By Ceci Cipullo, University of Massachussets Amherst and Umbra Rep Spring ’20
I’ve been studying abroad in Perugia for almost two months now, and so far I’ve traveled to four different coun-tries and seven cities. I’ve been making all sorts of decisions that have to do with where I want to go, which classes I want to take, how I should properly budget my money, and so on. While all of those are important, I think that by far the best and most important decision I’ve made was choosing to live with a host family.
I live in an apartment with the Ambrosi family, which is made up by Rosi and Orfeo, a retired couple in their 70s who are very active in the local community. I saw this firsthand on my very first day when Orfeo showed me the way school (which is only a ten-minute walk from where I live) and no less than seven different people stopped him, shook his hand, and wished him well. A fifteen-minute drive away in the countryside live Annalisa (Rosi and Orfeo’s daugh-ter), her husband Alberto, and their two children, Adele (4) and Andrea (2). While I only physi-cally live with Rosi and Orfeo, it definitely feels like the whole crowd makes up my host family, as Rosi babysits Adele and Andrea almost once a day, and the parents will sometimes come over for dinner.
I’ve been living with the Ambrosi family for about a month and a half, and I can already confidently say that my Italian has improved greatly mainly because of day-to-day life in my home. Speaking conversationally has quickly become much easier (and I began this program with only one year of Italian under my belt) because, unlike a classroom setting where grammar and vocabulary are dissected as a way to learn a language, I’m simply speaking and listening.
From the quick hellos and goodbyes in the morning when Rosi and Orfeo are heading out the door, while I’m still eating breakfast, to the Sunday lunches with long discussions, where the Italian language is whirling around me for an hour and a half straight, to playing with the kids in the living room after dinner on weekdays while we wait for Annalisa to come pick them up, Ital-ian is my constant go-to. I don’t have to decide to speak Italian now when I enter the apartment; it’s simply the first thing to come out of my mouth, before English even crosses my mind. This isn’t to say my Italian is perfect – it’s far from it. I still have to translate things in my head some-times. But that fact that I instinctively go to speak Italian rather than English in other situations is because I’m used to it with my host family.
My favorite day with my host family so far was my birthday. Birthdays are fun no matter what, and, of course, the experience is enriched when said birthday is your own. However, my whole day on the 16th was truly wonderful not just because I turned 20, but because I got to spend it with my host family and experience Italian traditions. It was a Sunday and we’d planned to go to the farm – la campagna – where Annalisa, Alberto, and the kids live. I hadn’t been yet and I was excited.
One the day, as soon as I woke up and headed out of my room, I was greeted by Rosi, saying “Auguri! Auguri!” (which translates to “best wishes” and is what is said in addition to “buon compleanno” to mean “Happy Birthday”) and preceding to pull on my ear a few times – something I learned is good luck on your birthday. I spent the day on their beautiful farm, which is also an Agriturismo, playing outside with Adele and visiting a church with Orfeo, which he says is the most beautiful church in all of Umbria. We enjoyed a full Italian meal, beginning with torta al testo (a Perugian speciality), followed by two pasta dishes, a meat and potatoes dish, and then finishing with tiramisu (which was lit with two candles of the numbers “2” and “0”).
While I cherish this experience, living in a host family isn’t for everyone. Because I’m not living with other Umbra Institute students, it definitely takes an extra bit of effort on my part to reach out to other students and maintain new friendships. I don’t mind this effort, but some might, and so it’s an important thing to know. For me, however, I wouldn’t have it any other way. I have my own room and bathroom and the best language and cultural education one can have, as I’m the lucky one who is truly living it.
If you are considering a host family, I strongly recommend looking into it! I truly love it and I’m so glad I still have two and a half more months of it.
Until next time, ciao!
Learn more about living with an Italian local family here.