Twenty-two Italian high school students will participate in "Mountains to Mountains from La Sila to Appalachia" Italian to American Cultural Camp this summer on the shared main campus of Fairmont State University and Pierpont Community & Technical College.
The students from Liceo Scientifico Statale in San Giovanni in Fiore, located in the region of Calabria in Italy, will experience firsthand the cultural connections between Italy and North Central West Virginia. The camp, which blends academic and cultural activities, runs Saturday, June 12, through Saturday, July 3. Teresa Bitonti, English language and literature teacher at Liceo Scientifico Statale, has escorted her students to Fairmont State and is also part of the three-week camp.
The idea for the camp originated in March, when representatives from FSU visited the University of Calabria to recruit Italian students to participate in the exchange program developed between the two universities in 2007. Two FSU students have studied at the University of Calabria, and several students from the University of Calabria plan to study at FSU in the fall. As part of that trip, FSU officials also wanted to learn more about secondary education in Italy and were invited to speak at Liceo Scientifico Statale in San Giovanni in Fiore. About 250 high school students attended the assembly.
"Many Italian students travel in the summer to hone their English, so the opportunity to come to America to learn about culture was very exciting to them," said Dr. Judy P. Byers, Abelina Suarez Professor of English and Folklore, Senior Level, and Director of the Frank and Jane Gabor West Virginia Folklife Center. "Their response was overwhelming. The students were very attracted to the idea that we have so much in common - from mountains and vegetation to folklore. These were the same connections that Italian immigrants saw when they came to West Virginia. The camp is cultural exploration taken from their roots."
In fact, Southern Italy has many ties to North Central West Virginia. Gov. Joe Manchin III developed an official partnership between West Virginia and the region of Calabria, where many Italian Americans in West Virginia can trace their roots. Many of the miners who were lost in the 1907 Monongah Mine Disaster were from San Giovanni in Fiore. In 2007, FSU's Frank and Jane Gabor West Virginia Folklife Center sponsored a study tour of Calabria called "Roads to Appalachia through Italy" as part of a year-long, intensive study of Italian traditions and Appalachian influences on the culture. The Calabria-West Virginia Italian Heritage Association and the West Virginia Italian Heritage Festival work to perpetuate Italian heritage and culture.
The Office of Student Affairs under the leadership of Vice President Michael Belmear is sponsoring the cultural camp as part of the ongoing emphasis to foster international academics and recruitment at FSU and Pierpont.
Throughout the three-week camp, students will take classes in American literature, theatre and English as a second language. Besides developing an understanding of the English language, the students are being exposed to the context for American English by experiencing frontier history at Prickett's Fort, West Virginia's history at the new state museum at the Culture Center in Charleston and national history by touring Washington, D.C., and Colonial Williamsburg. They will also study Western culture and pop culture through musical interpretations. Students will attend a West Virginia Public Theatre performance of "Hairspray" in Morgantown and an FSU Masquers' performance of "Oklahoma!" at Prickett's Fort State Park.
On June 29, the students will attend a special program in Jackson Square in Clarksburg in conjunction with the West Virginia Italian Heritage Festival.
"The event, including music and food, will showcase how the Italian heritage and culture have been kept alive through the past 115 years," said Rose Mazza, a native of Italy and a faculty member in the FSU Department of Language and Literature. "We want to connect the students to the Italian community here in West Virginia."
Mazza teaches Italian language courses on FSU's main campus in Fairmont and at the Gaston Caperton Center in Clarksburg. She also teaches specialty Italian community classes, such as "Cooking Italian" for Pierpont Community & Technical College's Continuing Education Program.
A highlight of the camp will take place June 30 when students will meet with state Sen. Roman Prezioso and other members of the Monongah Memorial Centennial Committee in Monongah for a discussion of the Monongah Mine Disaster. San Giovanni in Fiore erected a statue honoring the Italians from that town who died in the Monongah tragedy.
The camp will end on July 3 with a banquet in the Falcon Center.
"Experiences such as this cultural camp not only foster an atmosphere of global awareness, but also instill student confidence that the world with its many cultures is accessible. It is our goal that students will realize that we are more alike than different. It is indeed ‘a small world after all.' Also, we hope that this camp continues to salute the rich Italian heritage and history in North Central West Virginia," Byers said.