Kathleen Boyle, Ph.D. is a visiting assistant professional specialist in the Italian studies section of the Department of romance languages and literatures. Before coming to Notre Dame, Boyle taught Italian language and culture courses at the College of William and Mary.
From your perspective, what is one of the differences between American culture and Italian culture?
There are many differences between the two cultures that you could talk about, ranging from politics and religion to the culture around food … but I will focus on one general difference that comes to mind. In the United States, Italy is often represented as a very homogenous country. You hear about ‘Italian food’ and ‘Italian culture’ as if there were very singular and uniform ideas of what that means. Perhaps it is because of the size of Italy in comparison to the sprawling United States that people are much quicker to recognize the differences that exist from state to state or in different regions of the U.S. One of the most fascinating things about Italy is the twenty regions the country is divided into, regions that are unique in their cuisine, architecture, languages, landscapes and traditions. You can learn so much about a region through its cuisine and the traditions the people of the region celebrate. By studying the language of a particular region, you can often learn about its history and the traces left on the language. This is the beauty of Italy. The fact that sometimes all you have to do is turn a corner to stumble upon a variation of a dish typical to that area or go one town over [to] hear a different dialect spoken. There is often a certain attachment and pride associated with one’s region that I am not sure exists in the United States. Learning about and appreciating these regional differences is essential to a better understanding of Italy as a whole.
What do you usually do for fun?
I love to read Italian and English fiction when I have free time. I have always been a huge volleyball fan, so I enjoy going to Notre Dame home volleyball games when I can. In the summer, I travel quite a bit and I enjoy returning to Italy to catch up with friends and former colleagues. I always try to visit at least one new town or city during my trips to Italy.
Many students are applying to study abroad now. Can you share with us a little insight about life abroad when you were studying and teaching in Italy?
My best advice for Notre Dame students preparing for a semester abroad in Italy is to find a way to make a place for yourself in that city and to make the city your own. I encourage them not to live as an American ‘guest,’ but to instead embrace as much of the culture and the language as possible during their time abroad… Notre Dame offers incredible study abroad opportunities in Bologna and at the Rome Global Gateway. I lived in Rome and know that it can feel like a very large city, but that is why it is important to take advantage of opportunities to do things in the community and find routines for yourself. During my time abroad I participated in language exchanges with Italian students who wanted to practice their English while I had the opportunity to speak even more Italian. As a student, you may find people abroad that will assume you do not speak the language because they are accustomed to tourists who resort to English. I encourage you to keep responding in Italian and you will see how much it is appreciated.