Quattro Domande for… Adam McClain ’21, French and Italian alumnus

June 12, 2024

"Entering Princeton, I never would have imagined how important the French and Italian Department would become in my time at Princeton and future postgraduate studies."

For the next in our series spotlighting our amazing alumni, we checked in on Adam McClain, a Dallas native who graduated from Princeton in 2021 with a degree in History and certificates in Italian and Contemporary European Politics, receiving the French and Italian Department's Pirelli Prize. After Princeton, Adam worked as Chief of Staff to the Chairman of global publishing company Elsevier. He is currently a US Fulbright grantee studying history and international relations in the School of International Studies at the University of Trento, where he is active on the university crew team, the US Mission Speakers Program, and as a volunteer for the Trento Film Festival.

Why did you decide to join FIT as an undergraduate?

I joined FIT after meeting Prof. Simone Marchesi at an information session in the fall of my freshman year. He told me about the many opportunities FIT offers to travel abroad to Italy, and needless to say I was instantly sold. As a student from Texas, who had never been outside the country, I was captivated by the chance to explore a totally new world and learn a new language in the process. I studied some Latin in my middle and high school years, so I expected Italian to come easy, but I struggled immensely in my first few years in the program, as I found it difficult to pick up on the intricacies and complexity of a modern language. Fortunately, everyone in FIT was so supportive and committed to helping me improve, which gave me the confidence to continue and provided me opportunities to develop my skills. After two years in the program, I decided to pursue the certificate on the advice of Prof. Gaetana Marrone-Puglia, who helped me design a program that combined my budding fascination with Italian with interests in history, law, and international relations. 

How did your FIT experience shape your career trajectory and the way you perform your job today?

Entering Princeton, I never would have imagined how important the French and Italian Department would become in my time at Princeton and future postgraduate studies. FIT inspired in me a deep interest in international affairs that I have carried with me into my career in geopolitics. I held my first internship in international development in Rome through Princeton's International Internship Program (IIP), to practice my Italian skills. With the encouragement of FIT, I went on to study abroad in Padua, Italy during the spring 2020 semester, sadly cut short by COVID-19. I used my senior thesis to further my research on the intersection of Italian history and the topics of autonomy, constitutional law, and minority rights policy in Trentino-Alto Adige/South Tyrol. The skills I developed during this project, under the supervision of Prof. Marrone-Puglia in FIT and Prof. Natasha Wheatley in the History department, led me to undertake a Fulbright grant in Italy to study these topics in more detail. As a Fulbright grantee in Trento, I have conducted research on regional autonomy in coordination with professors at the University of Trento and the nearby Eurac Research Center in Bolzano, delivered lectures on US history and culture to Italian students, and interviewed leaders, in Italian, at a provincial, national, and EU-level about the future of the autonomy.   

What would you say to an undergraduate who is considering a concentration or minor in FIT?

No other department at Princeton offers their students so much personalized support and flexibility to combine language and culture study with their academic goals. I would happily advise any undergraduate interested in languages to concentrate or pursue a certificate in FIT because of the unmatched opportunities for interdisciplinary study and chances to study and conduct research abroad. Also, coming from someone who never spoke a lick of Italian before stepping foot on campus, don't let your fear of trying a new language dissuade you from your interest in joining this incredible department.

Do you have a favorite memory or anecdote from your time in the department?

My fourth class in the FIT department was an advanced language class taught through the lens of Italian music and musicians. In this course, Prof. Daniele De Feo introduced us to all the classic Italian songs and artists, from Battiato to Ligabue and many, many more. This class was a turning point for me in studying Italian—the language evolved from being a topic of academic study to a living, breathing entity that I felt I could understand for the first time. I memorized so many lyrics during this class that came in handy for me years later when, on New Year's Eve 2023, I belted out all the Italian classics at karaoke with my Fulbright host family.