Now that you’ve gotten here and settled in, I want to set some more specific goals for this course/program. Part of my teaching philosophy is to explain to students the reasons why I’m asking them to do something or why something is important. As a humanities professor, I make no claim to approaching topics from objective perspectives, and, as both a thought exercise and way of life, I try to resist the idea of universal truth(s). Of course, I’m not a guru in the hills, living off the grid, so my perspective is dominated by the context in which I developed: a white, male, (somewhat) southern, Italian-Irish-American perspective. To assume we believe what we believe because we’re free-thinkers discover ideas anew—without external influence—is extremely difficult to defend.
Which brings me to rhetoric. I will give you the shortest version I can, but please know that rhetoric is a vast discipline that covers more than simply empty speech and political BS. Consider rhetoric the way meaning is built into a speech act, but think broadly about “speech act.” I often prefer “communication situation,” which is more than a speaker’s monologue or even a pair’s dialogue. The words you use and hear, the signs you see, the cues you observe, and the context in which you use language all contribute to meaning making. The field of linguistics looks at how language, including nonverbal communication, develops and catalogs the uses of language. Although linguistics and rhetoric overlap, rhetorical theory often analyzes the way meaning is conveyed through verbal and non-verbal communication and, specifically, how that communication attempts to move an audience. Audiences can be big, small, known, unknown, etc. Therefore, the politician addressing a crowd is attempting to move voters, the parent influencing (remember “attempting” is the key) a child’s behavior, and the everyday street sign are rhetorical: the politician obviously wants votes and tells the crowd what they want to hear, the parent’s authority is a tool that motivates children, and legal power behind traffic rules (in theory) restricts what we do on the road. Of course, you’ll immediately notice that the above aren’t universal. In practice, we aren’t motivated by all politicians (just the ones we agree with), we don’t abide by all our parents’ rules (what do they know about fun?), and we may “loosely” interpret traffic signs (is a complete stop really necessary?). The key is the attempt and the fact that you come to the communication situation with internalize assumptions you might not be conscious of. I’m asking you to pause and be conscious of the assumptions you have. And one of the best context in which to do this is when you’re immersed in a different culture.
ENGL/COMM 3050 “Intercultural Communication on the Amalfi Coast”
The “course” I developed isn’t a course in the traditional classroom sense, but I have learning goals for you, and I have pedagogical theories I’m basing my approach on. I started teaching college classes 23 years ago this very week, and my experiences have shaped my approach. I’m not finished learning how to teach, but I’m 10000000000000000 times more confident today than I was in late-May 2000. As I mentioned, this is my first study abroad experience, and I’m jealous of your opportunity and wish I found a way to study abroad as a student.
No matter what I mess up, I know you’ll have a life-altering experience that you’ll remember forever, and that takes some of the pressure off me! You might not realize it, but I’m out of my comfort zone.* I know enough Italian to do more than simply get by, so it’s not the language issue (although I’m hoping to improve my skills). Having a traditional classroom (or online environment…thanks pandemic) is comforting and known to me. Seeing students in class and than not again until the next meeting is routine. This program required me to come to a foreign country (and a city I had never been to), correspond with multiple groups to unsure the course fulfills appropriate learning goals, meet you in an airport (8:00am to 7:00pm), direct you to buy train tickets, hope you make it to your apartments, and stumble through all sorts of negotiations while you’re right there! Most classroom issues happen behind the scenes, so, yes, I’m in new territory, and I am so happy you’re along with me. Of course, Dr. Dal Pra is here, so I’ve got a veteran study abroad co-director, which makes it much easier.
If you ever have a question about why we’re doing what we’re doing, come ask me. I have reasons for doing what I do. They’re not always the best choices, but I don’t (usually) know that until after I go through the process and/or experience.** I’m not having formal class meetings to, honestly, test this theory out: city as text. Salerno and all our destinations are our classrooms. With that in mind, I want you to read the places we go to. You’ll certainly be readings physical signs. Most of them will be in Italian, but many will be in English, but notice the prevalence of British English standards: colour vs color, the underground vs light rail or Metro, the train robot pronouncing schedule as shed-gu-wol, etc. In addition to spoken and written language differences, I want you to consider the measurement differences. Obviously, the currency is the international currency, Euro (€). But you no doubt also have observed kilometers vs miles, grams vs pounds, liters vs ounces, and, the most difficult to me, Celsius vs Fahrenheit. Additionally, observe the customs and practices: crossing the street, getting into a line to order something, getting on and off the bus, and ordering/paying at restaurants. These and more are the situations I want you to observe and reflect upon.
*Although I want you to be out of your comfort zone, I don’t want you uncomfortable. Come to me if you’re not comfortable. I will do my best to figure out a solution. Also, Dr. Dal Pra is available and an expert traveler, so you’re in good hands. **Full disclosure: I purposely used “usually” because I’ve made decisions I knew were terrible, but I went ahead with them anyway.