by Jessica McKenzie, Asst. Features Editor
Five Manhattan College alumni visited campus to present a panel on the importance of studying foreign language. The event was held on Wednesday, March 4 in Miguel 311 in celebration of International Mother’s Language Day in February.
The presenting alumni, Shayla Ortiz, Albert Palladino, Andrew Amadei, Jacob Sarasin and Maryann Stallone studied foreign language at the college during different generational periods and have found immense use for their skills in various fields of work over the years.
Shayla Oritz, class of 2015, was an international relations and Spanish major during her time at Manhattan. She discovered her passion for teaching quickly. Approaching graduation, she entered a job at Teach for America, a nonprofit organization aiming to offer unprivileged children a high quality education.
She now uses her foreign language skills as a Spanish teacher at the organization.
“It’s a very ‘hands-on’ job … [the children] are not learning straight from textbooks, but through games, conversations and projects,” Ortiz said. “They are learning to ask questions and solve problems at the same time.”
Ortiz continuously challenges herself with the Spanish language, history and culture, so she also facilitates conversations about race at Teach for America. She also supervises a Latinx affinity group at the school.
“They’re young kids that
have incredible questions … [we as teachers] connect them with different cultures in the world,” Ortiz said.
Albert Paladino, class of 1993, grew up hearing his parents, both from Italy, speak in Southern Italian dialects. In his childhood and early adulthood, Paladino had a strong desire to become bilingual.
“My father grew up during a time period in which there was a stigma in speaking [more than one] language. He didn’t want me to learn [Italian],” Paladino said.
By the time Paladino reached seventh grade, he was two years ahead of his classmates’ reading level. He was invited to enter into a program in which he would learn Spanish while his peers continued in regular English class. He ultimately entered the program despite his father’s resentment. Paladino fell in love with the Spanish language and became fluent by the time he reached high school. He then learned Italian.
Paladino graduated from MC with a bachelor’s degree in computer science and a minor in Italian. He landed a job in the field of transaction process systems, and acts as a translator between his company branch in New York City and its headquarters in Italy.
Andrew Amadei works at the study abroad office at The New School in Manhattan. His role is to communicate with the employees at The New School’s Paris campus.
Amadei graduated from MC as a French major in 2009, having also studied Italian and Russian outside of school. Since he was job hunting at the peak of the Great Recession, it was very difficult for recent graduates like Amadei to find work.
“I found that my language skills constantly separated me from everyone else who were applying for jobs,” Amadei said.
Amadei later went to grad school to pursue a master’s in philosophy and international relations. He discovered a profound interest in the field of human rights. His experience in foreign language landed him a position in the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages, creating language proficiency tests.
“If you can train your mind to learn another language, you can train your mind to learn a human rights framework on law, on culture and society,” Amadei said. “You’re teaching your brain to react to someone else’s perspective.”
Jacob Sarasin graduated in 2019 from the School of Liberal Arts and is currently serving as the assistant director of UNESCO for Model United Nations. He was in the first class of the Chinese minor at Manhattan. Unlike the languages previously discussed, he finds that Chinese is unique because it incorporates symbols with words and expressions as opposed to letters.
“I wanted a unique challenge,” Sarasin said. “Learning Chinese … was something that pushed me outside of my box. It was a completely different way of thinking.”
Sarasin was one of the first students to attend MC’s summer study abroad program in China. Studying abroad helped him to tailor his skills in the language. He encountered the developing society in China in person, which is an experience that most people on this side of the globe may never have.
“A lot of the questions that we are taught to ponder in American society are the same type of questions that are asked in Eastern society,” Sarasin said. “When you ask these questions in China, however, you get completely new answers.”
Studying abroad, Sarasin insists, is a great experience to put on a resume and talk about during job interviews. Unusual or unique hobbies are also a great conversational piece. During his most recent interview for a job as a paralegal, he talked with the employers about a Chinese game that he enjoys playing. Unexpectedly, he and the interviewers had this in common and he ultimately got the job at the law firm.
His employer is panelist Maryann Stallone, who graduated in 2000. Stallone has a different trajectory from the other alumni in that she grew up speaking fluent Italian from a very young age. When she entered Manhattan as a freshman aiming to study the Italian language, she had no experience writing or reading in Italian.
She has since used her skills in Italian in her profession as a paralegal, as well as during her study abroad experiences in Florence and Costa Rica.
“Using your language skills is showing [natives] that you care,” Stallone said. “It’s showing that you want to learn, and it is something that gives you a level of respect that you may not have if you insist upon just speaking English.”
Students interested in learning more about studying foreign languages should contact linguistics professor Samira Hassa at samira.hassa@ manhattan.edu.