Christian Contessa (Class of 2021)

photo of Christian Contessa

  • senior double major in Linguistics and Italian Studies
  • from Cleveland, OH
  • Student Orientation Undergraduate Leader for class of 2023
  • studied abroad in Urbino, Italy with International Student Exchange Programs (Spring 2019)
"I say do anything and everything that you can. Say yes to as many opportunities that are available. It's cliche to say, but we only have 4 years! This time is so unique and specific to our age range right now, and you should take every opportunity."

Why Miami?

"I picked Miami actually by happenstance. It was one of the few universities I was looking at that didn't have an extra essay. So, I was like, 'Okay, why not go for it?' and applied. I got in. I visited the campus and just fell in love with it. Both of my siblings also went here, so I thought, 'They had a really great time, so why not give it a shot?' I haven't regretted it since.

"I really like how small the beautiful campus feels — you can't go wrong with our red brick. Even though we have so many students, I feel that after I meet someone, I see them every single time I go out. This is really nice because it sort of fosters a sense of a community and feeling that I'm not alone in this.

"My freshman year was educational in every sense of the term. Coming in, I had maybe done my own laundry 4 or 5 times, and the most I'd ever cooked was a quesadilla. It really was an educational experience of asking myself, 'What is it like being by myself? What is it like forming these semi-adult friendships now?' Leaving your hometown, seeing how everything went — it was really great. I feel that I've grown more in my first year than I have so far since. It's been a wild ride, but I'm glad I'm on it!"

Best Miami Experiences

Christian Contessa (red shirt) and friends at a fountain in Italy (2019)

"I originally I came in as a psychology major, which is how I did the entire first semester. I really enjoyed the themes and had done really well in my psych class in high school, but at Miami I realized that my heart wasn't fully invested in it.

"So, I went to a majors and minors discussion about linguistics. I got to talk to the faculty, including professor of German John Jeep, and other students in the major, and everything just clicked. We were talking about nerdy language facts that no one else would care about. And I said to myself, 'These are my people. This is my home.'

"After a while, I started becoming more interested in learning languages, and I got really interested in the Department of French & Italian [now the Department of French, Italian, & Classical Studies], and the faculty were so open and generous. I went with it, and it's been really, really great.

"My semester in Urbino, Italy was indispensable to my college experience. Miami's Education Abroad office in MacMillan Hall was very helpful and expedient — in a span of a week I went from thinking about studying abroad to finalizing the paperwork for my trip! My time in Urbino allowed me to make amazing friendships and gain a real grip of the Italian language and culture. That semester will always be one of the greatest opportunities and gifts that Miami has given me."

Miami and the Liberal Arts

Christian Contessa (right) and friends enjoy Miami's annual Hindu cultural and religious festival known as Holi, or the 'Festival of Colors.'

"Something at Miami that's really important is relationship building and forming a good rapport with your professors and fellow classmates. I think that's highly stressed here, which I really do enjoy. I think that those interpersonal and social skills, those soft skills, are going to lead me very well into anything that I'm doing in the future, and for that I'm very grateful to Miami. I know how to form these professional relationships, how to reach out, and how to foster that sense of community within my own major and within the school in general. This will be really helpful in any aspect of life.

"I like the amount of choice that I have. Linguistics is not a very cut-and-dry major with regards to a strict formula. I've taken linguistics classes that are cross listed with Black world studies or education or all these things, and I think that provides a really great perspective that sometimes isn't fully available in the other colleges. We're essentially told to pick what specialty we want to go into, and then the major works with you to do that. I think that's something that's really great about CAS and the liberal arts in general.

"Being able to work with people that are not the same major and don't have the same perspective as you is very important in the working world. Especially with globalism and the rise of intergenerational and intercultural workplaces, the ability to get out of your own comfort zone, work with others you normally wouldn't work with, and learn from them is really important."

Life as a SOUL-ful Student Leader

Christian Contessa (lower left) and SOULmates (2019)

"A really life-changing and eye-opening experience that I've had at Miami was my work as a Student Orientation Undergraduate Leader, or SOUL. Basically, SOULs work with the incoming first-year students and show them the ropes, go through orientation with them, and give them everything they can.

"I got started when one of my friends was applying to be a SOUL, and she was like, 'Come on, do it with me. I don't want to do this entire interview process alone.' So, I filled out the application, went through the written interview and the group interview, and was eventually accepted. It was a long, nerve-wracking process to say the least, but it was great at the end.

"While helping to foster through that community, I learned many personal and the professional skills: how to talk about Miami, how to present the information in a helpful way, how to make sure that people are feeling included. All of this is what the SOUL program really pushes for, making sure that no one feels like Miami is not the place for them. I really appreciate that Miami takes that so seriously.

"Since linguistics is so wide reaching — at the end of the day, it's about talking and communication — being a SOUL was really helpful as a hands-on approach about how the language that we use has repercussions. There are certain terms or phrases that we wouldn't really use while talking to new students, just to ensure that everyone felt as included as possible. It was really great to see something that I'd learned in the classroom applied to the real world. And I can see it immediately with the way that the new students interact with me and with each other."

Advice to Students

"To linguistics students, I would suggest that they start talking to the professors — see what research opportunities there are. The linguistics major has lectures, research, student clubs. Start talking and get your foot in. There is so much that you can do with this major and having a mentor or guide would be really helpful for figuring out how exactly you want to put your foot in the pool of linguistics.

"For Miami students in general, I say do anything and everything that you can. Say yes to as many opportunities that are available. It's cliche to say, but we only have 4 years! This time is so unique and specific to our age range right now, and you should take every opportunity. This semester it's a lot harder due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but clubs and other events are still happening virtually, and maybe you'll find a great new friend in a breakout room or virtual hangout session.

"Remember that everyone else is as nervous to be making friends as you are. I am 100% sure that they are just as happy to be meeting you as you are to be meeting them. So go out and try to make connections in any way you safely can!"

[September 2020]