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Drew University Students Speak, Learn with Italian Peers

Cross-continental exchange of language and culture develops skills and understanding

May 2022 – Students in Drew University’s Italian Conversation and Contemporary Culture course recently had the chance to test out their language skills by speaking with students from the University of Parma in Italy.

Through the Tandem Project, Drew students practiced speaking Italian and learning about the country’s culture first hand from their counterparts in Italy, currently enrolled in the course Lingua e Traduzione Inglese.

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Madelyn Bugdonovitch and her Italian counterpart Dimitrije Djokic

“Students are able—in a no-pressure environment and on their own time—to practice their language skills outside of class and acquire knowledge of Italian culture while reflecting, at the same time, on their own,” said Emanuele Occhipinti, professor and Italian program director at Drew. “This allows respect and appreciation of different points of view, giving them an opportunity to acquire intercultural competence, one of the top skills to have, according to employers, in the current and future workplace where understanding different perspectives and relating to different cultures without bias is crucial.”

“All my students have been enthusiastic about this project, which has allowed them to combine classes and practical lessons with a more informal type of learning that takes place outside the classroom,” added Micol Beseghi, assistant professor of English Language and Translation at the University of Parma.

The Drew student experience reflected the project’s goals.

“I gained speaking skills as well as the ability to learn quickly on my feet,” said Cameron Orefice C’23, an English and Italian double major and theatre minor.

“Speaking with my partner Dimitrije, who was just as eager to learn as I was, was a wonderful opportunity to practice our language skills in a comfortable and exciting environment,” said Madelyn Bugdonovitch C’23, an anthropology and Italian studies double major and archaeology, classics, and museum studies and cultural management triple minor. “I know I speak for both of us when I say it’s been an extremely unique and rewarding experience.”

Another key takeaway for students was the power of the freedom to make mistakes.

“I learned it’s okay to fail or make mistakes when talking to someone in a foreign language,” said Orefice. “I am a perfectionist and I always like to avoid errors whenever possible. However, when I’m speaking, I know that making mistakes aids me in learning the language. Plus, my partner, Asya, is studying English, so we were both terrified of speaking to a native speaker.”

“Our video calls quickly became a very comfortable place to make mistakes and learn,” said Bugdonovitch. “There was no added pressure of being graded on your speech. It was just a space for two friends to practice languages, laugh, make mistakes, and help each other grow.”

Students were happy to come away with bonuses—friendship and perspective.

“I definitely developed a new perspective on some cultural differences between the U.S. and Italy,” said Orefice. “But most importantly, I gained a friend that I will keep in contact with once this project finishes and will hopefully visit her when I am in Italy over the summer.”

“Through this experience, not only was I able to develop a connection and friendship with someone my age in Italy, But I was able to learn a considerable amount about the culture and language,” echoed Bugdonovitch. “It was also very meaningful for me to be able to share things about my own culture with someone else.”

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