Dr. Anna Vin­cenzi and Dr. Lorenzo Bonaiti are both new pro­fessors in Hillsdale. They are pic­tured in front of a cathedral in Italy. Courtesy | Anna Vincenzi

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.