Student Life: The ability to pursue our own research

Sarah Thurmer (French and Italian, 2014)

Sarah Thurmer (French and Italian, 2014)

Yesterday afternoon, students in Dr Charles Leavitt’s final-year Italian module IT3AF: After the Flood – Italy 1945-1956, gave their research poster presentations. Students investigated a wide variety of topics, then presented and discussed their research findings with colleagues in the Italian section. We’ve asked Sarah Thurmer, who presented an innovative poster on advertisements in the Italian journal Rinascita last year, to share her thoughts on conducting and sharing research as an advanced undergraduate. Here’s what she had to say:

Two years ago now, I was set to choose my final year Italian modules while still away on my Erasmus placement in Padua, Italy. The module IT3AF appeared on a list and I was presented with the term ‘After the Flood’ for the first time. As a French and Italian student, I had the chance to choose only two Italian modules and with six available I had more than enough to choose from, but IT3AF caught my eye immediately. At the time, I was writing my dissertation on the spread of western communism in France and Italy after the Second World War, and I was therefore drawn to this module, which would allow me to study the cultural and political debates in the post-war period – fantastic!

Gemma Martinez presents her research on Naples after the liberation.

Gemma Martinez presents her research on Naples after the liberation.

Just weeks into the programme and my final year back in Reading, I began to realise that After the Flood was turning out to be the most challenging, rewarding and enjoyable module I had ever taken.

The module was at its core was an introduction to the critical analysis of a selection of texts, novels, films and journals and Dr Leavitt presented us with a schedule of seminars for the year with lists of everything we would be analysing and when, as well as detailing the assessment and deadlines. He also arranged weekly film viewings outside of seminar hours so that we could together watch a collection of unforgettable films from the dopoguerra (post-war period) in Italy.

Lorenzo Corradi leads a discussion on the USA's policy of communist containment and its effects in post-war Italy.

Lorenzo Corradi leads a discussion on the USA’s policy of communist containment and its effects in post-war Italy.

As students, we had all the information we needed and what came next was up to us. I soon realised if I was to really engage with the content and participate in what became very heated and inspiring in-class discussions, I needed to read everything and I mean everything.

For the first time, I was reading the short stories, the novels, the poems and the articles not because I had to, but because I wanted to. For a student who always avoided literature and stuck to the safety of solid facts in history textbooks, IT3AF was allowing me to take the ideas and values expressed by authors and directors and apply them to the history and politics of the period.

Not only did the novels, a favourite of mine being Uomini e No by Elio Vittorini, compliment what I already knew about the dopoguerra, they allowed me to view the period through different eyes and see past the tables of election results or industrial production figures.

Helena Moore presents her research on the return to Italy of Jewish survivors of the Shoah.

Helena Moore presents her research on Italian survivors of the Shoah and their re-integration in Italy.

I was already enjoying the module and then in the Spring Term, the study of journals was introduced and this is where I really engaged.

After an exciting guest lecture from Dr Mila Milani, a post-doctoral researcher at the University of Reading, three post-war Italian journals were presented to us and all students picked one to work on. I chose Rinascita, simply because I found Palmiro Togliatti, the journal’s editor and the head of Italy’s Communist Party, an interesting figure.

I can remember nervously withdrawing the journals from the library’s closed-access collection. I immediately loved reading them. I loved analysing the images, the poems, the advertisements and of course the long articles, all in Italian, and I was excited to use to them to produce coursework.

Sophie Baldwin discusses her research on changing attitudes to divorce in Italy after the war.

Sophie Baldwin discusses her research on changing attitudes to divorce in Italy after the war.

At this point in the year, we were all being given the freedom to take the study of these journals, (or even the films, novels and poems) in whatever way we wanted within the bounds of the assessment deadlines. I know that I, along with my classmates, found this the most exciting part of the module.

Dr Leavitt enjoyed listening to our interpretations and ideas and was happy to help us further study the area we engaged with most. Many of us had never created conference posters, let alone presented them to our peers and lecturers. Yet through the study of the journal Rinascita and the flexibility to pursue the area I engaged best with, I confidently presented a poster which gained me the highest mark of my degree and fantastic feedback from everyone involved.

Students and lecturers alike enjoyed the poster presentation session and it was a great way to end the module and the year on a high. I even felt confident going into the exam because I had really connected with the content rather than reading texts simply because they were on the reading list and I wasn’t left cramming information and lecture slides the night before the exam.

Josie Harrison discusses her project on the legacy of internal exile (confino) under Fascism.

Josie Harrison discusses her project on the legacy of internal exile (confino) under Fascism.

IT3AF filled me with confidence in my studies and I look back on it now as a module I really enjoyed, something I know I am not alone in. The ability to pursue our own research, voice our own opinions and informally debate with one another made it different to anything I had studied before.

Looking back on my university experience six months after graduation, I realise it is no longer as important what mark I gained for each essay or presentation, but the skills I gained from the research, production and assessment of my work will stay with me as I continue my studies and embark of my professional future.

In IT3AF with Dr Leavitt, learning went from being a series of lectures and seminars with predicted outcomes to being an in-depth analysis of all relevant resources at my disposal and a collaboration of ideas and concepts. Lecture slides were no longer my bible and I learnt to value my own interpretations.

Gabriella Burns has to hold back from dancing as she presents her work on popular music in post-war Italy.

Gabriella Burns tries to keep from dancing as she presents her work on popular music in post-war Italy.

I would recommend this module to anyone. I had a previous interest in the period 1945 -1956 but it wasn’t the study of what I already knew that was the most rewarding, it was the discovery of new material and skills. Moreover, I now look back on IT3AF as enjoyable, so much so that I am now considering continuing studies to MA level within the Italian department.

To learn more about IT3AF: After the Flood, the dozens of other modules we offer in European Studies, French, German, Italian, and the multi-language comparative modules we offer in the Department of Modern Languages at the University of Reading, follow this blog, like us on Facebook, and subscribe to our Twitter feed.

 

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Gabriella Craft leads a discussion on Italian masculinity after Fascism.

Gabriella Craft leads a discussion on Italian masculinity after Fascism.

Chloé Saleh discusses Italian Arte Povera

Chloé Saleh discusses Italian Arte Povera

 

 

 

Stefano Santosuosso considers Francesca Passaseo's research findings on Italian translations of Ernest Hemingway

Stefano Santosuosso considers Francesca Passaseo’s research findings on Italian translations of Ernest Hemingway

Department Life: A Visit from the Italian Ambassador

Dr Carla Battelli, Visiting Lecture of Italian Studies at the University of Reading.

Dr Carla Battelli, Visiting Lecture of Italian Studies at the University of Reading.

On Thursday 12 March Italy’s Ambassador to England, Pasquale Terracciano, came to visit the University of Reading, accompanied by the General Consul of Italy, Dott. Massimiliano Mazzanti, and the Cultural Attache’ of the Embassy, Dott. Federico Bianchi. We asked Dr Carla Battelli, Visiting Lecturer of Italian Studies in the Department of Modern Languages and European Studies, to fill us in on the events of the day.

Out of a four-door burgundy Maserati there came three men in black, one wearing sun glasses. It was enough to make you say: “Yes, that confirms my cliché of Italians!”

But actually our Ambassador was concerned to avoid cliché:  Italy is not only “pizza, sole, mandolino,” he insisted. There’s more to Italy than that.

The three V.I.P.s came to Reading as representatives of a country that is full of contradictions. Italy would be better called “Italies”, in recognition of its diversity. Yet they are also representatives of a country that is full of amazing people who are warm and cheerful (yes, I know, you are thinking “and loud!”),  and which offers a unique experience of “life at its fullest”.

That’s what our students here at Reading say when they come back from their year abroad in Italy. One of our students recently asked me: “How could I live without  knowing that a place like Naples exists?”. I am chuffed. I teach Italian here and I do my best to convey my passion for all things Italian, but my students find a new piece of magic each time, and I thank them for this!

A beautiful example of the “Italian job” came from the video that Daniela showed as a means to promote the campaign “Choose Italian”. It is aimed at students who still need to make their choice of university, and it stars several of our students, reporting from their year abroad in Florence, Bari, Salerno, Como. A video that’s moving and beautiful and so inspiring, that the Ambassador wants to show it at Italy’s next National Republic Day (June 2nd).

The Ambassador and the Vice Chancellor meet with members of the Department of Modern Languages and European Studies

The Ambassador and the Vice Chancellor meet with members of the Department of Modern Languages and European Studies

After a meeting with those teaching and studying Italian in the Department of Modern Languages and European Studies, the Ambassador and members of the department went to have lunch with the Vice-Chancellor, Sir David Bell. Later in the day there was another informal meeting with the Italians on campus at Uni, from many different departments, who had a chance to actually meet the people working in MLES, and talk to the Consul General – asking questions such as “Can I marry my hubby in Italy and how do I get the paperwork sorted in England?”

At 4pm we said goodbye to our visitors, and they sailed away in their Maserati, off to a charity event to fund a school for the Italian community in London. Italians in U.K. now number around 500.000…

Viva l’Italia!

Meet a Reading Graduate: Speaking French every day

In recent years, even in times of economic uncertainties, more than 80% of graduates in Modern Languages at the University of Reading have begun a career or undertaken post-graduate studies within six months of graduation. Our graduates’ employment track records show that a degree in French, German, Italian, or European Studies at Reading offers successful career prospects in many different fields and countries. We’ve asked Marcus Anderson, who graduated with a degree in French in 2011, to let us know how he uses languages in his career. Here’s what he has to say:

Marcus Anderson, 2011 graduate in French Studies and Training & Performance Quality Manager at PhotoBox

Marcus Anderson, 2011 graduate in French Studies and Training & Performance Quality Manager at PhotoBox

I chose to study French at Reading because I knew that having a modern language in the world of work is an attribute which not only stands out, but can be extremely useful for working abroad and with foreign organisations. More importantly, once I graduated from university, my main goal was to find a job which, even if not using my French from the very beginning, would have given me the prospect of using my French at some point.

I was very fortunate to find a job two months after graduating from Reading as a Customer Service Advisor for Photobox UK, an online photo printing company. Even though I was solely working for the UK team when I started, I knew there would be several opportunities to use my French one way or another as the company itself was French. One thing I realised, however, is that in order to use my French I had to use my initiative and inquire what opportunities there were for me and how to best get my foot in the door.

It’s easy to fall into the trap of doing a job that you find comfortable, whether it be due to the close proximity to your home, quick money or simplicity of the job role. I made a promise to myself that I would not follow this mindset and made it my mission to source out all opportunities to be able to use my degree as much as possible.

I spoke with my manager a few months into my role and asked what tasks were available for me to do where I could have used my French, and fortunately there was no one in charge of our French courier tracking system. No sooner than I requested to be in charge of this, I managed to secure this additional task which required me to call our French delivery couriers to get updates on our deliveries as well as sending emails to track the orders.

A Career Fair hosted by the University of Reading's Careers, Placement and Experience Centre

A Career Fair hosted by the University of Reading’s Careers, Placement and Experience Centre

After a year in my role as a Customer Service Agent, I was promoted to Continuous Service Improvement Co-Ordinator, where I was in charge of all audits for our UK Customer Service team. Once again, I was still not satisfied just doing this for the UK, so took it upon myself to inquire if there was someone in a similar role to me for the French team. Once I got in touch with the head of the French department, she mentioned that the current auditor was saturated with audits and would appreciate assistance if available, so I jumped at the chance to assist and split my time between English, French/Belgian audits. As well as audits, I had to prepare a report at the end of the month in French to show the quality and performance of the French team and discuss results via conference call with their Head of Management team.

By this point, I was very happy to be implementing my French in my day to day role. I had also built up a great relationship with our French team inhouse as they also acknowledge my bilingual abilities for any future resource.

After a year in this role, I was then promoted again to my current role as Training and Performance Quality Manager. I am now managing two auditors; one auditor for the UK and one for France. I am now speaking French every day, travelling to France regularly for work trips and have a strong relationship with the French team in general, hosting meetings and interviews (and training) in French.

My three years at Reading and my year abroad in France have assisted me greatly in my job, and I have no doubt that whatever my future endeavours, I will continue to keep French at the core of my working life.

To keep up with our students, staff, and alumni, and to learn about all of the Department’s other activities, follow this blog, like us on Facebook, and subscribe to our Twitter feed.

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Reading Researchers: Theatre in the Academies of Early Modern Italy

Lisa_Monika_SampsonDr Lisa Sampson, Associate Professor of Italian Studies, has been awarded a prestigious British Academy Mid-Career Fellowship for the next academic year 2015-16 to complete a monograph on Theatre in the Academies of Early Modern Italy: festivity, learning, and cultural transformations, which builds on her research for the recently completed AHRC-funded project on Italian Academies, 1525-1700: The first intellectual networks of Early Modern Europe

Student Life: The Italian Theatrical Group

Language learning at the University of Reading is not confined to the classroom. This year, for instance, students are preparing to put on an Italian play, and practice provides an opportunity to develop linguistically and culturally. We’ve asked the play’s director, Stefano Santosuosso, a PhD Candidate in Italian Studies with extensive acting experience, to let us know how rehearsals are progressing. Here’s what he has to say:

Stefano Santosuosso, director of the Italian Theatrical Group, with Mariana Gregorio, one of the actors.

Stefano Santosuosso, director of the Italian Theatrical Group, with Mariana Gregorio, one of the actors.

On Monday 24th November 2014, twenty-eight people gathered in the Van Emden Lecture Theatre to join the new Italian drama society at the University of Reading. Most of the aspiring actors  study Italian, while others are either studying other subjects, or come from the Reading community.

Chloé Saleh and Katie Fountain rehearse their lines.

Chloé Saleh and Katie Fountain rehearse their lines.

The group members meet twice a week in rooms provided by University and actors are, at the moment, working on a play to perform at the end of the summer term. Chloé Saleh, expert in yoga, is in charge of the warm-up and relaxation exercise: “I have always enjoyed theatre, so I jumped at the opportunity to join the Italian Theatrical Group,” Chloé explains. “As an Italian Studies student, the rehearsals have been great practice for my language skills. I am very excited for our final performance; it has been an amazing experience so far.”

Members of the Italian Theatrical Group rehearse.

Members of the Italian Theatrical Group improve their awareness of the stage in rehearsal.

Mariana Gregorio, assistant director, says: “As soon as I heard of this opportunity I wasted no time in saying yes! I’ve always had a passion for theatre and acting and there is no hiding my enthusiasm in embracing my Italian roots, so wht could be better than to combine the two together! Working on the play in Italian has not only helped me acquire a better understanding of the language but, along with the game exercises, it has helped build my confidence in speaking (out loud) in another language. It’s a real pleasure working together with such an energetic and friendly group – together I think we create the perfect environment to prepare a performance worth coming to see.”

Actor and baby

Samith Lahiru Adikari gets in character.

Katie Fountain will help with set design and props. Theatre rehearsal, she says, is “a great place to meet Italians and other students of Italian who share the same passion for theatre, the language (and also food!). For anyone who’s missing out on this wonderful experience, I would definitely recommend it for next year!”

Daniel Fangueiro, a first-year student of Italian, says that “Per me, il gruppo di teatro in italiano a Reading è una esperienza molto divertente, arricchente e interessante. Per tutti quelli che come me vogliono sviluppare il loro italiano parlato, un gruppo così è perfetto!”

Daniel Fangueiro, a first-year student of Italian, says that “Per me, il gruppo di teatro in italiano a Reading è una esperienza molto divertente, arricchente e interessante. Per tutti quelli che come me vogliono sviluppare il loro italiano parlato, un gruppo così è perfetto!”

 

The Italian Theatrical Group hopes to see you for its first public performance in Summer Term. To keep up with the theatrical project and all of the Department’s other activities, as well as to receive updates from our students, staff, and alumni, follow this blog, like us on Facebook, and subscribe to our Twitter feed.

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Student Life: The DAAD Sauerkraut Cup

The Reading team at the  DAAD Sauerkraut Cup

The Reading team at the DAAD Sauerkraut Cup

The 21st of February 2015 saw the DAAD Sauerkraut Cup return for the twelfth time. Bristol University hosted the event this year, and we sent two Reading teams and supporters to partake in the games. We’ve asked Lynsey Radford Foster, a fourth-year student of German and English Literature and a member of the German Society, to fill us in on the events of the day:

The Sauerkraut Cup, if you are unaware, is an inter-university football tournament supported by the DAAD (Deutscher Akadmischer Austausch Dienst/German Academic Exchange Service). Its purpose is to unite German Departments across the UK, opening up networking possibilities for the students involved, and to encourage the study of German, not that any of us need convincing of that!

Sauerkraut 2Thankfully, we had good weather, and although a little nippy, both Reading teams kept warm, playing throughout the day. Our first team, “Fortuna Reading” narrowly missed out on the coveted Sauerkraut cup, having made it to the quarter finals. Team 2, “Hier für Bier” had a more challenging day, but were ever enthusiastic in every game they played. After the football, both of our teams enjoyed a good German beer at the sponsers’ local Bierkeller with students from different German Departments across the UK.

Despite some fantastic goals and skilful defending, we returned empty-handed. However, I can say without doubt that we all had a thoroughly enjoyable day, full of excitement and enthusiasm and are already looking forward to next year’s trip!