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May 18, 2012

Sense of Adventure

By: Marc Mullen

Corrado Degl’ Incerti Tocci grew up in Italy, but came to Tech to play tennis and has been traveling ever since

Moving off to college is a life-altering event on so many levels. For most, it is often the first time a person is leaving the comforts of home to fend for himself or herself amongst other 18- or 19-year-old freshmen while preparing for the future.

Many young adults, if not all, have a sense of apprehension. But on a campus of 31,000-plus students like at Virginia Tech, there is certainly a chance that a newcomer will find at least one other student with common interests.

Over the course of four-plus years, values and beliefs are tested, new friendships are made and transformations occur. This was no truer than for a 20-year-old international student who came to Tech in 2008 and is currently wrapping up a four-year career on the Tech men’s tennis team.

“I was 19 when I decided [to attend Tech], and I was 20 when I got here,” Corrado Degl' Incerti Tocci said. “I was kind of scared with being that far from home, but also very happy and very curious. My parents were actually pushing me. They were the ones saying, ‘Why don’t you go study somewhere else? Maybe you should consider going to study in the U.S.’ So they were really cool with it.

“And it helped that Luka Somen was on the team. He was also a freshman [from Croatia]. We were both foreigners, and there were others already on the team. I felt I had more in common probably with other foreigners that were teaching me stuff that is probably easy for Americans.

“I would have to understand the whole culture, which is very different from where I came from, and those other guys that went through the same process of understanding this culture … it made it easier for me.”

The decision to attend Tech and the bond he created with his teammates has helped Tocci become a well-rounded individual and experience things that most people can only dream about.

Tocci was already living some Americans’ dream, having been born and raised in Reggio Emilia, Italy, which is almost at the epicenter of a triangle between Milan (one hour, 40 minutes northwest), Venice (2:10 northeast) and Florence (1:40 south), with Rome just a short four-hour car ride south. For those envisioning it on a map, Reggio Emilia is where the peninsula of Italy (the boot) meets up with the large land mass that makes up the rest of the European continent.

Growing up in Italy, Tocci played the national sport of soccer until he was 12, but he was moving up faster in the world of tennis.

“Everyone in Italy plays soccer, but I liked the environment in tennis better,” he said. “I started when I was 6 years old. My dad [Fabrizio] was a member of the tennis club, so I just was playing there.

“I started winning tournaments when I was like 9 or 10, and I was always ranked really high. When I was 12, I was one of the top four guys in Italy, in the Italian Federation. I was always in the top five in Italy until I was probably 16 or 17.”

A family friend – Giulia Toschi [Gustafson] – helped pave the way for Tocci to come to America and study at Virginia Tech. Toschi actually played on the women’s team at Tech, and later, served as an assistant coach for the Hokies.

“She’s from my hometown in Italy. She was a pro, and she was touring in the U.S.,” Tocci said. “And at one point, she decided to go to college, and also she was an assistant coach here at Tech. I talked to her – my family knows her family. So when I decided I wanted to go study somewhere else [besides in Italy], we got in contact with each other.”

His decision wasn’t particularly easy. He wasn’t afraid to leave Italy, but he had just started dating a young lady, Letizia Capelli, roughly two months before heading to Blacksburg to come to college.

Despite the distance and the communications difficulties, the two remained together throughout Tocci’s career. In fact, they share an adventurous spirit – one that has led them to various parts of the world.

“Over the summer of 2010, we went to Africa [Sierra Leone] as part of a Catholic Mission with people between the ages of 18 and 30 years old,” Tocci said. “They hosted us, and we just had to pay for the flight. We were teaching kids from, like, 6 to 12 years old. Plus we fixed, rebuilt and painted things, whatever they needed.

“It was a great experience. She really wanted to do it, and I wasn’t sure because I had never done something like that. So I decided, ‘Yeah it sounds very good. I want to do it,’ but I really wasn’t too sure about it.

“It’s just too common of an expression to say ‘it changed my life,’ but it really did. It opened my mind in some ways that I had never thought of before. It changed my values in life. So it was very good.”

This past semester break, the pair decided literally to head south for the winter and visit with one of Tocci’s former teammates, Pedro Graber, who was from Santiago, Chile.

“Pedro hosted me in Santiago, and we went there for most of winter break,” Tocci said. “At one point, me and Letizia went south to Patagonia, and we rode on buses and we camped out and we were hitchhiking. They do that there. It wasn’t dangerous or anything. So we tried that, too.

“Going to college and meeting all these people and learning about their experiences really made me find out a lot more of what people can do that I would like to do, too.

“I also liked learning about the concept of leadership that I never, or no one ever really pays attention to in Italy … trying to be a leader and doing the right things. There’s more attention here [in the U.S.] to things like ethics, being a better person, leadership in general than there is in Italy. So that helped me, I guess, achieve higher goals.”

Tocci ended his career as a Hokie tennis player at the 2012 NCAA Championships, which was a little bittersweet. The engineering major already has a graduate assistantship position lined up for next year here at Tech, and he knows that his competitive playing days are over.

“I’ll probably pay more attention to my school work because I will have a lot of school work with research and classes and everything, but I won’t stop practicing,” he said.

Like most seniors, he wanted to go to the NCAA Championships to close out his career. But there was a downside. His parents, who have only seen Blacksburg once, were planning on making a second trip to see their son walk across the stage to get his diploma.

“They were thinking about coming this year, too, for my graduation, but the first two rounds [of the NCAA Championships] are actually during graduation every year,” Tocci said. “They were probably coming to my graduation and then going together to New York for a few days because my mom [Lelia] has never seen New York. My dad did, and my mom didn’t. My mom never came to the U.S. before last year.”

Tocci doesn’t know what the future holds for him after school, but with his newfound sense of adventure and three more continents out there, the sky’s the limit. A master’s degree from Virginia Tech in aerospace engineering and a future job won’t change that.


• I am fluent in Italian. We studied English probably ever since elementary school, but we learn it very bad. If you’ve ever been to Italy, people don’t speak English very well. I was a little lucky because I already knew it a little better than normal people. I traveled with playing tennis, so I knew some English already, but it was definitely not great when I got here. It has improved a lot since I’ve gotten here.

• The first time I came to Blacksburg was a week before classes started, and I remember that I thought this university was huge because, in Italy, universities are nothing compared to this. They don’t have campuses, most of the times, and they are just much smaller. The buildings are just small, and here, it’s just huge. I felt that everything was incredibly well organized, and there was so many things offered to students, and it was amazing.

• Skype is what made my relationship with Letizia possible. I don’t think we would have been able to have done it without Skype. Being able to call for free every time and get to see each other’s face … I can’t imagine doing it [having a relationship with Letizia] without Skype.

• I have an older sister, and her name is also Letizia – and it’s actually a very big coincidence because that is not a very common name. She works in Milan for Nestle – the chocolate company.

• Some things I have changed and become American. My music taste has changed a little bit. The way I eat changed a little bit, but I still eat much healthier than all my American friends. The way I dress has changed. I’m sure I’ve changed more, but those are the things that come to my mind.

• Here, I don’t eat any pasta – I cook all the time – because I don’t like the sauce that you buy at the store. It’s completely different. So I would have to make my own sauce when I have a chance I do it. But for some reason, I like to cook other stuff. I gave up on pasta when I got here.