On the image of Italy in the Polish media and teaching in Szczecin - a conversation with Dr. Angelo Sollano

He loves Poland and the Polish language, couldn't live without stuffed cabbage and cheesecake, and when he first arrived in Warsaw, he felt as if he had been transported to a world where he belongs... Enjoy our September interview with Angelo Sollano, a graduate in Slavic philology at the University of Genoa, an assistant at the Faculty of Humanities at the University of Szczecin and a doctoral candidate in linguistics.

Where did your interest in Slavic philology come from?

As a child I dreamed of learning exotic languages, and in high school I had the opportunity to learn Russian: a language so exotic that it had a different alphabet than mine! What's more, in the 1980s, very little information about life and culture in Russia and the Soviet Union reached Italy, except for those directly related to politics. When I enrolled at the University of Genoa, I chose Slavic studies, but in addition to Russian, I began studying Polish language and literature. I received a scholarship and attended language courses in Warsaw, where I realized that this was the path I should follow. Poland won me over for many reasons, but mostly because of the wonderful and hospitable people I met on my first trip. Cultural centers, film festivals, people reading poetry on the streetcar... I felt transported to a world where I belonged.

In your opinion, are Slavic languages difficult to learn for a person whose native language belongs to another group of languages?

No, I don't think so. Of course, pronunciation is difficult at first, but I had very good teachers and Polish friends who helped me with great patience. However, to this day I am still confused by the different ways of expressing the number two in Polish.

Why such different interests as Slavic philology and vocal studies? Do you manage to combine knowledge from both fields? In which areas?

Before I answer this question, I need to take a step back. As soon as I graduated in 1992, I moved to Warsaw because I wanted to be an eyewitness to all the political and social changes that took place after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Over the years I worked as a translator and interpreter for several Italian companies, became a manager and traveled extensively in Poland and abroad. To pursue this career, I left my academic career. I resumed it in 2011, when I won a competition at the University of Szczecin. A few years later, I also started teaching Italian at the Academy of Arts, Vocal Department.

I am not a fan of opera, and I have never hidden this from my students, but I feel a sincere admiration for what they do. I am an inquisitive person, and they are the ones who have taught me many things over the years, brought me closer to their world, which is so fascinating. I help them prepare for concerts, practice diction, understand the meaning of the lyrics, and I feel that this cooperation is going very well.

Is Polish a good language for the vocal arts?

This is something you have to ask my students. I still remember how my Polish literature professor, Pietro Marchesani, used to read Czeslaw Milosz's poems to us in class and encourage us to feel their musicality. I couldn't do it at first, but over time I got the hang of it.

What are you currently engaged in scientifically?

At the University of Szczecin, my research falls within the discipline of linguistics. I mainly deal with the analysis of mass media discourse. As research material, I use television series that exist in both Italian and Polish versions (for example, Don Matteo and Father Matthew), and I examine the pragmalinguistic behavior of the characters, the way they express feelings and intentions, build social relationships with other people and embed themselves in the cultural context of their own country. Whenever possible, I also extend my research to adaptations in other languages. I have participated in specialized international conferences in Denmark, Spain, and Poland, and will soon publish a book on the subject.

Among other things, you are also interested in the image of Italy in the Polish media. To what extent is it realistic? 

Year after year, CBOS statistics show that Italians are the nation most liked by Poles. I don't want to dwell on the reasons here, but I think that frequent contact with Italians has allowed Poles to appreciate their positive sides, but also to see the negative ones. Therefore, in my opinion, it is easier to feel sympathy for a nation towards which one does not have complexes or historical grudges, with which one can establish a relationship on an equal footing. Italians on Polish television are often stereotyped: they have a cult of food and fashion, they always sing, they court all women... or they belong to the mafia.

Do you see your professional future in Poland, Italy, or perhaps somewhere else?

At the moment I imagine my future in Poland, but I do not exclude anything. I am curious about new experiences. I would like to represent the University of Szczecin or the Academy of Arts in cooperation with other universities around the world.

Do you see differences in working with students at universities in Poland and Italy?

I almost never worked with Italian students, so I prefer to compare my generation with the current one. Sometimes I struggle to remember the world before the Internet, yet I learned Polish when it was difficult to find a magazine, a book, a song to listen to in order to deepen my knowledge or learn new words or idiomatic forms. Today, many students don't realize the endless amount of material they have at their fingertips, or they don't memorize things they read on their cell phones because they know they can find them again whenever they need to. Sometimes I think this is the wrong approach to learning a foreign language, but perhaps I'm just old-fashioned.

What interests you outside of science?

At the university, I enjoy organizing activities with students, visits to exhibitions, and evenings at the cinema. However, I have many other interests outside of work: I spend a lot of time at the computer reading, informing myself, playing games. I love to travel, meet new people, try new foods from exotic cuisines; I listen to a lot of music; I spend a lot of time with my family and best friends.

Did you manage to visit any places in Poland that particularly moved you?

A very difficult question. I would have to make a very long list. Of the big cities, besides Warsaw and Szczecin, I have beautiful personal memories of Wroclaw. Because of their beauty, I mention Frombork, Klodzko, Kazimierz Dolny. Especially exciting is the Solidarity Museum in Gdansk. Since I am fascinated (and sometimes terrified) by territorial boundaries, I can include here the shrine in Koden, on the border with Belarus.

What do you appreciate most about living in Szczecin, and what do you find challenging?

I have been to Szczecin many times in connection with work. When I came to live there twelve years ago, I thought it was a city with potential, but overlooked. This has begun to change in recent years, making it more and more beautiful: many buildings have been restored, even the historic buildings of the University and the Academy of Arts. The promenade along the Oder River has become beautiful and is now the site of many important international events. With numerous performances, concerts, exhibitions, the cultural offer is rich and it is impossible to get bored. I can't even say that I miss Italian gastronomic products, because now I can find everything in the stores. I don't like to point the finger at flaws, especially since I know I have many of my own.

Is there anything you would never have learned, learned, or experienced if you had not ended up in Poland?

This question is even more difficult, but first let's try to summarize. I first came to Poland as a student, moved here right after graduation, practically spent more of my life in Poland than in Italy. Many of my experiences are related to this country. I could start with what the Poles taught me during my first visits in the late 1980s: to respect my language, my culture, my freedom, all the things I took for granted as an Italian, things I never had to think about before.

I am very happy when I see Italian students enthusiastically choosing Poland for Erasmus. My study trips to Warsaw were not easy, but they were very exciting. Things have quickly changed for the better over the years, especially Poland's position in Europe.

I don't want my relationship with Poland to seem nostalgic, it's simply a matter of experiences that left a strong mark on me. In the years that followed, I embarked on a career that gave me much satisfaction and caused me to travel thousands of kilometers, visiting virtually all of Poland. I encountered extremely cold winters, danced at Polish weddings, and was invited to barbecues at the allotment. And now I teach in Szczecin and am even more satisfied.

I couldn't live without stuffed cabbage and cheesecake.