Bringing a Piece of Italian Culture to Chicago
by Valeria Fanelli
Moving from a little town in northern Italy to Chicago looked like an amazing, scary, and exciting experience to Barbara de Bernardi.
She decided to move to the U.S., because she wanted to follow her fiancé and start building a new life together. She did not know when she moved here that Chicago would have brought her a great multi-cultural experience.
“I knew Chicago would offer me amazing things, but it was a very hard decision for me to move so far away from home,” she said. “I am very close to my family and friends in Italy, so I decided to follow any sign I would find on my way and started looking for a job before moving.”
De Bernardi decided to look for a job in Chicago because she wanted to make sure she had a working visa in the U.S. before leaving Italy for her new experience.
After waiting for a few months, De Bernardi received a job offer in 2005 and then she finally reached her boyfriend who previously moved to Chicago.
De Bernardi got married in 2009 and had her first child Lucas in 2010. Her husband is American with German origins and they met in Stockard, Germany. Now her family is a multi-cultural place where everybody speaks more than one language.
Little Lucas, 2, her first son, already speaks Italian, English, and German and he inspired De Bernardi to create a place where kids can learn and practice Italian language and culture in Chicago.
“When Lucas was born I felt I needed to get closer to my Italian culture. I joined a group of other Italian moms I met on Meetup and we discovered we had the same needs,” De Bernardi said. “Me and the other moms thought it would have been nice to create a group where our kids would have had a piece of Italy, and not just the language skills. So I started elaborating the idea of Insieme a Chicago.”
De Bernardi started the project of an Italian learning center for kids in January 2012. The first group included eight children who meet once a week for a hour. After almost a year of activity the group expanded and became an actual learning center, with a location, a website, a name, and classes divided by the age of the children.
Insieme a Chicago is the result of years of preparation and progressive learning. De Bernardi, who already had an Italian bachelor’s degree in foreign languages -English and German- earned a master’s degree in linguistic in Chicago because she wanted to improve the skills of language learning and development.
“My goal was to diffuse the Italian culture through my classes and I did not want it to be an interference with other language courses that already existed in Chicago,” she said. “The other moms trusted me and I just tried. We collaborated and improved the quality of the lessons, adjusting the activities to the children’s needs.”
De Bernardi started the project with two year old kids because that was the range where her son fit at the time. Now she is offering classes for kids aged 1-3 and 3-5. She is very excited of starting a new section in the Spring, but for now she needs to take a little break because her second child is on his way.
De Bernardi’s big belly characterizes her personality and helps seeing through her body, the love she has for maternity and children. She puts the love for her kids into her activity as a teacher and as an entrepreneur.
“I want Lucas to be not only a bilingual child, I want him bicultural,” she said. “Every time he says something in Italian he makes me feel closer to home.”