The National Italian American Foundation (NIAF) is proud to have the Sant’Anna Institute – a study abroad and language course program in Sorrento, Italy – as a corporate sponsor of our foundation. Read on for an incredible story from one of Sant’Anna’s Italian American students, Tristan Curnow, who attended their spring 2017 program.
During the first semester of my sophomore year of college, I decided that I wanted to study abroad. I had heard the amazing stories of study abroad experiences through my friends and school administrators, so I figured it was time for me to experience the world, considering I had never left the continent that I was born and raised on.
As I began to research different study abroad locations around the world, I realized that something in my heart was calling me to study in Italy. My grandmother (or as I call her, Nonna) was born and raised in Naples, Italy and didn’t immigrate to the United States until she married an American sailor stationed in Naples (my grandfather) when she was in her twenties.
Once I had settled on Italy, I began to search for the perfect city that would fit my personality and academic credit needs. I didn’t want to study in Rome or Florence because I am not much of a city person. I have grown up my whole life loving the ocean, so when I discovered Sant’Anna Institute in Sorrento, I realized it was perfect. I could study right next to the ocean in a beautiful town that I knew wouldn’t have too many other American influences and to top it off, it was only thirty minutes away from my ancestral home, Napoli.
Once the decision was final, I broke the news of where I was going to be studying to my Nonna. She was so happy and proud of me that I was going to be studying Italian and learning about our culture first hand and she couldn’t believe that I would be studying in Sorrento. She was so excited to tell her entire family that I would be coming to meet them in Napoli. She then preceded to tell me a story I had heard many times about her childhood:
When she was a girl, after World War II, her mother died and her father was too poor to support her and her two siblings. He had to send them to live in an orphanage for some time so they could be fed and taken care of. She was sent to live in an orphanage and girl’s school in Sorrento, Italy! I couldn’t believe that I had forgotten that small detail, which I had heard a hundred times. I immediately looked up orphanages in Sorrento and what I discovered sent shivers down my spine.
The only orphanage and girl’s school open in Sorrento at the time of my Nonna’s childhood had since closed, but the building still stood to this day. It had since been converted into a small institute for study abroad students: Sant’Anna Institute. I could hardly believe what I found and where fate was about to lead me.
During my time at Sant’Anna Institute, every day I would look out of the classroom window overlooking the bay of Napoli and Mt. Vesuvio. I would think about how my Nonna had also once looked out the very same window wondering if her life would get any better, if she would every have money or opportunities, and if she would every have a place to call her home. Two generations later, I realized that those questions had been answered. My Nonna, through hard work and determination had come to America and built a life and home for herself. She struggled to provide for her own children but raised them well to pull themselves out of poverty and two generations later, her first grandson was attending college classes in the same room that she once lived at the lowest point in her life. I have never felt such gratitude as I did when standing in those rooms.
My time spent in Sorrento at Sant’Anna Institute changed my life. I learned to speak Italian, which I now use when talking to my Nonna on a regular basis. My experiences traveling and seeing the world changed my career path and led me to want to become an international lawyer. But most importantly, Sorrento became my home in a way that I never thought was possible. Now, when people ask me where I am from, I have a greater understanding for that which I came than I ever have before. I am Italian.
Great-grandfather Anthony Cucurullo emigrated from Sorrento to Brooklyn NY in 1883 and helped build the Brooklyn Bridge.