When you have a professor like Sylvia Rasi Gregorutti on your class schedule, you’re in for a treat. She’s an ideal person to be teaching classes on language and culture, seeing as how she speaks five languages and has explored three additional. She has also traveled to many countries and thoroughly understands the study abroad program, as she spent a year in Argentina in college and is now deeply involved with Adventist Colleges Abroad, even spending some time consulting with ACA Brazil this past summer.
Name: Sylvia Rasi Gregorutti
Title: Professor and chair, department of world languages & cultures
Faculty since: 1993
Current Classes Taught: ITAL 111-112-113: Beginning Italian I-II-III; SPAN 105: Spanish for Health Care Professionals; LANG 450: Advanced Language Study; SPAN 480: Spanish & Latin American Film; SPAN 470: Readings in Spanish & Latin American Literature; SPAN 490: Senior Seminar I.
Education: B.A. in French and English, emphasis in English as a second language (ESL), Andrews University; M.S. in applied linguistics and Ph.D. in sociolinguistics, both at Georgetown University, Washington, D.C.
When and how did you know you were going to be a professor?
My second-grade teacher at Ruth Murdoch Elementary School in Berrien Springs, Michigan, asked me to be an ESL tutor because I had finished my spelling book in record time. My first students were two classmates, a German boy and a Swedish boy. I felt useful and had a lot of fun! So that was my first experience. But it wasn’t really clear on this path until maybe my junior year of college. It was more the subject matter that attracted me—I wasn’t totally sure whether I’d be a researcher, educator, or something else.
How did you become interested in languages and culture?
I was born to immigrant parents who, when I was a child, were professors. Where I grew up, it was fairly common to speak another language and have another home culture. I always had fun learning about the home languages and cultures of my friends. My family wasn’t wealthy by any means, but travel was an important part of our general education.
Which languages do you speak?
I grew up with Spanish and English, in that order. I’ve since learned French, Italian, and Portuguese (in progress), and have made attempts at Russian, Japanese, and Chinese. The only “strictly classroom” languages have been Russian and Chinese. The others involved a degree of immersion in addition to instruction. That’s always the best combination: Some explanation coupled with extensive contact.
What are some of your favorite movies?
I have to include Arrival (2016). I’m not a huge SciFi fan, but the protagonist is a linguist, and the concepts that are presented are fascinating. Il Postino (The Postman, 1994) and The Mission (1986).
What are some of your hobbies?
Travel is at the top of the list—domestic and especially international. I love gardening; it’s good therapy and there are delicious and healthy byproducts. I also like food preserving—I make my own tomato sauce and jams, some from foraged fruit. This year was my second attempt at grape juice from our backyard grapes—moscato, malbec, and cabernet sauvignon.
If you could have lunch with a celebrity, who would it be and why?
I’m honestly not at all into celebrities. But I’d probably choose someone who’s a creative or a thinker, maybe an activist or philanthropist so we could have an interesting conversation.
Name a book or author you would recommend and why?
I’ve enjoyed books by neurologist Oliver Sacks (for example, The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat). He has a great writing style and discusses a variety of topics about the human brain/mind. Also travel writer Pico Iyer (for example, Video Night in Kathmandu) and Christian writer and thinker C. S. Lewis—I’ve been re-reading some of his classics with my 13-year-old daughter.
What is something people might be surprised to learn about you?
I met my husband when I was 16 and he was 15 years old—he was a good friend, but I was actually hoping he’d like my younger cousin! We were friends for 11 years and across three continents before we got married.
What advice would you give someone who wants to learn more about different cultures, but is nervous and doesn’t know where/how to begin?
First of all, there’s no need to be nervous. Find a comfortable place to start—a culture or language that is attractive to you or an aspect of the traditions that fascinates you, a friend or personal ancestry. Most people are very receptive to respectful, curious inquiry. You can start with a language class, a set of movies, a traditional craft, sport, dish, or dance to learn, a local celebration—there are so many in the Bay Area—a trip that highlights a special festival or outstanding architecture. It’s important to be open, receptive, and non-judgmental. In finding out more about how things are done and thought about elsewhere else, you might be surprised and overjoyed to find a new way of being yourself!
Current Professional Activities:
Translation and editing of a new biography of Argentine-German missionary Pedro Kalbermatter (Twenty Years as a Missionary among the Natives of Peru), which was commissioned by his son, Alfredo.
Translation and editing of a biography of Argentine Francisco Hermógenes Ramos Mexía (1773-1828), a landowner known for his support of native rights and possibly the first Sabbath-keeper in the Americas.