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