College: Queens College
Awards: Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship, 2015
Carla Spensieri's grandfather didn't know how to read. Her father dropped out of high school because it was too far from his family's farm in rural Italy; after emigrating in 1964, he became a contractor and real estate developer. Her mother's family left Cuba in 1959 in advance of the impending revolution.
"Ever since I was little, I’ve been motivated to make my parents proud of me and to bring honor to the Spensieri-León family," says Spensieri (Hunter College, B.A., Italian Culture and Civilization, '14; Queens College, M.A.T., Childhood Education, '15). "My family created a new life in the United States," and her 2015 Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship is "a happy reminder that everything lost along the way was so that we could gain everything we now have."
Language is central to her life. Her parents converse in English. She speaks to her mother in Spanish, who, having lived most of her life in the United States, usually answers in English. Her father became fluent in Spanish while managing Latin American construction workers. He didn't talk with his daughter in Italian until she showed significant interest in her late teens; now he will joke "I don't understand" if she responds to him in English.
Spensieri intends to add Portuguese to her repertoire during her Fulbright year while teaching English to prospective English teachers at a public university in Brazil. Portuguese "is not the final frontier, but the next step. I plan on learning French, Chinese, Arabic - at least 10 languages. My dream is to connect with people all over the world. You learn so much. Plus, I nerd out on grammar and etymology. I love what words mean," she says.
She accelerated Hunter's normal two-year graduate education program into one year, taking three courses in the summer, five in the fall and four in the spring - all while fulfilling her student observation requirement at three public elementary schools in Queens and babysitting for two families. "I like to be busy. Busy is my normal."
Spensieri began her bachelor's at St. John's University and studied in its program in Rome before transferring to Hunter's Italian program. "Private education was too expensive, and the value of public education was greater," she explains.
After her Fulbright, she may add a bilingual education or TESOL (teacher of English to speakers of other languages) extension to her existing New York State elementary certification.
Spensieri says she'll probably teach at a New York City elementary school before possibly venturing on to schools across the world. She also likes to write both fiction and nonfiction, which opens further possibilities. And then there's the option of conducting research, perhaps in an education think tank, "where you can test your ideas and potentially make great change."
She knows just the kind of students she wants. "When you're a teacher, you don't want to teach students whom you can give a book to and they'll learn," Spensieri says. "You want to teach the struggling learners who really need your help."