-In light of the 2020 VOD being cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic-
By Anthony Pizzo, Alumnus of the 2002 Gift of Discovery/Voyage of Discovery
In 2002, I had the life changing honor to go to NIAF’s Voyage of Discovery program (or Gift of Discovery back then). I was just a young college student when I was selected to go on the Voyage of Discovery, and the experience completely changed my life.
Before going on the Voyage of Discovery, I was just an Italian American kid from a working class in South “Philly.” I was in college at the time but did not know what I wanted to do with my life. I had never left the country nor did I every really think I would have the opportunity.
I remember in late December of 2001 my father showed me about this program for Italian American students to visit Italy. I shrugged my father off and did not think I had any real opportunity to qualify for any program. At the time, I was also working 7 days a week at an Italian pastry shop where I worked from 3AM until 7AM every morning before I went to school. Applying was just not a priority for me. But on the deadline for applications, something inside me told me to apply. A few weeks later I was absolutely shocked to receive a letter (how times have changed!) from NIAF. The letter stated that I was accepted for the Voyage of Discovery program to go Sardinia, Italy, with Italian American students from all over the U.S.
The trip itself was amazing and brought about ever-lasting changes. For nearly two weeks in May 2002, we traveled throughout the beautiful island of Sardinia, interacting with locals, taking in the sights, and I learned about the world outside of my little bubble of South Philadelphia than I ever could have imagined. But the real changes did not end there, in fact, they had only just begun.
Living in a working-class area of Philadelphia, PA, the Voyage of Discovery gave me the opportunity to meet Italians and Italian Americans who went beyond the stereotypes of Italian and Italian Americans I had grown up watching on TV. I realized then that Italian Americans were capable of doing great things and I wanted to be able to give back and make a difference.
After I returned from the Voyage of Discovery, I immediately enrolled in Italian courses. Within a year, I had applied for and received my Italian citizenship. By the time I graduated from college, I was accepted to St. John’s University MBA program in Rome, Italy. I lived in Rome for two years and I knew then that I wanted to be able to come back and stay in Italy. I also decided that I wanted to be an inspiration to fellow Italian Americans in a pivotal stage in their lives – college. So, I was determined to get a doctoral degree and return to Italy as a college professor. It took a while, but in 2019, I graduated with my PhD in Business Administration. While the current economic environment has put my dream of returning to Italy and working as a professor on hold, I encourage all of this years of Voyage of Discovery award winners to maintain their fortitude.
We, as Italian Americans, have been graced with fortitude. Although recent events have temporarily set us back, I encourage all of this year’s participants to stay the course and see the bigger picture. Indeed, even back in 2002, our Voyage of Discovery trip was almost cancelled due to the September 11th attacks.
I know it is easy for me to tell you to stay positive. But there is a large and supportive organization with NIAF, myself included. Please use us as a resource on your voyage moving forward. I hope my story brings you a little sense of tranquility. Never forget that you are apart of an organization which will be a constant source of inspiration for you.
Although this year’s VOD trip has been cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we encourage those who are interested in the program to learn more by visiting https://www.niaf.org/programs/voyage-of-discovery/.