The majority of our students live with an Italian host family, an experience that offers linguistic and cultural benefits throughout their stay in Florence. The combination of formal Italian lessons and home-based language practice with native speakers has proven to be an authentic, effective means of learning a language. Moreover, being part of a family means participating directly in Italian daily life—the best way to gain insights into and integrate fully with a culture. Students themselves repeatedly describe the host family experience as the best part of the abroad experience. As one student put it: “Ten years from now I may not recall the significance of the Brancacci chapel, but I’ll never forget how my Italian mother threw the pasta in the pot each night!”
Matching Students with Local Hosts
Your host family will greatly influence your view of Italian life, people and culture. Therefore, using the information from your housing application, the housing office chooses a family that is compatible with your needs. Host families are carefully screened by our Housing Office. They come from all walks of life and professions, and many have hosted Syracuse students for years.
Location of Host Families
Most students would prefer to live near our center, and we try to accommodate this request if possible. Unfortunately, not all host families are within walking distance, but there are easily accessible public buses that run through the entire city.
The Italian Family Today
Often students have already formulated expectations about Italian families, whether consciously or unconsciously, perhaps based on their friends’ experiences or on their own Italian-American backgrounds. The Italy they encounter upon arrival can be quite surprising.
Just as American society changed drastically during the 1960s and 70s, Italian society, too, has seen major social changes over the past few decades, changes that brought both advantages and problems. The increase in women working outside the home, the number of young people who seek higher education, and the legalization of divorce have all caused profound changes within the family structure. Yet family values are still the focus of Italian society, and the Italian family has remained a very close social unit. Whether married, single or divorced, all Italians tend to maintain very strong links with their parents, adult children, and other relatives. Often generations share housing; grown children or elderly parents may live with your hosts. Even if they do not share a home, extended families may eat lunch (pranzo) and/or dinner (cena) together every day. Elderly parents are respected and looked after, sometimes on a daily basis, whether they live at home with their children or independently.
The Italian Mother
Although roles have changed for women in Italy, the mother remains the dominant figure in the Italian home. She typically runs every aspect of domestic life, and you may see her helping her family in ways you consider excessive or unnecessary. To American eyes, it may seem that Italian mothers spoil their children and husbands, or sacrifice too much to please every member of the family. Especially if the mother also works outside the home, the Italian family dynamic can seem unfair and unbalanced. However, Italians themselves believe that it is the mother who keeps the family together, who creates and maintains the familial links, who is the bond that unifies all members. She, in turn, knows she can depend on the rest of her family in her time of need. Generally speaking, the role of mother and home maker is a much respected position in Italian society.
Italians have certain taboos when it comes to food combinations and eating certain things at the appropriate time. Cappuccino is considered a breakfast drink and is not appropriate after lunch or dinner. Instead, caffe’ can be ordered anytime of the day. Italians drink water and wine at meals. If they have pizza, they will drink soft drinks or beer. It is considered polite to always keep both hands on the table and never on your lap.
Italian Dress Code
Italians are proud of their clothing styles and traditions. Dressing appropriately in Italy is important and will impact how you are perceived by Italians. Italians dress according to the seasons and rarely deviate from seasonally-appropriate attire. In general, they tend to wear warmer clothes than their American counterparts and may worry about you getting a frescata (“catching a chill”) if you do not sufficiently cover yourself in the winter or when the seasons change. Florentines also tend to wear classic styles, preferring basic colors such as black, beige, and white and dress elegantly in the city. Flip flops are for summer holidays at the beach and sweatpants are for the gym.