Education Major Explores Italian Heritage and Broadens Horizons through “Voyage of Discovery”

Nicole Carrera, Assistant Director of Communications
A selfie of Gianni posing with his arm out over a field of grass

Traveling abroad can be an important part of the student experience both academically and personally. For Gianni DiMatteo ‘24, his Italian roots led him to Italy through the 2023 Ambassador Peter F. Secchia Voyage of Discovery program from the National Italian American Foundation. 

“I take pride in my Italian heritage. I have always wanted to visit Italy to experience its beautiful sites, great food, and rich history,” said DiMatteo. 

A secondary education major with a minor in Italian, DiMatteo is only the second Widener student to be selected for the Voyage of Discovery program and the first in more than a decade.

Gianni stand next to an iron bar window overlooking a town

“I found out about the Voyage of Discovery from Dr. [Thomas] Benedetti, my Italian professor. Over Christmas break, Dr. Benedetti sent me an email with some information about the opportunity to travel and encouraged me to apply,” said DiMatteo. “That email meant so much to me, as it was truly a testament to how much Dr. Benedetti cares about his students. He is truly a model educator and is a source of inspiration for my future career as a teacher.” 

Applicants are required to submit a transcript, resume, personal essay, and two letters of recommendation. Benedetti, associate professor of Italian and Spanish, as well as Jordan Smith, assistant professor of history, submitted letters on DiMatteo’s behalf. 

The program covers expenses for a two-week experience in Italy for 24 college students from across the United States. Students must be of Italian descent, enrolled full time at a college or university, and have never visited Italy before. 

“At the beginning of the trip we were all strangers. However, after spending two incredible weeks together, we became great friends,” said DiMatteo of his fellow travelers. 

The program took students to visit prominent Italian locations including Rome, Emilia-Romagna, and Bologna.

“In the city of Bologna, we visited the beautiful Neptune Fountain and toured the University of Bologna. Walking along the same hallways as some of humanity’s greatest thinkers, such as Nicolaus Copernicus, was quite surreal,” DiMatteo shared. 

Stacks of Parmigiano Reggiano wheels reach the ceiling
Parmigiano Reggiano factory in Emilia-Romagna

The group also toured other historical sites, food production factories, and tourist attractions to immerse students in a wide range of Italian culture. 

“We toured balsamic vinegar, Parmigiano Reggiano, and prosciutto factories. I’m so grateful that we completed ample taste testing at all of those locations,” said DiMatteo. “The tallest towers in Bologna, the Due Torri, provided an amazing climbing experience. Being built in the eleventh century, the stairs felt a little suspicious under my feet, however, reaching the top was truly worth it!”

In addition to connecting with his familial roots, DiMatteo knows this experience will help him in his life after Widener and into his career.

“As a future history teacher, I definitely feel that this experience helped to enrich my knowledge of European history and culture. I look forward to bringing these experiences to my future students,” he said.

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