Alessandro Pugliese ’19 was honored to speak about his experiences studying with Syracuse Abroad at the Student Welcome Day event, hosted by the city of Florence, this spring. Held in the town hall’s 15th-century Salone dei Cinquecento (Hall of the 500) with its breathtaking frescoes and statues, the event welcomed study abroad students to the city.
It was a déjà vu moment for Pugliese—he had been in that same grand chamber two decades before as a 2-year-old, sitting in his grandmother’s arms as his father presented his research on an anti-fascist resistance leader from Florence in the 1930s. Pugliese would later return to the country throughout his childhood.
Pugliese’s deep-rooted connection with the city has only been further enriched by his experiences as a Syracuse Abroad student three times in the historic city where the Renaissance began.
“Florence is infinitely fascinating; I don’t think I could ever be bored here with everything to do, see, hear and think about,” Pugliese says. “Besides being able to easily complete my major requirements, I formed a connection with this city and its people. Each time I left, I was already thinking about the next time I could be back.”
Building on a Family Connection
Pugliese initially studied with Syracuse Abroad through the Discovery Florence program, which allows students to spend their first semester as a Syracuse University student in the European city.
“Being able to fully immerse myself in the Italian culture and language was an opportunity I could not pass up,” says Pugliese, who was a double major in international relations in the College of Arts and Sciences and the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs and Italian language, literature and culture in Arts and Sciences. “As a second-generation Italian American, I didn’t want to lose the connection to the language, culture and history of my parents and grandparents.”
Making the transition from an American high school to the streets of Florence was a drastic change, but one that propelled Pugliese to explore and discover the historic places once occupied by Dante, Boccaccio, Donatello and Michelangelo.
“Italians in general and Florentines in particular are alive and sensitive to their past and their level of cultural literacy is simply astounding,” Pugliese says. “I was also completely captivated by the lifestyle in Italy, being able to live in the moment and experience a different social scene from back home.”
Learning the Language
Studying in Florence also fit well with his plans to pursue learning the culture and language of Italy and to further his interests in international relations.
“A foreign language opens innumerable doors: knowledge, understanding, empathy, friendships. Without knowing the language of a culture, I don’t think you can really understand that culture or its people,” says Pugliese, who studied in the Intensive Language Program at the Centro di Cultura per Stranieri. “As a global citizen, it’s necessary to have an understanding of languages, politics, history and culture.”
Pugliese followed in the footsteps of his father, Stanislao, who first visited the city in 1982 as a teenager. His father returned in 1988 to study at the Università di Firenze and again in the early 1990s to do research on his doctoral dissertation about resistance leader Carlo Rosselli. Titled “Carlo Rosselli: Socialist Heretic and Antifascist Exile,” it was published by Harvard University Press and translated into Italian. “There’s a family history that I’m very proud of,” Pugliese says.
Leading On and Off the Field
Pugliese returned to Syracuse Florence the fall semester of his junior year, as a first-year student mentor. He became editor-in-chief of Get Italian Football News, a website that covers Italian football in English. He also captained the Syracuse Florence soccer team in the Fiorenza Calcetto Tournament, in which American study abroad students from various schools compete in a calcetto (five-on-five) series. Pugliese won MVP of the tournament.
During the spring semester of his senior year in Florence, Pugliese worked on his capstone thesis on how soccer can be used to help recent migrants assimilate into Italian society. “This also gave me an opportunity to interact with people in the local community,” he says.
Each semester held different experiences for Pugliese, who says he grew personally and academically at the Florence center because of the faculty and staff.
“Every course I took has been intriguing and informative. Every professor made class interesting in different ways. I was fortunate to take courses with Professor Debora Spini, who brings incredible knowledge and Italian wit to the classroom, and was my advisor for my senior international relations capstone,” Pugliese says. “I also had the incredible support of [staff member] Amy Kleine, who encouraged and helped me each time I returned.”
During each of his stays in Florence, Pugliese lived with the same Florentine family—“a family who have welcomed me with open arms and warm hearts,” he says. “I am forever grateful to the Andorlini family and Syracuse University for providing me with life-changing experiences and a second home in this great city.”
Embracing International Culture
Pugliese made the most of his study abroad experience by immersing himself in Florence and taking every opportunity to get to know local community members and speak the language, says Sasha Perugini, director of Syracuse Abroad Florence.
“Alessandro really tried to live the life of an Italian from the first moment,” she says. “He wanted the homestay experience and asked for the same family all three semesters. His Italian family consider him truly a part of them.”
Along with excelling in his academics and extracurricular activities, he found ways to combine his interests through his participation with the soccer team and his research on how immigrants can benefit socially, culturally and emotionally by participating in amateur soccer teams, Perugini says.
“As a mentor and as an athletic captain, Alessandro motivated and encouraged students to speak Italian as much as possible, to get involved in the cultural activities the school offers and to travel around Italy,” Perugini says. “He truly understands, appreciates and is grateful for the opportunity to study abroad.”
During his time as a resident of Florence, Pugliese built up a store of memories—challenging coursework, lifelong friends, memorable meals and soccer games, and favorite places, such as the Piazza Savonarola neighborhood and the San Miniato al Monte church—but his adventures in Italy probably won’t end there. Pugliese, who was recently granted dual Italian citizenship, is job searching in both the U.S. and Italy and also considering graduate school.
“Syracuse Florence has played a major role in the person I have become, and I’m confident that will lead to success in my professional endeavors,” Pugliese says. “I am also hoping to incorporate my knowledge of the Italian language and culture into my professional career as my experiences abroad have certainly prepared me for that.”
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