Add a Seat to the Table

Written by Vanessa March 19, 2012

Last night, I had one of the best experiences I’ve had with CIMBA thus far – and that’s saying a lot.  I was fortunate enough to participate in a program called Add a Seat to the Table, which pairs CIMBA students with the families of local Italian high schoolers to share a meal, whether at a restaurant or in the comfort of the family’s own home.  I had heard about the event at the very beginning of the semester, and I had been looking forward to it ever since – how could I pass up such an amazing opportunity?

On the day of the event, however, I found myself becoming nervous – what if we couldn’t communicate at all?  What if I couldn’t think of anything to say, and they thought I was boring?  Fortunately, though, my fears turned out to be completely unfounded.  My CIMBA cohort Ben and I were introduced to Melania, our hostess for the night, and we immediately struck up a conversation that lasted the entire evening.

Melania is a 17-year-old high school student at the Istituti Filipin, the private school with which we share our campus, and she is planning on studying management at a university after graduation (we had something on common already!).  Her mother drove us to the family’s guest house, where we were dropped off and greeted by six of Melania’s friends (and her two adorable dogs).  The friends were all incredibly friendly and gracious, and they had pasta ready for us to devour almost as soon as we sat down – complete with homemade sauce lovingly prepared by Melania’s grandmother earlier that day.  The pasta was followed by meat, bread, and cheese, and then a huge array of desserts made by Melania’s friends themselves.  Each time we tried to lend a hand with the meal, we were met with a rousing cry of “No, no, no!” – we were being treated as the guests of honor, but I felt like honoring them for being so welcoming and sweet to us.

Though each person spoke varying degrees of English (and Ben and I an embarrassingly small amount of Italian), the dinner conversation was always lively.  We talked about everything from television (they loved Jersey Shore and America’s Next Top Model) to travel destinations (New York City was a crowd favorite), and all the while I was pleasantly surprised by how much people can have in common, no matter how different their backgrounds may be.

After dinner, we made our way into Melania’s backyard for a good, old-fashioned bonfire.  I felt like I was back in the U.S. in the midst of a summer night – except for the fact that my ears were filled with the sounds of Italian words, and there was mulled apple wine heating over the fire.  Even so, the feeling of home persisted.  My new Italian friends made me feel so welcome, and I truly feel like I had an authentic Italian experience that I wouldn’t trade for the world.