Our interviewee for this issue is Laura Battisti, originally from Milan, Italy, currently a high-school teacher at Newtown High School.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Milan, in the northern part of Italy, though from the age of six to twelve, I lived in Geneva, Switzerland. My father was working there for an American company, though afterwards, we moved back to Milan.
What was it like in Geneva?
It was wonderful. Switzerland is a very clean and organized country, and very comfortable to grow up in. The only thing is that you need to speak the language there. If you speak the language, everything is good. If you don’t, eh, not so much. Though, bear in mind, I’m talking about the mid-sixties. It’s probably changed since then.
And in Milan?
Milan is a great city, but it is, you know, a city. You take public transportation, you learn how to navigate the city and get to places you should go that are safe and places that are not safe. So [it’s] like any city, really. We lived in an apartment, though we also had a house in the countryside that we’d go to on the weekends. We’d have some more freedom there, walking in the woods and all that. There was a lot of culture and opportunity in the city, though – good colleges, good museums, art galleries, renowned theaters. You get exposed to a lot of art in a city like Milan.
When and why did you decide to immigrate?
I came to America in 1998 with my family. My husband was working for a big international company, and he got assigned here for two years. At the end of the job, though, we decided to make it a permanent stay. I was very excited to come here. I already had experience living abroad, and I wanted to learn another language in addition to the Italian I got from home and the French I picked up in Switzerland. I thought “That’s great! Let’s go! It’s gonna be great for us and the kids! The kids will learn English, and it’ll be fantastic!” I find that when you’re positive, things become easier.
How has America treated you?
Beautifully! As long as you are respectful and understanding of the culture that is welcoming you, everything is easy. I admit I had a little advantage, since I already knew a little English. [It was] British English, mind you, but I picked up American English so I could understand better and be better understood. As long as you try to integrate and share what you know, your culture, your education, then everything works out fine.
Would you like to give a message to the readers?
Always keep an open mind if the opportunity arises to speak with someone who comes from another country or speaks a different language. Always try to understand the different cultures in front of you, because there is always something different to learn, to teach and to share. It’s wonderful when cultures can complement each other and teach us how things can be done differently.