014, Anna decided to pursue her Ph.D. in history at Notre Dame, and Lorenzo followed her to the States in 2015. For two years he taught Italian at Indiana University, adding to his total of five years teaching Italian.
“When hearing about teaching a language, I found out about the master’s program at Notre Dame,” Lorenzo said. “It was shorter than a Ph.D., and at the same time they taught me how to teach a language.”
The couple then settled into Hillsdale last year when Anna accepted a teaching position at Hillsdale College. Western Heritage, American Heritage, 19th and 20th century Europe are among the courses she teaches. Lorenzo joined her this spring to teach Hillsdale’s first ever Italian course.
“I knew coming in that there was no Italian program,” Lorenzo says. “But I asked for the possibility and told the administration I would be happy to teach Italian.”
He plans to teach higher levels of Italian if there is student interest, he said. “Beginning Italian” offers students a solid foundation of the Italian language, with introductory instruction on vocabulary and grammar. Once students feel comfortable with the language, the course will connect back to Italian culture.
“Culture comes out naturally,” Lorenzo said. “Every time we do an activity, the Italian culture is there.”
Students love the immersion of Italian culture within the class, including senior Madison Vandegrift.
“Culture is one of my favorite parts of learning a new language,” Vandegrift said. “You have a connection with people across the world.”
Lorenzo invites students into learning by having them pretend to be native Italians. Students practice greetings with one another and are shown pictures of Italy.
“I had forgotten how enjoyable a beginning level language class can be,” senior Adriana Maljanian said. “Professor Bonaiti is a quiet man, but he has a great sense of humor. He always says ‘perfetto’ after we recite things.”
Dreams of Italy
Both Anna and Lorenzo wish to influence campus with their Italian culture, with hopes of chaperoning trips to Italy for both the Italian and history courses.
“I hope to be able to teach more classes, but traveling to Italy is another dream,” Lorenzo says. “I hope to take my students there.”
“Oh, we will,” Anna replies. “I want to show my students the history of Rome and the Vatican museums.”
In the meantime, Lorenzo plans on hosting campus-wide Italian events, opening the culture to all who choose to participate.
“Right now, my idea is to have movie nights, and cooking and eating nights, though she is in charge of the cooking,” Lorenzo says, pointing to Anna. “I also want to do karaoke.”
“You want to do karaoke?” Anna laughs.
When Lorenzo was a student at Notre Dame, every class had to prepare and perform a karaoke song. Lorenzo sang Italian songs “Ti Volgio Bene” and “Vasco Rossi,” and even songs from “Aladdin.”
“Ideally, the activities would be for everyone,” Lorenzo said. “There are no requirements if you want to watch a movie with us.”
Since “Beginning Italian” is only an elective course, the future of the course depends on student interest. Lorenzo’s first class filled up quickly, and he hopes the same will happen next semester.
“The Italian program can only become real if students ask for it,” Anna said.