U.S. Fulbright

A Bit of My Culture for a Bit of Yours

June 4, 2015
Derrell Acon

Derrell Acon, 2013-2014, Italy, performing “Da Dove Viene La Black Art” at the American University of Rome

And so it all began with an email stating that I had been awarded a Fulbright U.S. Student grant. I would present on Black American Art while I researched operas by Giuseppe Verdi in Italy. I arrived in the country with wide eyes ready to buckle down on my research and tailor my Black Art presentations. Almost immediately, however, it became clear that it was not only about my projects. I could sense from the very beginning that I would be changed as a person. As an opera singer, I have traveled throughout the world quite often, but I have never lived in a place with a different culture and language for as extended a period of time as I did in Italy. From registering with the cities in which I would live to grocery shopping, to my one-on-one voice coachings with an Italian maestro who did not speak a touch of English, I slowly let the culture of the place wash over me. Time allowed me to notice subtleties in the language and the ways in which people interacted with one another. I began to gauge what was important in Italian culture and what was nonchalantly commonplace.

With the help of some old friends in Novafeltria, I first translated my Black Art lecture-recital into Italian (save the singing and poetry) and then contacted different venues that might host me. I performed “Da Dove Viene La Black Art” at places as awesome as the Liceo Leonardo da Vinci in Milan and the American University of Rome to a very packed audience. On the research side of things, I traveled to many beautiful cities seeking materials on the Italian opera composer Giuseppe Verdi. I attended lectures, operas, concerts, festivals, and so on to collect as much information as I could about the historic composer’s life and his music. I returned to the U.S. with hundreds of pages of notes and many great recordings.

Italy touched me. I never imagined that I would truly feel like a part of that culture, but with the help of awesome friends and a very supportive Fulbright office in Rome, I left with a yearning to stay longer. My project was marvelous and I learned so much. Yet what was perhaps even more valuable was my interaction with Italians. I was lucky enough to make many Italian friends. These were people with whom I traveled, with whom I celebrated the holidays and whom I still love and miss. Also, the bonds I developed with fellow American Fulbrighters live on even to this day. We traveled to Morocco together, had a beautiful Thanksgiving celebration at a villa in Florence and still share a very close connection with each other because of it all.

What advice can I give future applicants? Be yourself. Trace one of your passions and chase it. Fulbright is willing to hear from and support such diverse types of folks; take them up on it!

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