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Nicholas Finelli is DLLC's March 2021 Featured Student! Nicholas is a student in the Master of Arts in Italian Studies program, graduating in 2021. He also has a B.A. in Biology and Italian, and he tells the story of how his interest and dedication to the Italian language and culture have developed throughout his life and even deepened connections within his family.
“My interest in my Italian roots began when I was very young, when I did not have a full grasp of English, let alone a foreign language. I remember scratching my head when my Dad told me that my grandfather's birth name was Luigi and not Louis. My young brain had a hard time comprehending the idea that someone would not want to share his name with one of Nintendo's most famous brothers. I was a big Mario fan at the time (I still choose Luigi as my character to this day) and it was not until I grew a little older that I began to understand why. I understood that when my grandfather was growing up it was not a "good" thing to be Italian as you were subjected to stereotypes and precluded from opportunities that were afforded to people that were not Italian. It was for this same reason that not only did my grandfather Americanize his name, but he did not speak his native language outside of the house. When he eventually moved out, went to Manhattan College, and married my grandmother, his ability to speak Italian had all but disappeared. It was for this reason that my father, whose birth name is Louis, never learned to understand or speak any Italian. As such, I became determined to change this. I made it a goal of mine to learn the language well enough to be able to pass the skill to my own children. Determined from a young age, I tried enrolling in an Italian class in the 7th grade to find out that it was discontinued for a lack of interest and the only foreign language that would be offered was Spanish. Knowing that Spanish and Italian shared some semblance of one another in their vocabulary and pronunciation, I signed up for two years of Spanish in the 7th and 8th grades.
After middle school however, my Dad got relocated to Delaware for work and we moved shortly before my freshman year of high school. My new school finally offered Italian, but I did not enroll. I vowed to not let my Spanish "go to waste" and promised myself that after I met the foreign language graduation requirement, I would focus on classes that would get me into college with a decent scholarship where I intended to study Italian, and more importantly, abroad in Italy. The two years between my last Spanish class and the beginning of undergrad rotted away the machinery I possessed for Spanish conjugations and vocabulary to make room for the Italian ones I was determined to acquire, or so I thought. Language acquisition and maintenance is deceptive. For when I began my Italian studies at the University of Delaware, my Spanish vocabulary and pronunciation, seemed to reappear just to confuse me. During those first few weeks I struggled to separate Spanish from Italian. It was not until I went to Italy that winter, thanks to the encouragement of Dr. Winkler and Dr. Saggese (who I bugged with emails in July before I even attended UD about her study abroad) that I was able to replace my Spanish with Italian. Outside of conquering my initial confusion and further mastering my beginning lessons in Italian, Italy allowed me to feel more closely connected to the lives of my ancestors. It is a feeling that is hard to describe in its power. Ever since I returned from Italy, it is a feeling I continuously chase. In fact, that sentiment is and was so powerful that it altered the course of not only my studies but my life. When I returned, I immediately declared an Italian minor which quickly became an Italian major which then transfigured itself once more into a master's program in Italian. Through this program in which I am currently enrolled and finishing this May, I have proven to myself not only can I read, speak, write in a foreign language well, I can write a nearly hundred-page thesis that incorporates both of my languages and interests, and most importantly that I have fulfilled my goal of learning the language that my family had lost. In a fitting conclusion, when I received the Robert J. DiPietro award, I received a text that summarized this ultimate accomplishment and goal of mine. It was a text from my grandfather, perhaps with the only Italian he could remember, that read "Ottimo lavoro nipote" or "Excellent work grandson." From that moment on, I vowed to never let another Finelli grow up without knowledge of the language, culture, and upbringing of their ancestors.”
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