Students, Italian Family Share Culture and Connection Over Dinner
Students studying abroad at the University’s campus in Italy this semester joined a local family for dinner, getting a taste of what it is like to live and grow up in Prato, Italy. It was an immersive opportunity for them to learn more about the local food, culture, and language.
December 2, 2022
By Renee Chmiel, Office of Marketing and Communications
While studying at the University’s campus in Italy this semester, Julia Sosnowski ’23 and Fransheli Ventura ’23 had a variety of opportunities to connect with Prato residents, and one of the of the most immersive experiences brought them into the home of a local family. The students joined them for dinner, sharing what it was like to live in the city and getting to know a family that calls Prato home.
Marco Oderio, who lives just down the street from the University’s campus, met the students in front of the school and walked them to his family’s apartment, a building that was formerly a monastery. The students received a warm welcome from Oderio’s family, meeting his wife, Camilla Biancalani, daughter Caterina Oderio, son Duccio Oderio, and the family’s two cats.
Before dinner, the family showed their guests their home, and they chatted about their interests and culture. Sosnowski and Ventura, who had also brought dessert, presented the family gifts, including four “University of New Haven Prato Campus” t-shirts, to thank them for hosting the dinner.
The students and the family then shared a meal together. It was a fun and engaging way for Sosnowski and Ventura to experience a taste not only of authentic Italian food, but of the language and the culture.
“Seeing how Italians eat and live was fun,” said Sosnowski, an interior design major. “They were very kind to us. It was fun to see firsthand how they do things in Italy and to be an Italian for a night.”
‘We like to welcome people who enjoy our city’
The menu included a variety of authentic Italian dishes. The group enjoyed tortelli di patate (pasta) with ragu, beans, and vegetarian fritters made from cheese, zucchini, and potato. To give students a true taste of something unique to Prato, the family served the popular local dessert known as a “pesche di Prato” – peach of Prato. The sugared and cream-filled brioche-dough cakes are shaped like peaches.
“I like to share our culture, and I enjoy seeing what students think about our way of life and our city,” said Biancalani. “I like the opportunity to speak English. I also like American culture and meeting Americans. They are very open and very kind.”
This was the family’s fifth time hosting a group of students at their home. It’s also an opportunity the University frequently offers to students studying abroad. Staff organize dinners with local families they know, and students are invited to sign up to join them for dinner in their home for an immersive and rich cultural experience. It’s something that Marco Oderio enjoys being a part of.
“We like to welcome people who enjoy our city,” he said. “We like to have these experiences with Americans and to show them our city and our culture. We also like to travel, and we enjoy getting to know the local people. We expect people traveling here would like that too, and we’re glad to offer that experience to them.”
‘What life is like’
The students and their hosts shared stories about their travels – the students’ excursions in Italy and the family’s visits to Boston and New York where they have family. Sosnowski and Ventura discussed their Italian classes and the challenges of grasping the language while learning from their hosts what it was like to learn English. Ventura and Sosnowski, who are close in age to Caterina and Duccio, connected while discussing school and the sports they play.
At the end of the night, Marco Oderio walked Ventura and Sosnowski back to the University. The students enjoyed their time with the family, and they were grateful to have had the opportunity to connect with them.
“The food was great, and I appreciate that local people welcomed us into their home,” said Ventura, a criminal justice major. “They showed us how they live, and it was wonderful to see what life is like for local Italians.”