Office Story: Little Italy Is Hiding in McClung Tower

Who: Renitaly-office-1ée D’Elia-Zunino is a distinguished lecturer in Italian studies and faculty advisor of UT’s Italian Club. She said she loves sharing not only the Italian language but Italian culture with her students. “Everything my students learn has a purpose.”
D’Elia-Zunino and her students also participate in an annual Italian immersion weekend in Kingston, Tennessee. During this weekend they cook Italian food, watch Italian movies, and speak only in Italian, and her students learn so much, she said.

About her: D’Elia-Zunino was born in the United States to a German mother and a Franco-Italian father. She lived in the United States until age seven. She spent the remainder of her childhood and early adulthood in a small Italian village called Uscio near the famous Riviera del Levante, known as the Gulf of Paradise.italy-office-2 She said growing up in Uscio was like living in the best of both worlds. “You lived in the mountains but were only 11 kilometers from the sea,” she said. Her parents moved to Tennessee in the 1980s, but D’Elia-Zunino stayed in Italy. She received her master’s degree in modern and foreign languages and literatures from the University of Genoa in 1997. During a fateful visit with her parents in 1998, D’Elia-Zunino heard that UT was looking for someone to teach Italian. She applied, got the j
ob, and has been here ever since.

About her office: “It only makes sense that my office be Italian-themed,” she said. Rolling pins from previous immersion weekends and Italian books about food, culture, and travel line the shelves. Italian maps, unique posters, and photographs of students cover the walls. Green, white, and red—the shades of Italy’s flag—are the color palette. “Although my office doesn’t have a window, I still feel content in my little Italian office,” she said.

Something special: D’Elia-Zunino said it is hard to pick a favorite item in her office because “it’s the office space itself that makes my students feel comfortable when they come to visit.” However, if she had to pick one special item, it would be the stained glass Italian flag that was a gift from one of her students. “The act of kindness is so special,” she said.