Government Senior (Italian Studies Pre-Grad Intern) Pamela Cardona
The first time the thought of graduate school entered my head was about a year ago. It was during my semester studying abroad in Italy that I realized my passion for studying languages, Italian in particular, was something I wanted to dedicate more time to. I remember sitting in my apartment, speaking to my parents on the phone, when the inevitable question, "What are you going to do after you graduate?" came up. As I told them that I was thinking about getting my MA in Italian Studies (dropping my previous plan to attend Law School after graduation) I could sense their lack of enthusiasm and doubt on the other end. This doubt was mainly caused by the fact that I knew nothing about what graduate school entailed, or if Italian Studies was really the program that I wanted to pursue. The only thing I was sure of at the time was that I wanted to continue studying languages and that I wanted to stay close to Italian while doing so.
After my return from study abroad I went into my now-mentor's office (Brandi) and mentioned to her these plans. During this conversation, I realized my idea was riddled with holes. I had no idea what graduate school was like or even what the application process was like for that matter. An infinite number of questions ran through my head. Add to that the uncertainty and self-doubt I faced when thinking of whether or not I was really graduate school material.
About a week after I talked to Brandi, she sent me an e-mail with the information about the IE Pre-Graduate School Internship, and asked me if I wanted to do it. After I read about the program it sounded like a good opportunity. I wasn't sure exactly what it would entail but I figured it would not hurt to try. Mainly I thought it would give me an opportunity to answer some of the questions I had, which were many. I also liked the idea of working with Brandi as my mentor. She was the Assistant Instructor for a couple of Italian courses I took before going to Italy, and I knew she knew me well enough academically to understand where my interests lie.
When I look back on the last few months in this internship, I feel that my decision to go to graduate school has been greatly reinforced by the support and guidance that I have received from the program. The IE internship has given me even more confidence than I expected to gain when I first started. I thought I needed more clarity and a better understanding about how graduate school worked and what was expected. Instead I feel that the main focus during this internship was not on graduate school but rather on me. And it was through learning more about myself, what it is that drives me, and where I want to go, that I learned more about the role that graduate school could play in my future plans.
One of the main focuses during this internship has been deciding on what program I would like to pursue. When I first considered getting my MA I immediately assumed that it would probably have to be in Italian Studies, because of the fact that I wanted to keep studying Italian. However, Brandi suggested looking at a few other programs that all had two things in common: they were all related to languages and I could incorporate Italian within them. This was to help me narrow down and learn the more specific source for my interest in languages.
Over the summer, Brandi recommended that I start looking at the programs for sociolinguistics, linguistic anthropology, applied linguistics, and Italian. She told me to read brief descriptions of them and then we talked about which programs caught my attention the most and why. Soon after doing this, I started questioning my interest in the Italian Studies path. When I read more about the Italian Studies programs and the fact that they are primarily literature-focused, I quickly realized that perhaps this was not something I would enjoy. I thought a lot about what I was passionate about within Italian and I decided that the literature was not really what inspired me. I started thinking that maybe my interest in Italian was more social and linguistic in nature, than it was literary. What I wanted to study was more related to people, culture, and the role that language plays in the two. This conclusion narrowed my choices down to two fields: sociolinguistics and linguistic anthropology.
When the semester started, I met with Brandi to discuss my class schedule. I told her about a couple of courses I had decided to sign up for that might help me find out more about these fields. One was an Italian linguistics course on the history of the language and the other was an introduction to linguistic anthropology called "Culture and Communication". When I showed her the syllabi for these classes she highly encouraged me to stay with them and we decided that my internship should work with these two courses. We would move in the direction that my interests within these courses took me. After only a couple of weeks I was very excited about the material I was studying in my anthropology class. I expressed this interest to Brandi and she gave me a few books that she thought could help me continue to understand this new territory. As I went through the semester, taking these courses and meeting with Brandi to take my class discussions one step further, I came to the conclusion that my interest lay in Linguistic Anthropology. Arriving at this realization was one of the best things I took from this program. Beforehand, I never even knew such a field existed, much less that it was exactly in tune with my interests.
During the semester, especially once I specified my program of choice, I started researching different graduate programs offering linguistic anthropology. I learned about the process of applying and got a lot of concrete information as to what the application involves. I also took the initiative to speak with a few professors, including my anthropology professor, to receive suggestions as to what I should look for in choosing the right school when the time comes to apply. As I am still a year away from graduating, I feel that I have started this process with ample time to select the right schools and put together my applications in time to submit them next fall.
As I reflect on what I have learned through this program, I think of the moment in this internship that brought it all together for me. This moment was during the conference I attended with Brandi a couple of weeks ago, The American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) Annual Convention and World Languages Expo. The conference took place in Orlando, Florida. Brandi is a Foreign Language Education (FLE) doctoral student and a member of ACTFL. We attended different sessions during the conference, including some given by the faculty in the Italian department at UT. Having never attended a conference before, the first day was quite overwhelming. When we first got there, I quickly realized that I was the youngest person there. I did not feel like I had enough experience (or knowledge) on these topics. I was very nervous that the discussion in the sessions would go over my head. However, I found quite the opposite and after the first day my anxiety about being there was replaced by a surprising feeling of ease and comfort.
The most unexpected aspect about each of these presentations was that I found myself with something to say and points to add to each of the discussions. Upon leaving the sessions Brandi and I would discuss what was presented. I commented on the things that I had noticed and the questions that I had about it. She did a very good job in explaining the technical aspects of the sessions in terms that were easier to understand. As the sessions went on I found myself getting more and more comfortable with being there and gradually started feeling less like a foreigner in the academic conference world. The fact was that foreign language education was actually not as unrelated to my interests as I thought previously. It is actually a subject that interests me greatly and is something I have first-hand experience with. For the last decade, I have been involved in foreign language education from the role of a student. Attending this conference allowed me to experience the same subject, but this time, from the point of view of the instructors.
This new perspective has been and will be beneficial to me in many ways. I was able to appreciate the interdisciplinary aspect when looking at one subject and the different ways in which academics study one topic through the use of very different approaches. It also allowed me to see that the questions I ask myself now about languages, people, and ultimately myself, are not just unique to me but also to many of the people in academia. The main value that I could take away from the conference, and the IE program in general, was seeing the way in which people's common passion drove them in the work they did. Seeing teachers, such as my mentor, who were so dedicated to what they did, reinforced my reasons for wanting to continue my studies in graduate school. Maybe I was not as clueless as I thought when I had first made the decision. Perhaps being passionate about a subject is a good enough reason for pursuing it as far as it takes you. With that said, the IE internship has been yet another stepping stone in uncovering the path in which my passion is taking me.