A Mover and a Shaker

Exchange student Giovanni Minicucci leaves a lasting impression during his semester at Nazareth.

by Sofia Tokar

Giovanni Minicucci

After 16 hours and multiple flights, Giovanni Minicucci finally arrived at the Greater Rochester International Airport. It was January, past 1 a.m., and the airline had lost his luggage. Nevertheless, he was thrilled.

"I've always wanted to escape my hometown," the Pescara, Italy, native says. Although Minicucci was awarded an Erasmus Programme grant to study abroad in the European Union, he instead chose to spend a semester at Nazareth College. "I love American culture and the United States, and had heard about the experiences of previous Nazareth exchange students," he recalls. "I thought, 'Now is my time. I want to go.'"

From day one at Nazareth, Minicucci stood out. "Exchange students tend to be outgoing, generally," says Laura Barnard, assistant director at the Center for International Education, "but Giovanni took outgoing to another level. He's a mover and shaker, and we had to tap into that energy for the benefit of the entire campus."

Barnard co-advises the International Club, an undergraduate student organization that had floundered in recent years. In Minicucci, she recognized what the club needed: a visionary entertainer with a logistical bent who effortlessly draws people into his orbit. "You already know more people than I do — and I've been here for two years," Minicucci recalls a Nazareth student telling him.

Between going to classes, working at Casa Italiana, introducing himself to seemingly everyone on campus, organizing spring break trips, and exploring the area, Minicucci threw himself into event planning. In early March, he and the other club leaders hosted a Carnival-themed international party in the Shults Center Forum. Attendees included international students from China, Saudi Arabia, Hungary, Finland, and Venezuela (among other countries) mingling alongside American students, a student with Down Syndrome from LifePrep@Naz, and community members. Minicucci himself was garbed in full Carnival mask and cape during the festivities.

"Giovanni managed to pull together people from different generations, cultural backgrounds, and abilities into one place to have a great time together. He's a party everywhere he goes," says Barnard.

The event's success helped revive interest in the International Club. It also boded well for Minicucci's semester-long effort to coordinate Naz Got Talent. This America's Got Talent–inspired competition took place in the Arts Center and let students express themselves in a welcoming environment while having fun.

Among the talent that night was Clément Lerousseau, an exchange student from France who appeared as part of a skit called "Clément and the Clémentines." Initially, he admits, "I was uncomfortable with the idea of going on stage in front of so many people. But then I thought, 'Let's have fun!'" The experience proved emblematic of Lerousseau's overall exchange: "I quickly realized it was a wonderful choice and such an opportunity to be part of all of this."

Like many former exchange students to Nazareth, Lerousseau hopes to return to Rochester one day. Minicucci, meanwhile, is determined to do so. "I've had a lot of experiences abroad, but nothing like Nazareth. It would be a dream come true to go back," he says. "My suitcase is ready!"

Sofia Tokar is a writer in Rochester, N.Y.

Giovanni with members of the international club

Giovanni with his fellow members of Nazareth's International Club