ROVERETO. Australia is perhaps the furthest place you can imagine from here. But also to Melbourne, where Christmas and New Year are celebrated in short sleeves these days, there is a community of Trentino people. Over 900,000 Australians derive from Italian descent (2011 census), even if some by now do not even speak Italian, having lived in Australia for generations.
One of them has its roots in Vallagarinato Stone of Nogaredo to be precise where mother Enrica and father Adalberto live, but he has lived permanently 16,000 kilometers away since 2012. It is Guglielmo Gottoliwhich in Melbourne is the director of one of the ten colleges affiliated to the prestigious University of Melbourne. A historic residence, of which the fifty-year-old from Trentino is the first lay rector. The “provost” in slang. The video call interview has an eleven-hour time zone: in our latitudes it is still morning while for those who live there it is already time to go to sleep and Gugliemo is saying good night to one of his five children.
The family built together with his wife Anne, originally from Mauritius, has traveled the world, like that of his younger brother Gianluca who divides his time between Abu Dhabi and London. After studying between England and Colorado, the years in Mauritius working for the Government (from 2009 to 2012) and then the choice to settle in Australia after having worked there as a researcher for Deloitte between 2006 and 2008. (In the photo, Guglielmo Gottoli on the left and the Jesuit Rector Father Frank Brennan SJ outside the college in Melbourne)
Director, is there anything capable of bridging the gap with Trentino over there in Melbourne?
Some Trentino people occasionally feel and immediately recognize themselves in the midst of so many people. And then there is also an Italian broadcast on the local radio, which broadcasts in all the languages of the immigrants.
The boarding school you have been entrusted with is a historic residence, isn’t it?
Newman college is one of ten affiliated residence halls of the University of Melbourne: it was founded by Irish missionaries between 1916 and 1918. Run by the Jesuits, the college takes its name from the cleric John Henry Newman, a 19th century Christian theologian and cardinal of the Holy Roman Church, who played an important role in the Oxford Movement and who, initially Anglican, had converted to the Roman Catholic Church in the course of his spiritual and theological experience.
And what is his role?
The rector is a Jesuit, Father Frank Brennan, I am the provost, who has a more operational role. I manage the more practical aspects and those more relevant to the students. From academic programs to the assistance we provide to students.
It is not a simple residence that offers accommodation to girls and boys, therefore…
No, in fact. It is not like an American college that offers room and board but more like the English model of Cambridge or Oxford. It was an academic community created for Catholic country boys who wanted to come and study here. Now it has an international dimension.
What does it mean?
Something similar has recently been born in Italy too. Students staying with us are obliged to eat together, like in a family. For three evenings a week they have to attend the so-called formal dinners, dinners in a jacket and tie with an academic toga. A bit like in Harry Potter, to give you an idea.
So whoever asks to be part is looking for something more than accommodation?
Ours is a large family, within which there are university students but also professionals who look after the kids. Spiritual retreats, seminars and help in attending courses are offered.
How many university students do you host?
Before Covid we reached 315, among those enrolled in the first and second level degree and post-graduate. Many come from abroad: about 90 representing 35 different nationalities. Now these are about thirty, of ten nationalities.
How is it in that environment?
I’m always around the boys, for better or for worse, of course.
And among so many young people, what have you noticed in recent years? What are the characteristics of today’s kids?
Today’s kids are more fragile. The issue of mental health has become more important, especially after the Covid period. We guarantee psychological and emotional support but we have noticed that there are many more appeals presented to be able to redo the exams precisely in relation to this problem. Also from the point of view of identity, for example: we adults must be much more careful in our approach.
You who have attended universities in different parts of the world and who have children who are now teenagers, what do you think of this?
I see guys who have no character, no temperament. We also try to pay close attention to the issue of suicides, bullying, discrimination and sexual abuse. We have offered training for all the staff on these issues. However, it is true that today’s kids also tend to expose their fragility much more than in our times.
What is it like to live as a Trentino in Melbourne?
Apart from the distance from home, which makes it difficult to return more often, life is good. The high cost of living is felt here too but it is a very beautiful city. Among the most livable in the world, which offers culture and quality of life. Here we have services, green spaces. And then it is an international city: a quarter of Australians were born outside the country.