Italian connection

By Choo Hooi Peng

TIES between two countries with very different cultures can be enhanced through knowledge and constant communication. And that is exactly what the Italian Government is keen to provide to boost ties between Italy and Malaysia. 

Since the Italian-Malaysian Cultural Agreement in 1990, the republic has been consistently promoting the Italian language and culture in Malaysia, primarily through these two means. 

Both are implemented by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs through the Italian Embassy in Malaysia – one approach includes the teaching of the Italian language at Universiti Malaya’s (UM) Faculty of Languages and Linguistics, while the other is the annual provision of short-term scholarships, ranging from one month to a year, for Malaysians to study in Italy.  

A measure of the Italian Government’s firm commitment in spreading knowledge of the Italian language and culture among Malaysians is the role its foreign ministry played when the Bachelor in Language and Linguistics (Italian) degree programme was introduced in UM in 2000. The ministry not only appointed two visiting lecturers from Italy to run the tertiary programme at UM, it also sponsored a Malaysian lecturer to Italy for one year to be trained in the teaching of the language. 

ITALIAN SYTLE: Feliciani addressing Malaysian scholarship recipeints at the cocktails reception at his residence.

But far from being satisfied with all these efforts, the Italian Government is stepping up its bid to bring Italy and Malaysia closer – this time by encouraging Malaysians to have frequent contact with the Italian embassy and consequently with all things Italian.  

At a cocktail reception recently held at his home, Italy’s new ambassador to Malaysia, Anacleto Felicani, unveiled some of the exciting plans the Italian embassy has in store for the small but growing community of Malaysians who had been to Italy or have learned its language and culture. 

Expressing his opinion that Malaysians well-versed in the Italian language and culture are a useful but untapped resource for promoting bilateral trade and cultural ties between the two countries, Felicani said the embassy has embarked on several programmes targeted at them. 

“We have formed a consultation body made up of representatives from the embassy and the Italian Trade Commission as well as Italian businessmen with the idea of encouraging Italian firms to employ these people,” he announced. 

“When the groundwork is complete and the proper channel formed, we hope to provide a list of Malaysian students who have studied or are studying in Italy to any potential employer who requires locals (Malaysians) who can straddle both Italian and Malaysian cultures. I am sure there is a great demand for such people,” he said. 

Felicani added that the embassy has decided to offer the loan of 250 video cassettes and over 400 publications on Italian art, culture, diplomacy and history currently kept at its diplomatic office in Ampang, Selangor, to the Malaysian public for their use and enjoyment. 

He said: “Anyone is welcome to check out these video cassettes and books at the embassy. We are more than willing to loan them out to the public but priority will be given to Malaysian scholarship recipients who have studied in Italy. 

“Moreover, beginning next year, these ‘Italian’ scholars will be invited to all of the functions organised by the Italian embassy here in Malaysia.” 

The Italian embassy, said the new ambassador, is very serious in getting more Malaysians to know and understand the Italian language and culture. 

As a mark of faith in the close ties between the two countries, Felicani presented at the function a cheque for 9,000 euros (RM33,613.20) to the dean of UM’s Faculty of Languages and Linguistics, Prof Dr Choi Kim Yok. The grant from the Italian Government is to help sustain and foster the learning of the Italian language 

Felicani said this year “the first batch of Malaysian students pursuing the Italian degree programme in Universiti Malaya will graduate in August and this will definitely boost the Italian cultural presence in Malaysia.” 

Another group of 12 Malaysians have just been given a total of 50 monthly scholarships by the Italian Foreign Ministry and will be going to Italy this year to study the Italian language and culture.  

“With what we’re going to do and invest in, I am sure the ties between Italy and Malaysia can only get better and better,” Felicani surmised. 

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