Retired U-M, Ann Arbor Italian Professor Reflects Upon Her ‘Positiva’ Influence

Adelaide Smith taught the Italian language at the University of Michigan for 19 years before she retired. She now reflects upon what a positive influence her work had upon so many students and others.

“I loved sharing my first language with my students,” Smith recalled. “I truly enjoyed my interactions with my colleagues; the Italian lunches we would prepare for our students every semester, and of course the five semesters I taught in the Florence Study Abroad Program. Not only did I teach in the fabulous Villa Corsi-Salviati in Sesto Fiorentino, right outside of Florence, but I was also Director for three spectacular summers.”

Smith recalled that her students approached learning Italian with great joy.

“I loved my students’ enthusiasm and their desire to learn the beautiful Italian language and culture,” added Smith. “It was so rewarding to watch them go from barely any knowledge of Italian to being able to carry on a conversation. I enjoyed teaching at Wayne State University and the University of Detroit Mercy as well, but the U of M students (in Ann Arbor) were special. So bright, so motivated, so dedicated to their studies and learning, and of course I can’t forget their wonderful sense of humor.”

Smith said there was a plethora of reasons U-M students wanted to learn Italian.

“Some students wanted to learn the language because of their family heritage, others because they loved the melodious sound of Italian and wanted to visit Italy,” detailed Smith. “Many students studied the Italian Language because they were majoring in Art History, Architecture, Music, and some were aspiring to become opera singers. At the luncheons I previously mentioned, we enjoyed listening to students sing their favorite opera arias. We also had students majoring in engineering, and one of my students was even admitted at the Polytechnic University of Milan, where he studied Aerospace Engineering. Then there were students who took Italian because of the four semesters of foreign language requirement and, having had Spanish in high school, they wanted to try learning another language, so chose Italian.”

She added that she tried to create a relaxing atmosphere for students to learn the Italian language and culture.

“Italian culture was taught in conjunction with the language,” she explained. “Additionally, every semester students had to prepare a presentation on any aspect of Italian culture that interested them and present it to the class using only the Italian language. It wasn’t easy speaking in front of the class, but they all gave it their best and everyone learned a lot from those presentations. The warm and friendly atmosphere of the class helped a lot to ease the students’ stress. There was always mention of the relaxed, fun, and friendly atmosphere in my students’ class evaluations.”

Important historical aspects of Italian culture include, but are not limited to: art, mathematics, architecture, culinary arts, ancient Rome, music, science, exploration, religion/spirituality, etc. 

Those of Italian heritage in America and throughout the world have contributed greatly to civilization and modern society.

Adelaide Smith and the Marchese twins.

Smith said when she reflects on her teaching, it was the people that meant the most to her.

“The classroom was the best part of the job, and I miss the students the most,” she recalled. “Walking in the classroom and seeing all the smiling faces was so uplifting! For the entire class period nothing else existed but the students. I also miss seeing my colleagues and all my friends at the MLB (Modern Language Building).  It was such a wonderful, loving community.”

The Italian department at the U-M has seen some changes as well.  

“With the retirement of the Director of the Italian Language Program, Romana Habekovic–with whom I worked for 17-1/2 years, many things began to change and it seemed like an era had come to an end. Oh, but what a wonderful time we had during those years!  I miss her so much, especially now that she has moved to Grand Rapids and we only see each other about once a year. What I thought I would never miss was  130+ miles daily commute to Ann Arbor, but I miss even that if you can believe it! Listening to NPR and audio books made the time fly! I retired in 2016, and for the first year I was very, very sad; my doctor was probably right when she said I was depressed, but I don’t like the “D” word! Retirement is definitely a big adjustment, especially when you love your job as much as I did…”

Smith now spends her time creating, expressing herself in many ways.

“My hobbies keep me very busy now–where did I ever find time to work?” She asked rhetorically. “I love gardening from spring into fall; machine embroidery on rainy days and when its cold out; cooking and baking bread; having parties with my family; going on walks and bike riding with my husband; playing with my two puppies, Bella and Buddy; reading and watching Italian TV; and finally, I love learning to play music with my Lowery Virtual Orchestra.”

Smith is of Italian heritage as well.

“I was born in Italy — Locri, Calabria,” she revealed.  “I came to the States when I was 13 years old in May of 1964. I started high school that September not knowing any English. It was very difficult to say the least, and I cried just about every day for the first semester.  I know from experience the total frustration, but immense joy of learning a new language. I think this helped me immensely in understanding what my students were feeling and in making me a compassionate instructor. I truly loved my students and they loved coming to my classes. Their progress and their evaluations proved that!”