This post will probably be rather short. It’s fairly late, and I don’t have much energy left to write the way I usually do, with incessant revision. My apologies to anyone who may read this, and to La Bella Lingua. Please, know that tu sei il sole del mio giorno.

I went to an Italian conversation hour this afternoon, l’ora Italiana, Of course, I was incredibly early and sat in a corner studying my Berlitz Beginner Italian textbook and listening to dialogues in Italian on my iPod. Consummate student.I’m not exactly sure what I thought this hour would entail, but I suppose I had romantic notions of listening to avid learners of this tongue converse about the beauty of the language. Perhaps, even, offering a phrase or two and being coaxed into proper pronunciation by practitioners and experts.

Instead, I played Scopa, a traditional Italian card game, with a few undergrads for 45 minutes. The most Italian I heard was the professor encouraging everyone to get something to eat and drink. The new professor who originally hails from the exotic Ohio (she was very nice, and it is not her fault that she is not really Italian). The students were mostly in their first year of study, with two or three at the intermediate level. They politely greeted with a “ciao” upon arrival, but immediately fell into speaking in English. Even the professor spoke almost entirely in our native tongue. Although everyone was pleasant, I quickly assessed that the students attended more for extra credit than a desire to improve their knowledge, and the professor very wisely opted for a relaxed atmosphere with the occasional Italian phrase sprinkled in the conversations rather than a formal moment.

I suppose I forgot that the Italian Club’s roster would be made up almost entirely by the students I have taught for six years. That most students take foreign language courses because they have to complete two semesters of study in order to complete the liberal arts core curriculum. That, aside from the one or two students this afternoon who obviously enjoyed learning Italian, the majority of those present would sign the roll sheet for a few months and do enough work to pass.

Please do not misunderstand my sentiment. My point is not that undergrads are not serious. Quite the opposite. I was a fabulous undergrad student who could rally up enough bonus points and study specifically to ace individual exams that I graduated with a very high GPA and conveniently forgetting much of the information I had to learn in classes I was more required to take than wanted to. Undergrads have to be incredibly selfish with their study time and must privilege the courses that “matter” for their chosen fields. For most students, these courses will not be Italian 101 and 102. Studying and learning are not romantic pursuits for most undergrads; they are the means to employment. I have no problem with that. It’s practical. I fully expect to work for one of my former students one day, hopefully one that did well in my class.

My very muddled point is that I had a bit of a reminder today that the vast majority of studying that I have done has been for particular scholastic purposes, not for enjoyment. I have always studied in the context of school. Indeed, I took a year of Spanish to fulfill my core requirements, and I remember very little Spanish. I cannot fault the students I met today, or the professor. If I am honest, I believe I was looking for accountability for studying Italian in the context I am most familiar with, school. I can study for almost any professor and do well, but when I am accountable only to myself, I flounder. I don’t know how to color-code my notes and annotate for myself. Maybe I would do better to write myself a syllabus and schedule. I could even make an attendance policy…

But, no. Part of my goal with Italian is that it will become a lifelong pursuit, not some subject I learn between August and May with a break in the middle. At some point, hopefully soon, I will not live only according to the academic calendar. As one of my very good friends and I once discussed, at some point we veteran students will have to become comfortable and effective at learning just to learn. No midterms. No finals. No summer to forget. Now I just have to figure out how one goes about not living in semesters.