Professor Hamber Says ‘Buon Giorno’
By Stephanie Weldy
Every weekday morning at precisely 8 o’clock, Italian professor Franca Hamber enters her classroom in Humanities Hall with a beaming smile on her face and a lively bounce in her step. She comes prepared, with a leather satchel in one hand and in the other, the occasional fruitcake, bag of plastic fruits or whatever prop she deems necessary. Every morning she greets her tired and heavy-eyed students with a jovial “buon giorno” and within minutes her students are wide-eyed and attentive as she belts out opera tunes, gets students to sing Italian songs and makes them alert as they communicate in Italian.
She never gets frustrated or upset with her students, and with ease she is able to awaken her pupils at the early hours of the morning.
Many have questioned how Hamber is able to exude so much energy so consistently every weekday morning when everybody else still has the foggy haze of sleep in their eyes and the dreamy notions of a warm bed in their minds, but Hamber claims she is naturally energetic all day long. Dubbed as the Energizer Bunny by her husband, UCI physics professor Herbert Hamber, Franca Hamber claims all she needs to start her morning is her Italian espresso, and the rest is all natural.
“I love to go to class,” she said. “When I see the students’ faces and the struggle, it makes me happy to be a part of their lives every day and to wake them up in the morning, that makes me happy. I’m the first person to print on their memory for the day.”
Hamber certainly does make her impression on students’ memories, as she gets them up and communicating with one another, their studies imbued with a sense of humor.
Hamber believes that, for students to be comfortable with a foreign language, there are certain requirements that must be met. She claims that a connection must be made by students from their own lives to the language by Hamber using her body language and by showing props that link to the vocabulary. As a result, students are able to relate to the language and comprehend it better.
She believes that her interaction with students is essential and that by creating a fun and relaxed environment, the students can feel comfortable with making mistakes and with learning from their blunders.
Born and raised in the Italian city of Ancona on the Adriatic Coast, Hamber studied Italian literature at the University of Bologna. At the age of 21 she moved to the United States with her husband for academic opportunities. At the age of 29, she studied comparative literature at UCI with a focus on Italian literature. It was while attending “liceo classico,” or the high school of classical studies, that Hamber realized she wanted to be a teacher. It was through a bad experience with quick-tempered and impatient teachers that Hamber realized the importance of having understanding and tolerant educators that have the patience and desire to see students grow and learn.
“In the beginning I struggled the same way you all struggle,” she said. “Believe me, I felt stupid to say things. I didn’t want to be judged. I was judged coming from the high school I came from. I didn’t dare try because I was paralyzed and criticized all the time. I never felt comfortable speaking in a foreign language because I was criticized. If you make a person fearful, then they’re not going to open their mouth anymore. I was more focused on my anxiety and my fear than with what I was learning. You don’t want to do that as a teacher.”
Aside from teaching, Hamber is also passionate about encouraging students to study abroad and with fixing the deteriorating language department at UCI. In regards to studying abroad, she states that it is an enlightening experience and that the quickest and most efficient way to learn a language is by visiting its origins. She encourages everyone to go abroad and to make another country their classroom as they immerse themselves with locals and with the art and history of the culture.
As for the diminishing language department, Hamber expresses grief. Her full-time status as a professor will be cut to part-time starting fall of 2013 as three of her classes have been cut due to a lack of funding and the shortage of students interested in learning the Italian language. Hamber says that the most important thing to do to ensure that programs are not further downgraded is to contact politicians and to fight for the importance of languages in higher education, as they are essential for improving students’ learning capabilities and opportunities.
“We need to learn of other cultures, and language is a connection to other cultures,” she said. “It would be nice to find someone who would donate money. Somebody that has money and who wants to keep culture and language alive at the university.”
With each year, Hamber continues to add to the 25 years she has taught at UCI, and with each passing quarter, she finds only more admirers and grateful students who marvel at her spirit and her incredibly fun and memorable teaching.
The sentiment is shared by drama major, Mary Kate McAuliffe, a second-year student at UCI: “Professoressa Hamber is a charismatic teacher who loves her students and job. She is a wonderful teacher because of her enthusiastic personality and passion for the language.”