Anthony Nussmeier (BCSP 2003-2004, University of Minnesota)
Visiting Assistant Professor of Italian at Kansas State University,
Founder of KSU study abroad program in Orvieto, Umbria
Q: Could you share advice with our Italian majors considering an academic career path?
A: Don’t do it! I’m kidding, at least mostly. An academic path is not for everyone, as it generally involves many long hours, frustrating moments, and a lagging job market, but if a student truly loves to teach, read, learn, etc., it can be a rewarding career. In the end, most academics can be misanthropes, but there is no one who forces a person into academe. My advice would be to appreciate the opportunities that being an academic provides—to learn continuously, to teach and influence students, to be satisfied intellectually, and to have some say in how you spend your work-day—and decide if all that outweighs the challenges. If an academic path is not right, then choose something else! For me it has been immensely rewarding despite the challenges. I still get a rush knowing that I can take students, who know little more than a few words of Italian, on a journey that sees them able to converse in, to read and to write the language. On another note, students should decide to go on to graduate school, not based on anyone else’s expectations or in the vein of “I-don’t-know-what-else-to-do”, but rather because they believe that it will offer them the chance to do what they truly enjoy.
Q: What factors usually lead your students to studying Italian and how can learning Italian at an advanced level be useful in a student’s future?
A: There are many factors that lead students to choose Italian, and often it depends on geography. For example, at my previous institution, Penn State, we had many so-called “heritage learners”, i.e. students whose families are Italian. Other times we get “refugees” from high-school Spanish, those who want to experience something different. And in many cases, students of Italian are interested in study abroad, and believe that language study will provide them with a more enriching experience. Here at Kansas State University we have fewer heritage learners, but many students who are attracted to some aspect of Italian culture—calcio, motorsports, opera, art, literature, food—and for that reason decide to study the language.
The study of language, and of Italian in particular, can be useful to a student in many ways, not all of them strictly vocational. On the most basic level, studying another language forces you to reflect more carefully on the use of your own, native language. And recent studies have shown that the study of a foreign language can delay the onset of brain-related diseases such as Alzheimer’s. More philosophically, the study of a language can open a student up to beauty. Students of Italian can read the world’s greatest work of literature, Dante’s Divine Comedy, and Italian is, of course, also the language of opera and art.
On a practical level, students who choose to study a foreign language have higher median salaries than other liberal arts majors. Speaking vocationally, Italian can be used in many ways, and not just in the typical industries, i.e. fashion, food, editing, publishing, teaching, etc. Many of my students pursue Italian because it pairs well and has natural affinities with other fields of study, such as Engineering, Art History, English, International Business, and Hospitality. Italy is a world-leader in the creation of pharmaceutical contrast agents, yacht-building, and construction. It is home to the world’s highest concentration of UNESCO world heritage sites. Even industries such as aerospace have a home in Italy and can offer opportunities to students of Italian. (Italy just sent an astronaut to the International Space Station for three months, and was the third country to send a satellite into orbit.) In short, the study of Italian can be useful in a myriad of ways that are personal, philosophical and vocational!