Italian-American Profiles of Success: Tinamaria Colaizzi

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Tinamaria in Modena, at the Duomo.
Tinamaria Colaizzi in Modena, at the Duomo.

Living and Teaching in Italy

Ciao Pittsburgh recently chatted with Pittsburgh native Tinamaria Colaizzi, 25, who is an ESL teacher currently living in Modena, Italy.

Prior to coming to Italy earlier in the year, Tinamaria lived in Regent Square with her family. Everything about her and her family is Italian, right down to their pasta dinners and pug dog’s name, Silvio.

She received her Bachelor’s Degree from Allegheny College in Meadville, PA and later completed an M.B.A and M.A. in Mass Communications at Point Park University in Pittsburgh, PA. Before leaving for Italy, she worked in the marketing field, specifically in the non-profit sector.

Tinamaria was gracious enough to let us interview her via email. We learned a little more about her job teaching English as a second language overseas as well as a little about her Italian roots.

CP: You’re an ESL teacher living in Modena, Italy. What made you choose that career path?
Tinamaria: Prior to this career choice, I was working in the marketing field in Pittsburgh. I loved what I was doing, but I was craving a change of scenery and a change of pace. I had always been attached to my Italian roots, but I wanted an opportunity to explore them and completely immerse myself in the Italian culture. Although I had studied Communications and Marketing in college, part of me had always wanted to teach English abroad to explore the world and try something new. In May of this year, I decided to take the leap overseas and here I am today!

CP: How long have you been living in Italy?  What do you enjoy most about living and working there?
Tinamaria: In May 2014, I moved to Milan, Italy to take a CELTA Certification Course in order to begin teaching English abroad. Even though I never considered myself a city lover, I was completely enamored with the hustle and bustle of Milan and the exciting atmosphere for ex-pats and young adults.

After the course, I accepted a teaching job at the newest branch of a school called “My English School” (MYES) in Modena, Italy. Modena is a quaint city in the Emilia-Romagna region, the birthplace of Luciano Pavarotti, famous for its production of Balsamic Vinegar and Maserati and Ferrari headquarters. (If you have Balsamic Vinegar at home, check the bottle — it probably says “Made in Modena”!).

I immediately identified with the MYES’s student-centered focus, which targets the specific language needs and personal goals of each student. For example, we hold sessions that provide essential language for common events, such as “Ordering Drinks” or “Going to IKEA” as well as advanced “Business Lounges,” work-style sessions that prepare students to use English in a more formal setting. As an ESL Teacher at MYES, I make new global connections each day, with both students and co-workers. I love working in a foreign country because I learn something new each day, whether it’s a handy foreign phrase or trying a new local delicacy. 

I’m very lucky to be able to live in such a beautiful place with amazing food, rich history and interesting traditions.

Celebrating the 50th Wedding Anniversary of her grandparents in Ateleta, Italy (L to R: Mother, Sandy Colaizzi - Grandmother, Irma Colaizzi (Priest from Ateleta), Grandfather, Elio Colaizzi, Tinamaria Colaizzi
Celebrating the 50th Wedding Anniversary of her grandparents in Ateleta, Italy (L to R: Mother, Sandy Colaizzi – Grandmother, Irma Colaizzi (Priest from Ateleta), Grandfather, Elio Colaizzi, Tinamaria Colaizzi

CP: Can you tell the readers about your Italian heritage?
Tinamaria: My family is from a small town called Ateleta, located in the central region of Abruzzo. My grandfather, Elio Colaizzi, moved to the United States in 1955 and later returned to Italy to marry my grandmother, Irma Ventresca. They moved to the United States together in 1961 and started a family — and also started a business! My grandparents opened “Elio’s Pizza”, an authentic Italian pizza shop in Wilkinsburg, in 1980, and contributed to the success of Pittsburgh’s Italian-American community. My mother and uncle (Sandy and Leo Colaizzi) worked alongside my grandparents at the pizza shop and some of my fondest childhood memories were made there. Taking part in a family business taught me a lot about the importance of family, ethics, passion, and responsibility from a very young age.

Almost every summer of my childhood, we traveled to Italy to spend time with our relatives in Ateleta and Rome, which is probably why I love travel so much! I grew up speaking and hearing both English and Italian—specifically the dialect from the Abruzzo region. Although I studied Italian during my high school years at Oakland Catholic High School, improving my command of the language is something I am working towards each day.

CP: What Italian traditions do you keep up with?
Tinamaria: My favorite Italian tradition is the Christmas Eve Feast of the Seven Fishes, which my family hosts every year. My extended family meets at our house and we celebrate all night long before going to Midnight Mass. Because of this tradition, Christmas Eve is my favorite day of the year and I always look forward to it! We start planning our menu a few months before December and try to outdo what we did the year before. Last year we made elaborate printed menus featuring 9 different fish (we had to take a break in the middle of dinner) so who knows what we’ll try this year!

Additionally, I serve as the Secretary for a women’s group in Pittsburgh: The Ateleta Women’s Society. Our society perpetuates Italian heritage amongst women of Ateletese descent through fun activities and meetings. Each year we participate in Bloomfield’s Little Italy Days and showcase our homemade pizzelles, pizze fritte and more!

CP: What are a few of your favorite Italian dishes?
Tinamaria: What a difficult question! Tortellini with panna (Alfredo sauce) is probably my favorite Italian dish, and I’m very lucky because Modena is the birthplace of tortellini! I’m also a big fan of simple antipastos featuring green olives, fresh mozzarella and prosciutto. And let’s not forget about fresh pappardelle with a nice hearty ragu!

CP: I understand you’re also a blogger. What do you write about?
Tinamaria: I try to write about a bit of everything related to my life in Italy, specifically things that are meaningful to me or things that make me laugh. I’m currently planning a travel section that will feature travel advice for tourists and potential ex-pats, so stay tuned! While I originally started the blog to keep in touch with family and friends back home, I’ve met quite a few people through it and have recognized my passion for blogging.

CP: When you’re not busy working, what do you like to do in your spare time?
Tinamaria:  I absolutely love traveling to little cities and towns in Italy. I’m a huge advocate of simply picking a random city in Italy, taking the train, and exploring it without a set agenda. I’ve always been interested in theatre and the performing arts, so I’m currently starting a Theatre Club at MYES, which will provide a fun and interactive way for students to use the English language in a different setting. I’m also currently taking Italian language classes at a school called Romanica, and it’s wonderful to meet other students from all over the world while advancing my language skills.  In fact, just last week I met a classmate from Brussels who used to be a Mathematics professor at Carnegie Mellon University! And of course, I also spend a lot of time brushing up on the Italian language and Skyping with family and friends back home.

CP: Who in your life has inspired you the most?
Tinamaria: Everyone in my family continues to inspire me and has shaped me into who I am today. I especially value the experiences I’ve had with my mother, Sandy, who has always been a constant source of love and support. In regards to my Italian heritage and living abroad, though, I’d have to say that my grandparents (Elio and Irma) are the two people who have inspired (and continue to inspire!) me the most. First off, they moved to the United States together without knowing the English language or American culture–that takes a lot of courage! Despite the challenges they faced, they made a beautiful life for themselves, learned the language, and eventually started their own business. My decision to move to Italy and follow my passion was due in part to their persistence and passion for their business.

My grandmother always tells me the story of how difficult it was to learn the 61C bus route to Squirrel Hill, especially since she didn’t have a strong command of the English language. Eventually, she learned the bus route after making a few mistakes. This story is quite relevant for me—transportation systems are not my forte–but it also helps me recognize the beauty in persistence and dedication.

When I’m faced with a difficult situation due to a language or cultural barrier here in Italy, I think back to all of the challenges my grandparents faced when they first moved to the US, and I’m inspired to continue following my passion.

Tinamaria is a member of the Ateleta Women’s Group on Facebook. Check it out at