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College of Hospitality, Retail and Sport Management

  • Photo of Silvia Chinellato outside, close up.

    Silvia Chinellato

Amidst COVID-19, international student finds support and optimism at UofSC

By Allen Wallace,
Posted May 20, 2020

Life brings unexpected twists and turns for everyone, but sometimes all the pieces just fit together. That’s what happened after Silvia Chinellato found her time as an international graduate student at the University of South Carolina’s College of Hospitality, Retail and Sport Management colliding with the COVID-19 crisis.

Chinellato left her home in Italy in 2016 to come to Columbia, recruited to play tennis for the Gamecocks. She was uncertain of her academic path at first, but soon found a home away from home in the School of Hotel, Restaurant and Tourism Management.

“I decided to study tourism because I speak four languages,” she says. “I thought tourism was a major tied to my personality as well, and when I started taking tourism classes I found it was the best path for me. I love it!”

Moving to a new country can be a challenge for anyone, and as a freshman Chinellato struggled a bit, but found a community ready to welcome and help her.

“I am not a shy person, but I have an accent, so I did not want to talk too much with other people,” Chinellato says, remembering those early days. However, she says her teachers, coaches and classmates encouraged her, asking to hear about Italy and her experiences.

“I started having more conversations with classmates, expanding my friendships and my position in the community,” she says. “I connected a lot with students outside athletics, especially being part of the International Student Association, and I had so much fun. UofSC is such a great school for international students. It is so easy to connect with people from other countries.”

Chinellato quickly became not just a part of the campus community, but a leader. She excelled in the classroom, earning outstanding grades and accolades from professors. On the tennis court, she and her teammates won the first SEC tennis championship in school history. She also became the event coordinator for the International Student Association.

As her undergraduate studies neared an end, Chinellato learned from Professor Scott Smith about the accelerated bachelor’s to master's degree program in international hospitality and tourism management. She began taking classes that earned her credit toward her bachelor’s and master’s simultaneously, allowing her to earn two degrees with just one additional year on campus. After claiming her bachelor’s degree in tourism management in December 2019, she continued working on her master’s in January 2020. That opportunity helped her navigate an unexpected crisis that hit during the spring 2020 semester.

As the COVID-19 pandemic began to unfold abroad, Chinellato watched her home country of Italy become headline news. There were many anxious moments and emotional distress, with Italy becoming one of the countries hit hardest by COVID-19. During the first few months of 2020, she found even more support from her adopted Gamecock family. Faculty and classmates alike reached out, and luckily Chinellato’s family has remained healthy. Being away from home at such a time was not easy, but Chinellato never lacked support, with one international faculty member being especially helpful.

“Professor Miyoung Jeong has been amazing,” Chinellato says. “I had several classes with her, and she has been checking on me about my family’s situation in Italy. She offered help in case I needed something.”

Coronavirus affected things in Columbia too, wiping out the spring tennis season in 2020 and impacting the hospitality and tourism job market. However, with the NCAA offering a replacement year of eligibility and Chinellato already at work on her master’s degree, everything fit.

“With this opportunity, I will be playing tennis next fall and spring and graduating from my masters degree in May 2021,” she says. “Everything worked out perfectly!”

While the tourism industry works to recover from COVID-19, Chinellato is focused on advancing her education and experience so that she can be poised for opportunities when the market rebounds. She is considering a career in events or luxury travel, or even opening her own business with a focus on organic food, but she says the options are limitless.

It is so easy to pay attention in class because the content is real and very interesting. You never know where you [may] end up going and if you like to travel, you will enjoy it even more.

— Silvia Chinellato, accelerated bachelor's to master's degree candidate

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