I get excited for my students, or any student, who has and takes the opportunity to travel and study abroad. What better way to open yourself to different cultures and new experiences. When I think about traveling, it reminds me of a quote by Anthony Bourdain (1956-2018) who said, “I think food, culture, people and landscape are all absolutely inseparable.” Those words are so true! Through my partnership with SAI, I have had the opportunity to be involved in a study abroad course, every May, since 2013 titled “Florence, Italy: Culture and Cuisine.”
For two weeks students are exposed to the Italian culture through foods produced on the different Italian landscapes such as balsamic vinegar from Modena, olive oil and wines from Tuscan vineyards, the making of Parmigiano Reggiano cheese in the Emilia
Romagna Region, and Mediterranean cooking using all fresh produce and local food products. The students return home excited about their newly found appreciation for the fresh and local foods produced in Italy and the quality and simplicity of the ingredients.
Many of the students want to continue some of their newly learned Italian food and cultural practices once they return home. They talk about their new appreciation of food and what it symbolizes for Italians. So, this started me thinking. Knowing that food plays a significant role in the experience of the traveler, how does the food culture impact students’ study abroad experiences and more specifically, the Italian food culture? There have been numerous studies on international students’ acculturation to the American diet and food culture and the impact that culture has on international students’ experiences in the U.S. However, only a few studies could be found investigating the connection and impact on U.S. students’ study abroad experiences based on the degree to which they acculturate to another country’s food culture. Being awarded the SAI Faculty Fellow, provided me the opportunity to stay in Florence for 1 month and investigate.
So, along with several colleagues, I developed a research project to answer the questions of
1) Does the degree of U.S. Students’ acculturation to the Italian food culture influence their study abroad experiences? and
2) Which socio-ecological levels do U.S. students rely on in adjusting to the Italian food
In a collaboration with SAI staff, two focus group discussions, with students studying abroad at Florence University of the Arts, were conducted. Questions on Italian food culture regarding eating out, grocery shopping, and cooking at home were discussed along with what students enjoyed about the Italian food culture and what, if any, part of the food culture they thought they would practice once back home? All the discussions were audio recorded and will be transcribed, analyzed, and reported in spring, 2023. I think we will find some interesting results which will help equip us (researchers, teachers, and those individuals involved in study abroad programs) in providing students a more in-depth understanding and appreciation of the Italian food culture and all it has to offer in enriching their study abroad experiences. And remember, no ordering a cappuccino after 11:00 a.m. and please, do not ask for Ranch salad dressing.
However, enjoy a relaxing afternoon aperitivo with friends and you must try the pistachio gelato! Buon Appetito!
This blog was written by Laurel Lambert PhD, RD, an Associate Professor in the Department of Nutrition & Hospitality Management at the University of Mississippi.