Back in 2007, Matthew Carulli won a scholarship from the Italian Nationality Room at the University of Pittsburgh for a summer study abroad program in Syracuse, Sicily. That trip led to another study abroad trip two years later. Ever since that first trip, Matthew has wanted to give back to the Italian Room’s scholarship fund. He always thought it would be in the form of donating back enough money to fund someone else’s trip, but it turns out instead he was nominated and elected to the position of chairperson in the Italian Room.
Matthew grew up in Burgettstown (Washington County), attended the University of Pittsburgh where he studied Italian and Accounting, and currently lives in Pittsburgh. He works as a Translations Coordinator for eResearchTechnology in Pittsburgh, where he implements translations on electronic devices for pharmaceutical research studies. Matthew has been married to his wife Lorraine, who teaches Italian, for almost three years now.
Ciao Pittsburgh recently spoke with Matthew about his role as the chairman of the Italian Nationality Room at the University of Pittsburgh, his Italian roots, his favorite Italian traditions and what he likes to do for fun.
CP: As the chairman of the Italian Nationality Room at the University of Pittsburgh, what are some of your plans in your new role?
Matthew: I would really like to increase the group’s membership to a younger demographic, so we’re trying to do more gatherings like happy hours and events in conjunction with other Italian groups in the city. At our last event I invited back a number of other former winners of the scholarship to share how the scholarship affected their lives, so I hope that the former winners (especially recent winners) become more involved as well.
CP: Where are you from and where do you currently live?
Matthew: I grew up in Bethel Park until I was 8, then moved to Burgettstown, where I lived until I started school at Pitt. Since being in school I have lived in the city, jumping around from Friendship to Lawrenceville, and now to Stanton Heights.
CP: Can you tell us about your Italian heritage?
Matthew: My Italian heritage comes all from my Dad’s side (my grandfather). My grandfather only spoke a little Italian, mostly just certain words that he used often. His parents arrived in America around 1906, and didn’t want their children speaking Italian like many other immigrants at that time. My great-grandparents came from the town of Monteforte, Avellino, near Naples. When I started studying Italian at Pitt, I became more interested in our family history, and researched as much as I could with my Dad. I eventually went back to the town of Monteforte in 2007, found out a bit more about my great-grandparents, and again went back in 2009 — this time with my Dad, uncle, and brother. Surprisingly we found the address where my great-grandfather grew up, and even more surprisingly found a business with our family’s name on it still there. We talked to a (very distant) cousin for a while with me acting as the translator. It was an extremely surreal moment, and something I’m never going to forget. If anybody wants an exhilarating adventure, I recommend doing some family tree research and finding someone you’re related to (no matter how distantly) in another country.
CP: Do you have any favorite Italian traditions that you keep up with?
Matthew: My family used to always have dinner at my grandparents every Sunday, but we stopped doing that so regularly when we moved further away from them when I was a kid. We still get together for holidays and always have a homemade pasta dish — ravioli, spaghetti with baccala, or lasagna. My wife and I make the Tuscan soup ribollita every year as well, which is one of my favorites going back to when I studied in Siena. So like many Italian families, it seems our traditions revolve around food.
CP: What do you like best about being Italian?
Matthew: First and foremost, I love the Italian family oriented lifestyle. I’m very close with my family, who all live in or around the Pittsburgh area. Additionally, being in Pittsburgh, it is very easy to find the things that remind me of Italy the most. There are plenty of places to get a great cappuccino, Italian-style pizza, or authentic pasta dishes.
CP: What accomplishments in life are you most proud of?
Matthew: One of the most difficult things I have ever done in my life was during my time studying economics at the University of Siena. My Italian language skills at that time were still developing, so it was a real challenge to attend lectures for hours every day, all in Italian, with only Italian students. I was taking four courses, and two of them required an end of semester oral exam with the professor which would determine whether or not you passed the course. One of those two also required me to give a 20-30 minute presentation, all in Italian, on the international auto industry. I passed all four of the courses, and in the process greatly increased my Italian listening and speaking skills, developed public speaking skills, and learned a lot about economics. This was definitely the most challenging academic feat I have ever accomplished, and it is something I will be proud of forever.
CP: What are some of your favorite hobbies?
Matthew: I love games of all kinds. Board games, card games, sports. My wife says that I am the most competitive person she knows. To me, I just always want to get better at whatever it is I’m doing.
CP: How can other Italian-Americans get more involved in the local Italian community?
Matthew: Italian-Americans in Pittsburgh are a very tight-knit community. Everybody seems to know everybody, there are local celebrities, and there are certain places that everybody knows and likes to hang out at. I think the best thing you can do is to just look for a local group that best fits your lifestyle and interests. There is the Commissione Giovani of Pittsburgh (established and run by a friend of mine, Gina Mazzotta) for young Italians, the Pitt Italian club for students, and other groups that focus on learning Italian, heritage gardening, bocce leagues, and many more. Most of the time, you can find fliers for upcoming events in the Italian community at places like La Prima Espresso in the Strip District, or other local coffee shops or Italian stores.
CP: What else would you like our readers to know about you?
Matthew: I love my wife, my family, my friends, and my city. I can’t see myself ever leaving Pittsburgh, as there is always something new and exciting happening here that may not be happening anywhere else in the world, you just have to know where to look for it. I am also a very social person, and I love getting to know new people that have the same passions as I do.
If you’re interested in learning more about the Italian Nationality Room scholarship program, or the Commissione Giovani of Pittsburgh, email Matthew at firstname.lastname@example.org to try to get more involved.