A Taste of Italy with Sara Venturelli

Sara Venturelli is the welcoming face of Elbert, the Italian House, one of the six language immersion houses here at Colorado College. For students interested in continuing their study of Italian culture and language, Elbert is a possible option for campus living.

Photo by Lauren Stierman

Tucked away on the far northwest side of campus, Elbert House is a popular location for Italian cultural events and activities. Venturelli, as the Cultural Program Coordinator, works both to create a strong community amongst her residents and to be an accessible resource for all CC students.

But who are the cultural program coordinators, fondly deemed the CPCs? Are they professors, RAs, students, or possibly a combination of all three? “It’s kind of hard to differentiate between the RA and me because people never know what a CPC is,” Venturelli explained. “When [the residents] have to fill out the evaluations, some people thought I was the RLC. I would like students to know that we are half way between professors and students. Students can come talk to me any time and feel comfortable.”

The six CPCs teach the foreign language adjuncts, live in the language houses, and facilitate opportunities for their residents and the campus at large to learn about their culture and country of origin. The language house RAs assist the CPCs in this programing. Venturelli is originally from Tuscany, Italy. She graduated with a Masters Degree in Italian as a Foreign Language from the University of Bologna. Following her graduation, she took a teaching internship in Turkey, before learning about the CPC program from a teaching abroad Facebook group. “I wanted to go abroad and teach and share my culture,” she noted.

This year is Venturelli’s second and last year at CC. The vast majority of CPCs stay for one to two years at the college, with only a few, in Venturelli’s understanding, staying on for an additional year.

Venturelli is an experienced traveler. Prior to to her internship in Turkey, she studied and taught in France, Germany, and Australia—this made the adjustment to the United States much easier.

“By now, I know how it works,” Venturelli explained. Yet she also noted some cultural differences. “We [Italians] are very welcoming. Not that Americans are not, but we just drop by any time. Another thing I really miss, compared to here, is when people tell you, ‘Oh, we should totally hang out; we should do something together,’ and they actually do it. Sometimes people say it, but they don’t really mean it,” she said.

As a part of CC’s all-college requirements, students must take two blocks, or the equivalent, of a college-level language. Adjuncts provide an opportunity for students to continue language conversation and acquisition outside of their language blocks. Although technically a professor at the college, Venturelli stressed the more relaxed environment of her classes and the adjuncts at large. “For students, [the adjuncts] should be a time to review what they’ve learned, but [also] to use their linguistic tools that they already have acquired in the regular blocks to have a conversation. It should be more of a chill class, more relaxed,” Venturelli said.

Venturelli teaches three different levels of Italian: elementary, intermediate, and advanced. Each level meets for two hours each week. Attendance varies from semester to semester, but Venturelli expects about 10 students in each class. As there are many options in fulfilling the language requirement, there is some competition between CPCs to see who can have the highest number of students in their courses.

Although Venturelli works to bring new students to the department, she particularly enjoys her advanced classes. “Advanced is maybe the class that I enjoy the most, in the sense that it’s when students have the ability to express themselves about so many different things that we can have deeper conversations. It’s not really about the grammar that much, but we discuss those topics where students have to express an opinion and to argue,” she said.

Depending on the language department contract, CPCs may audit up to four courses. Venturelli is currently in the intermediate Japanese adjunct and plans to travel there this summer. Although Venturelli has a master’s degree, other CPCs are working students at the college. This distinction is crucial.

“It’s different for the Chinese CPC and the German CPC because they are students. For me, it’s hard to say that students are friends. They can come talk to me, and they do, and I appreciate that, but there is a certain line,” she explained.

As a second year CPC, Venturelli had the opportunity to teach a half-block entitled, “Intensive Communication Practice for Study, Working, and Traveling in Italy.” 16 students, of various levels and experience, enrolled in the class. “That was so much fun! I really felt like my students were my kids,” she said.

The CPCs also coordinate cultural events and activities. Venturelli noted, “I use the white board, and I create a mosaic of all of the cultural events I organize to show students what we do here. Every block is around three events, two of which I organize with the department, and one is the resident’s organizing it. For example, we’ve made gnocchi, and last year, we had a movie night.”

Other events include fresh pasta and lasagna dinners, tiramisu nights, and The Multicultural Winter Market, which is a collaboration with the other language houses. The Italian house also hosts an espresso tasting, “Spesso Espresso,” every third Monday from 2:00-3:00 p.m. Italian language majors and other study abroad students attend the sessions to share their experiences with the Italian culture and people.

Although attendance varies from event to event, at least 15 students visit each week. Despite being hosted by the language house and its residents, the events are often open to the rest of the student body. “Tonight, we are having a dinner. It’s two or three residents, just cooking. It’s especially fun and interesting when they can include something about themselves,” Venturelli said.

“Last year, there was a chocolate tasting that a student from Ecuador organized. He was living here, and he knew a lot about chocolate,” Venturelli said. Elbert House is home to 21 students, in mostly single rooms. In order to increase community and ensure commitment to the Italian culture, the language house application has recently changed. “Last year, we introduced a new thing. We started working more closely with Residential Life. We actually asked them if we could start interviewing candidates. Up to last year, we would only review applications,” Venturelli said.

And it’s working. As Shiying Cheng, the Resident Advisor of the Italian and Asian Houses, said of Venturelli, “She really tries hard to get to know all the residents and attempts to build a warm community. Sara also prepares cards for residents on their birthdays.”

This welcoming atmosphere is something noted by many of the residents. In terms of her hopes for the future, Venturelli is confident the Italian House will be left in good hands. “I think we are on the right track. I have experienced improvement in the number of students in the adjunct and the community we have in the house, both of these things are better this year. The Facebook group and the blog are a great way to show people what we have going on, as well,” she noted.

As housing opens for the 2017-2018 school year, the language houses are an option. Until then, stop by the Italian House for “Spesso Espresso,” a traditional Italian meal, or just a chat with Venturelli.

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