In 1954, Alvino Fantini received a scholarship to attend The Experiment in International Living in Mexico. “I was transformed totally,” he said. “All I wanted to do was come back.”
Fantini did come back to The Experiment in 1963 to lead Experiment groups of his own. By that time, he had met his future wife, Bea, and the two soon settled in the Brattleboro area. Alvino became a language coordinator for the Peace Corps, which sent many of its volunteers to The Experiment for language training and orientation at the time. Bea, a native of Bolivia, graded Spanish tests for college-aged Experimenters taking six-credit language courses.
The Experiment’s work with the Peace Corps led to the founding of SIT (then School for International Training) in 1964. Though SIT sought higher education accreditation, and the language training programs were taking off, the institution was hesitant to embrace traditional western academia.
“In those years, everybody didn’t want to act academic,” Alvino said. “That was because we wanted to preserve the ways we worked in non-formal, experiential, in-the-field kinds of education.”
Bea and Alvino credit John Wallace, vice president of The Experiment at the time, with having both the academic background and the field experience to bring SIT’s degree programs into focus. They are also quick to note that a handful of inspirational and powerful women, notably Sue Fleischer, Sally Kotkov, Betty Kinsey, Barbara Dirks, Jean Allen, and Bea Pugsley were the ones that kept the institution running day-to-day.
As the institution shifted, Bea stayed involved in the language training and teaching department, eventually becoming director of SIT’s language and culture department, a position she holds to this day. She will soon celebrate her 50th year of work at World Learning, a milestone no other employee has reached.
Alvino helped establish the Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) program at SIT, which emerged after many years of conducting trainings in less commonly taught languages like Gujarati and Farsi for the Peace Corps. “We were learning constantly, because we were challenged constantly,” he said.
Wallace and Alvino gathered together a group of “mavericks” in the field of language training and asked them to help design the program according to their definition of what makes a good language teacher.
“The interesting thing is that we started with French and Spanish, because that was the need then,” Bea added. “In the second or third year, they added English. Now what we have is a program that only focuses on teaching English as a foreign language.”
Alvino taught in the Master of Arts in Teaching program for many years, and after retiring, became professor emeritus and the director of the institutional archives.
Their newest project is a scholarship fund named in their honor. The Alvino and Bea Fantini Scholarship will help international students, especially those from underserved populations and the global south, participate in SIT Graduate Institute programs. The scholarship will help realize a vision of the campus that Bea and Alvino have held from the start.
“What I envision is a campus with 50 percent domestic students and 50 percent international students,” said Bea. “For me, that interaction produces chemistry. You learn from each other. You don’t necessarily learn everything in the classroom. You learn from these daily interactions.”
SIT plans to honor Alvino and Bea Fantini, and boost awareness of the new scholarship, at a banquet this summer as part of the 50th anniversary celebrations for SIT. While the banquet will celebrate their nearly 100 years of dedication to the institution, Alvino and Bea continue to look forward.
“A combined 98 years we’ve been here. We’re the past, but the people who are around us now are the continuance into the future,” said Alvino. “If I sit in the cafeteria and talk to the students, it is just as exciting today.”