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Determination Helps International Student Reach New Heights

Samuelle Riva, student at Farmingdale State College

There is no Italian flag in the Campus Center at Farmingdale State College. It’s a school tradition to fly flags of the home countries of students who come to Farmingdale to earn their degrees. Flags from countries such as China, South Africa, Peru, the Dominican Republic, India and South Korea fly high, but Italy is not to be found.

That will change in May.

That’s when Samuele Riva, a native of Cadrezzate, Italy (population 1,800), receives his BS in sport management.

Flag of Italy.And to make the story even better, Samuele has accomplished what he thought impossible during a tortuous first month here: he’s graduating in three years – as valedictorian of the Spring 2016 class.

“I am honored to be the Farmingdale State College valedictorian for 2016,” Samuele says. “This prestigious achievement compensates for my hard work and dedication, motivating me to achieve even greater goals in the future.”

When he arrived in the United States, Samuele thought he could get by on limited English skills, but he was rudely awakened his very first day on campus, when he walked into an accounting class and discovered he couldn’t understand what was going on.

“I was paralyzed and did not know what to do or say,” Samuele recalls. “I didn’t even know what a syllabus was and had to Google it. I could not take notes or understand the directions of the professor. I walked out of the first class very confused and upset because I did not expect these difficulties.”

Samuele didn’t drop the class, but by the end of his first month at Farmingdale he was seriously considering going back to Cadrezzate, where he had been valedictorian of his high school class and was looking at a bright future at a university in Milan, 50 miles south of his hometown. That’s when his parents stepped in.

“They were very worried when I left Italy, and they were even more concerned about me after hearing my issues in my new American life,” Samuele says. “I Skyped them almost every day and they understood exactly what I was going through. However, they always encouraged and motivated me. They believed in me and my potential. I told them I wanted to come home but they were the ones who gave me the strength to continue to pursue my dreams.”

Fortified with new-found determination, Samuele worked hard to overcome his sense of inferiority.

“To combat these feelings I spent afternoons at the tutoring center and nights studying until 4 a.m. in order to improve my English. I documented unfamiliar words and obsessively memorized their meanings.  I devoted all my time and energy into my schoolwork and language acquisition.”

Amazingly, Samuele finished the semester with a perfect GPA, with a 21-credit workload. He explains it this way:

“After getting more familiar with the American school system, I realized that I could graduate ‘easily’ in three years if I took more credits each semester. Therefore, I took five classes and two language exams that gave me the opportunity to obtain 21 credits. It was a big credit load for my first semester but I was not involved in many other extracurricular activities; I had plenty of time to focus on my academics.

“School is my first priority and I devote as much time and effort as I can to succeed in it. I had the same mentality in high school and that is the reason why I achieved my valedictorian status. Academics come easy with this mindset; I have always focused more on learning and expanding my knowledge rather than procrastinating or complaining about the heavy schoolwork.”

Samuele Riva, of Farmingdale State College, hits a tee shot on the golf course.

Samuele Riva, of Farmingdale State College, hits a tee shot on the golf course.

Jump forward three years and out-of-the-classroom activities are central to Samuele’s academic career. He is president of Sigma Beta Delta and the Golden Key International Honor Society, where he oversees a number of community-centered events. He tutors classmates in Italian, and plays on the golf and soccer teams. Both sports have been, and will continue to be, central to his life. Golf has provided an internship that would be the envy of any sports-minded individual, and being an agent for European and American soccer players is his chosen career path.

Last year he talked his way into a U.S. Open golf tournament internship, though he didn’t have to do much arm twisting, says Jeff Poplarski, adjunct professor of sport management at Farmingdale. Poplarski, a nationally regarded sports chiropractor and director of the health and wellness team for the Open, said that when Samuele asked about the internship he knew he’d scored the proverbial hole in one.

“Samuele was the best intern I’d taken to the Open in five years.”

What impressed Poplarski the most was Samuele’s work ethic; a typical day at the Open called for a 5 a.m. – 10 p.m. schedule, which didn’t faze Samuele at all.

“Most kids will crumble under that environment, getting up at 4 a.m., but he really shined.” And because of that, Samuele will work the 2016 tournament as well.

With the 2016 spring semester now in full bloom, and graduation just a couple of months away, Samuele is working on the next steps in his life: law school and a career as a sport agent, importing talented European players to Major League Soccer, and exporting promising college stars to play in European soccer clubs.

Circle back to Samuele’s decision to study in the U.S. As he explains it, the American sports industry is dynamic, vibrant, and thriving; in Europe it is moribund. So that meant finding a school that offered a degree that would put him on the path to his dream. That’s where Farmingdale entered the picture.

“I knew I wanted to study sport management, and I wanted to live in New York,” Samuele says. “I was also playing golf and soccer, and I saw on the NCAA website that the Farmingdale men’s golf team was in the finals every year.  It was a decision based on dreams, academics, athletics and finances.”

“I am very proud to be the first Italian student to graduate at Farmingdale. After all my initial difficulties, I did not foresee myself walking on graduation day in front of my family, my friends, and my girlfriend Jackie – yes, I also fell in love here too, ha ha! But after all the hard work and challenges that I overcame throughout these three years, it will be even more special and fulfilling.”

    Farmingdale State College

    Written by Farmingdale State College

    Farmingdale State College plays a critical role not just in teaching its students, but in shaping them. At Farmingdale, you will enjoy small, personalized classes that prepare you for a successful career through the use of real-world technologies and critical thinking.

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    There are 9 comments

  • Keith says:

    Well Sam you done it , what can I say but congratulations. Reby is now at Aberdeen and hopefully will realize that dreams can come true .

  • Michele RIBOTTA says:

    Ciao Samuele, congratulazioni! My son (also an Italian) was inspired by your story as he approaches college application here in NYC. How can he connect with you to learn more about your experience? All the best. Michele

  • Marguerite Fagella-D'Aloisio says:

    Samuele, It was very inspiring to watch you tutor our students for the past 3 years at the Late Night Breakfast/Study Sessions. As an Italian-American, I was very proud to walk in the Commencement Ceremonies with you this past Saturday! Enjoy New York and your new adventures!

    Marguerite Fagella-D’Aloisio

  • Linda Little says:

    Congratulations Samuel, the very best to you. May ALL of your dreams come true.

  • mamma says:

    Dear Sam,
    This is your family from Italy. You have faced many problems during the past three years and we were very worried about it: every days you were in our minds and we tried to do all our best in the aim to support you but sometime it was not so easy. Determination has really helped you in reaching this high level: you have been more stronger than the problem. Life is not easy, but we can success if we want! You did it!!
    We are very proud of you and we wish you all the best in your life, school, work and love!
    We miss you..and we always love you!

  • Samuele is very dedicated intern and work very hard. Congrats for you Samuele (y)

  • The field of sports requires a team effort. And it took a team of academic specialists to launch the BS in Sport Management degree program. My role was to develop and get approved some of the initial courses in this degree program. However, it has been the chairpersons, faculty, and students who have made the BS in SM degree program such a glowing success at FSC. One more point, my father’s parents came to the USA from Naples in 1902. Though I have always considered myself 100 percent American, it is great to now see the Italian flag flown with that of other nations at our college. Just keep the USA flag flying the highest!

    In 1987 I was hired at and in 2015 I retired from FSC. These 28 years at FSC have been extraordinary for me.

  • Dr. Deitsch says:

    Congratulations Samuele !! May the best be yet to be!!!

  • Al says:

    I met this guy playing soccer very humble and nice. best of luck to you

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