In 2001, just weeks following the tragic events of 9/11, SYA Italy opened its iconic green door and Alessandra Tuzi turned out to be the perfect local connection for the program’s start-up. Twenty years later, having served as both SYA Italy’s host family coordinator and assistant to the resident director, she teaches Italian at the Viterbo campus, happy to share her extensive knowledge of local culture, tradition and history with students eager to immerse themselves in it. Making her students comfortable with the native language as early on as possible is Alessandra’s top priority.
When sharing the most gratifying part of her tenure with SYA, Alessandra says “We have always done our best to give them the tools to become citizens of the world, to open their minds and see the beautiful diversity of the world. I feel most successful when a student thanks me not only for teaching them the Italian language, but also for teaching them about life.”
A Tale of Three Cities
Alessandra is featured in this article along with two fellow veteran faculty members.
SYA Italy, Italian Language Teacher
B.A., Università delgi Studi della Tuscia; MA, Università Ca Foscari, Venezia
Students arrived at SYA Italy for the first time just weeks before the tragic events of 9/11. What was it like to work with host families, local citizens, faculty and students during that time?
I cannot forget those days: I can still see – as pictures in front of me – exactly where I was, where everybody in school was when we heard about what just happened. That feeling is still with me every time I think about that day. The mother of a student worked in the Twin Towers, and of course she was devastated. I can see her sitting on the floor next to me for hours (the telephone lines were congested) until we finally could reach her mom, who was sick and did not go to work that day! The following days were tough for everyone, especially for the students and the American faculty, every day waiting to know if someone they knew was involved in the disaster.
You've been with SYA Italy since it opened in 2001. Can you describe one transformational moment for you while teaching at SYA?
THE transformational moment for me has been when I decided to teach instead of being the Resident Director’s executive assistant and the host family coordinator. I loved working with the Resident Director and the host families directly, but since I was a teacher at Italian high schools before working for SYA, I felt the desire to go back to what I feel is my real “mission.” A very wise and happy decision for me.
What advice would you give to a student interested in studying Italian (or any language)?
The best way to learn a language is to study it “on site”: listening, observing and paying attention to what is around you helps the instructional part of language learning. What level you achieve in fluency is based on your curiosity and desire to become fluent and immersed in the culture.
What is your hope for this generation of students?
I really hope they have the strength and the determination to make a change in this world that needs better inhabitants: gentle people who care, respect and help all living creatures.
If you could ask any historical figure anything, who would it be and what would you ask?
I would ask Scottish philosopher David Hume to have a conversation about his theory of the mind and his beliefs about passion and reason. I have always loved how he defined reason as the slave of the passions.
What's your favorite place you've traveled to? Why?
San Diego, because it is an amazing, lively and fun city. The people are kind and welcoming, the beaches wonderful, the weather perfect and the surroundings charming.