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La Pietra Dialogues On the World On-Line
A Personal Reflection on My First International Conference
Abe Fried-Tanzer, NYU Florence student
La Pietra Dialogues
May 15, 2009

Participating in LPD’s Transatlantic Dialogue on Migration was a defining aspect of my study abroad experience in Florence this semester. I came to Italy as a cinema studies and journalism major and I enrolled for the required Italian language course, an Italian cinema class, and a seminar on the media in Italy. I needed an additional class and wanted something that would relate to my experience in Europe - What better than a course on immigration? The course syllabus outlined how students would examine immigration trends in the United States and Europe since World War II. As the semester progressed I realized just how relevant learning about immigration while studying abroad would be.

Mid-semester, it began to sink in just how Americanized and tourist-friendly Florence was, as tourists poured in to the city and suddenly there were non-Italians everywhere I turned. It was at this point that I had the opportunity to participate in the immigration conference organized jointly by NYU and Syracuse Universities in Florence, the European University Institute and the University of Florence. Before seeing the conference schedule, I imagined the focus would be on Italy and its own immigration trends, with a whole host of Italian immigration experts giving lectures and answering questions. There were certainly some important figures from Italy, such as Graziano Delrio, the mayor of Reggio Emilia, who came to share his city’s unique approach to dealing with immigration, but the majority of the panelists hailed from other countries and brought diverse opinions from all over the world in a true spirit of dialogue. I’m beginning to realize just how important immigration is in shaping societies across the globe.

The conference was very interesting in how it related to my own recently culled knowledge and observations about immigration, but also for the unique academic experience it offered me. I had never attended a conference of this sort before, and for the first time, I felt like I was truly welcomed to relate on an even plane with the speakers. When I learned that students in our class were required to ask one of the speakers a question following their session I was intimidated and unsure of how it would work. I’ve had some terrific professors incollege, but especially in such a sophisticated setting, I wouldn’t have imagined that a distinguished academic would have the time or interest to talk to me. To be part of such an engaging, active dialogue was invigorating and very worthwhile. When I asked my question to Muzaffar Chishti, director of the Migration Policy Institute at NYU’s law school, about his ideal plan for the integration of immigrants into the United States, he took several minutes to outline his thoughts in detail. He even sacrificed half of his coffee break to have a conversation with me, clearly a student among a group of experienced intellectuals.

Even more than the very welcome intimacy of the conference, I was surprised by the positive encouragement of student participation. Florence is overrun by American students studying abroad for a semester and it’s hardly a shock that numerous students from both NYU and Syracuse would attend the conferences. Moderators on the second day of the conference at Palazzo Vecchio strongly urged students to ask questions. When I posed a question to speaker Samim Akgonul he addressed me as he would any attendee of the conference, knowing full well that I was a student. It gives me a lot of confidence to know that someone in the course of their studies can easily earn the attention of a learned scholar when both sides treat the other with the same level of respect. I feel that I’m fortunate to have come to Florence where a smaller student body and interesting course offerings afforded me the opportunity to truly learn about a topic in an engaging and productive manner.

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