Forget Rosetta Stone; don’t bother with Babbel. The Wingate University women’s basketball team has its own secret weapon for learning enough Italian for an upcoming nine-day tour of Milan, Venice and Tuscany. Her name is Cyndi Dahm.

The wife of Wingate chemistry professor Chris Dahm and a longtime homeschooling mom with a passion for languages, Dahm met with the team four times during the Christmas break and has been tutoring players again this week to help them make the most of what for many will be their first taste of international travel.

“I am so excited to go to Italy because this is my first plane ride, and I have never been outside the country,” Courtney Robinson, a rising senior from Taylors, South Carolina, said in a recent Twitter video.

Head Coach Ann Hancock is eager to see her team “experience a new culture, meet new people, learn about places and art and try new kinds of food.”

“In coaching, some of the things that are most rewarding is to see how they change and grow from their freshman year to being seniors, seeing them work for something and accomplish their goal,” she said. “Also, seeing their faces when they experience something new for the first time … that excitement.”

While Cara Averette, a rising senior from Midlothian, Virginia, said she is pumped about the Bulldogs taking on some Italian competition — the team will play three games against club teams, one each in Stresa, San Gimignano and Como — most of the players are equally excited about sightseeing, trying out authentic Italian foods and shopping.

It’s those cultural experiences that Dahm hopes to enhance.

A white woman holds a photo of Venice.

Cyndi Dahm holds a poster of Venice, one of many visual aids she created to help the women’s basketball team prepare to travel in Italy.

“I don’t expect that they will remember everything,” she says, surrounding by games, puzzles and visual aids she created for her teaching task. “I’m hoping to give them a level of confidence so that they feel comfortable enough that they have an idea about what is happening, that they feel like, even when they are just walking in a market, that they can say ‘I know how to ask how much this costs.’”

Well beyond numbers and conversational Spanish (ciao, buongiorno, arrivederci, etc.), Dahm has given them a whirlwind cultural tour so that they’ll already be a little familiar with much of the art work, architecture and food that they’ll encounter.

Her work with the team began when she struck up a friendship with Hancock as the two regularly crossed paths at the McGee Health and Fitness Center. When Dahm heard the team was headed to Italy, she offered to help Hancock study the language and the two began listening to a weekly podcast.

For Dahm, it was just one more in a list of languages she is actively pursuing. A Wheaton College graduate with an English major and a Spanish minor, she was already studying Swahili in preparation for visiting her sister in Tanzania and also brushing up on French while keeping her Spanish in good form. Now, during her morning swim workouts, Dahm counts from 1 to 100 in Swahili, Spanish, French and Italian.

Not long after Hancock began learning with Dahm, she found her office door being covered with small posters illustrating common Italian words.

“I’m a very visual person,” Dahm explained. The energy and effort that she had used each spring in what she called her homeschool ‘May intensive,’ a deep plunge into the culture of another country, she could transfer to Hancock’s players, creating visual aids, games and activities to help them absorb and remember what she was sharing.

The window beside Hancock’s door was soon plastered with photos and fun facts about Tuscany, Venice and Milan. In the locker room were pictures of Italian paintings reinterpreted with a basketball theme to help the women associate the art with the artists.

“We focused on numbers during the Christmas break and found a song that Ann could sing to the players and have them echo back,” Dahm said. Rather than lecture the team, she had them toss balls while counting, write numbers in their food, dance a version of the Tarantella and set up shop with play money to practice doing simple math in Italian.

“I tried to make it fun and memorable,” she said. This week, she’s been helping them master the art of ordering a multi-course meal in Italian.

“She has such a giving spirit and a teaching mentality,” Hancock said of Dahm. “She has been a tremendous help.”

The team leaves Friday for Milan. On Sunday, they’ll head for Stresa, enjoy a tour of Palazzo Borromeo and play a game that afternoon. Monday will find them in Venice. Tuesday, they’ll head to Florence, tour the Accademia Museum and then leave for Montecatini. On Wednesday, they’ll play their second game and depart for the Cinque Terre area in Northern Italy on Thursday. Their final game will be May 25 in Como. The following day, they’ll head home via Milan and Miami.

May 16, 2018