The University of Houston, where I received my doctorate, highlights: “Diversity enriches our university community and is a driving force instrumental to our institutional success and fulfillment of the university’s mission.” I recognize myself in this statement for I draw on my strong multicultural background in all that I do.
Originally from Florence, I graduated from the University of Florence, where I earned a bachelor's degree in Italian History and Literature and a Master in Medieval History. In Italy, I taught Italian language and culture courses for American, Russian, and Australian study-abroad students. These were my very first teaching experiences; from the relationships with these groups of students, I learned to be sensitive to cultural differences. I learned that each student has his unique needs and characteristics. Basically, I started to consider the meanings of nonverbal behaviors and silence in communications. This initial discovery came with both challenges and opportunities. I realized that to acknowledge and celebrate their uniqueness, I needed to respond to each individual student by choosing different teaching approaches. For example, I learned to avoid the false assumption that lack of eye contact and nonparticipation mean lack of attention, disinterest, or boredom. At the same time, I quickly discerned that a lack of questions doesn’t mean necessarily that my presentation has been well understood. I learned later on to solicit their input once trust was established with these students. Ultimately, recognizing their diversity made me willing to explore their world and, consequently, develop open-mindedness and great appreciation for it. For this reason, this teaching experience has been very remarkable for me, so much so that later on, I decided to pursue the teaching career and began the Ph.D. adventure.
In 2007 I left Italy with my family to move to Houston for my husband’s job. The experience of leaving my relatives and friends was initially disorienting and vertiginous. Being in a country and continent with a different language, a different mindset, and culture was both exciting and dreadful. As soon as I arrived in Houston, I felt like a stranger, someone that didn't belong! Even if people were nice, showed a lot of empathy for my situation, and were willing to help me with everything, I was still a stranger. I had to work hard to learn English, show my abilities, and be accepted. My thick accent, which never abandoned me, no matter how much I tried it was always the sign that I was/am a stranger here. I keep reminding certain people: “Hey, I speak with an accent, but I don’t think with an accent”. This experience instilled in me the curiosity to know the “other”, the person in front of me, without any cultural prejudice. It also made me extremely adaptable to face new situations, new friends, new challenging circumstances with an extraordinary openness and positivity. Furthermore, my diversity, my difficulties with the language, helped me to understand the challenges that certain students face when they are learning both English and History. For this reason, in my course, I designed specific projects and assignments in which each student is allowed to follow his/her interest, curiosity, and celebrate his/her culture and background. These assignments helped them feel valued and appreciated.
The breakthrough of my “diversity training” was my experience in the Middle East. In 2016 my family relocated to Dubai. Another continent, another country. All of a sudden, I was a stranger again! With time I got to know this place that at the beginning looked so unfamiliar and distant. More I was engaged with the people and their culture, and more I began to love this newness that little by little was unraveling in front of me. Indeed, this experience allowed me to encounter people from so many different backgrounds, faiths, and traditions and has taught me to look at every human being regardless of any cultural, religious, or social boundary but for the novelty and richness that each person can bring.
Ultimately, this is precisely the reason I chose history as a career. Studying the past is like going to a foreign country – they do things differently, think differently, act differently, and look different there. Returning from this trip, you understand that diversity is GOOD for you; it helps you understand human experience and ultimately yourself. Diversity is not something to be afraid of or refute; the "other" enriches your humanity and is essential for your journey.