Cecily Cai joined the faculty in August as a tenure-track assistant professor of Italian studies. See why she chose teaching and why Hamilton.
Why did you choose Hamilton?
I think the process is reciprocal: It is as much about choosing Hamilton and it is about being chosen by the College. I am a huge fan of the liberal arts education and have always wanted to attend a liberal arts college as a student, and finally getting “admitted” into one is in some way a dream come true for me, even though that took over 10 years. Having studied at large research universities, I find it really refreshing and heartening to be welcomed into a tightly knit community. In addition, what draws me to Hamilton is its open curriculum, which means I get to work with students who are truly passionate about Italian. Finally, as a comparatist interested in both Italian and German, it is a rare opportunity to join a department that brings them together — plus Russian and Arabic! What’s not to love?
Why did you start teaching?
The short answer is, I started teaching accidentally but also kind of not. If asked about my future career choices as a kid, becoming a teacher would probably not have made my list. I came from a family of teachers, so naturally I wanted to divert from this career path. I never considered becoming a teacher until about 10 years ago, when I was offered — quite surprisingly — my first real teaching job at an Italian high school. Had I not gone to grad school and come to Hamilton, I probably would have been a high school teacher in Italy today. I remember asking one of my professors in college the same question, and he told me there was no better profession than teacher. Now I could finally see from the other side, and after every class I am reminded how fortunate I am to be able to do so.
Tell me about your specific interest in Italian studies.
My research is mainly on 20th-century Italian literature, but I am also interested in the earlier times. I also strive to focus more on the multicultural aspect of contemporary Italian society. I would not claim to be a specialist in any particular area, and this relatively broad spectrum has to do with my training as a comparatist. I usually find my interests in the areas where multiple cultures (such as German and Italian), media (such as music and visual arts), and time periods (such as classical and modern) intersect.
... what draws me to Hamilton is its open curriculum, which means I get to work with students who are truly passionate about Italian.
What’s one of your favorite places on campus?
Am I allowed to say College Hill Road? I arrived pretty late last fall, so I haven’t really had a chance to explore all of campus yet. But I really enjoy walking up and down the main street of the College, observing the changing foliage and sometimes the wild creatures running unabashedly across it.
What do you do in your free time?
I love music, so during normal times I usually look for concerts to attend at least once a week. Now I just listen to a lot of radio or go through my old vinyls. During the pandemic I’ve been devoting my free time to indoor activities such as baking, crafts-making, and plant-growing. I’m trying to acquire new skills like everyone else. Right now, it is learning to become a home barista, and next on my list is sewing. I figure these two should last until the end of winter when it is warm enough for me to explore the biking/hiking trails and the lakes in Central New York.
What are you looking forward to in the spring semester?
I’m really excited about teaching my new literature course in translation: Love/Death in Dante and Beyond (cross-listed with Medieval & Renaissance Studies). This is an interdisciplinary course that brings together a lot of my interests as a comparatist, and it is truly a thrill to share my enthusiasm and read the texts through fresh eyes.
Should conditions permit, I also look forward to organizing the co-curricular activities for the students learning Italian. More gelato, anyone?