News News: Italian Studies

“Ciao Amore!”– A Reflection on the Generosity of Italian Host Families

By Antonella Nicholas (Public Policy major and Italian minor, ’20)

Antonella with her Italian host mom
Antonella with her Italian host mom Maria Pia (W&M Summer in Florence)

When I arrived in Italy,  I found myself immersed in a hurricane of terms of endearment. Before starting my studies in Florence, I stayed in Rome for a few days, and in restaurants, shops, and downtown, I always heard “Ciao, bella” and “Grazie, amore.”  It felt like a big Italian hug; almost as if they welcoming me into their eclectic cultural family.  I suppose that if Rome was a hug, then Florence had to have been a loving tackle. A Firenze, with my host families, the frequency and variety of endearments stunned me. When I woke up: “Buongiorno, amore!”  When it was time for dinner: “Pronta, bimba?” When I had a question:  “Dimmi, cara.” When it was time to go to sleep: “Buonanotte stellina!”

It seems to me that these affectionate appellations reflect the kindness and hospitality of Italian families, especially that of host families. Over the course of ten weeks I stayed with two families, each of whom welcomed me with open arms.  I’ll admit, there were times when I wondered if I could spend so much time away from my family in the United States; however, the hospitality of my famiglie italiane dispelled any doubts, and made me feel at home even though I was a stranger.  They helped me to orient myself in the city, and they advised me about which monuments to visit. Thanks to them, I know the best gelaterie and where to find a true bistecca alla fiorentina. Every day at dinner my gratitude was multiplied–pasta, pizza, pesto, pollo, pomodoro, basilico, insalata, tiramisù, and my favorite, spaghetti aglio, oglio e peperoncino.

Antonella with her Italian host mom Cristiana (third party study abroad program)

Fantastic food was just a fraction of my experience with host families. I am a student of the Italian language, and therefore had a mission to improve my communication skills. Speaking in the casual environment of a home forced me to acquire a new vocabulary.  When I made a grammatical error, my mamma italiana corrected me. In this way, I was able to communicate with the other students in the home in a more informal way and understand the conversations of the family. Most valuably, I found that the best way to learn Italian is to watch TV.  In my first family, my host mother’s four-year-old niece came to visit us a few times, and we watched children’s cartoons. In the home of my second family, almost every day we watched a game show in which the competitors had to guess a word only knowing the first letter and two related words. This is how I became familiar with countless colloquial expressions.

When I arrived in Italy, I was bombarded with endearing nicknames–now, I can’t imagine what my life would be like without hearing “ciao amore” five times a day! Jokes aside, my stay in Italy with host families was fundamental to my understanding of Italian language and culture. In fact, they have inspired me to host students when I have a family myself.  The generosity I received from families in Italy and from Italians in general could fill Brunelleschi’s Duomo.