Catherine Slabaugh, Richmond The American International University in Florence
Back in October, I spent about 48 hours with distant Italian relatives of my deceased grandmother in Lanzo, Italy, her hometown. Three years ago, my great-aunt connected with this family through genealogy research and they insisted I come stay with them while studying in Italy. Despite having few expectations and not really knowing the family, I was blown away with the amount of love, care, and hospitality they showed me. They greeted me with warm hugs and bright smiles and spent two days gathering family members, showing me their town, and ensuring I felt at home. But there’s more to this story than just a weekend with family. I knew when selecting a study abroad program that I would likely spend the last of the money my grandparents graciously left me for college, so I wanted to choose wisely. Their love for Italy and my deep desire to know more about my family’s culture led me to Florence. I made a conscious decision at the beginning of my program that I wanted to have an authentic experience here, immersing myself in the Italian culture and way of life. I have visited over 20 Italian cities all over the country, held an internship with an Italian company, volunteered serving those who need an extra meal, and lived alongside an Italian family for three months. So why did I study abroad this way? When visiting my Italian relatives, I had an epiphany. I realized that deep down, I would’ve wanted my grandparents to be proud of my time here in Italy and proud that I’d experienced so much of a country they loved. Spending the weekend in my grandmother’s hometown and being amongst family members sharing distant memories of her, my time here felt complete. I know I’m making my grandmother proud and that she’s looking down on me with love in her heart for Italy and for my experiences here. I am eternally grateful for the legacy my grandparents left and now I can truly carry their love of Italy with me as I grow up.
This man is the husband of my grandmothers third cousin. Although he had never met me or my grandmother and likely didn’t know who I was, he took his entire Sunday morning to walk me around Lanzo and share with me extensive details on the history of the town and introduce me to a few locals.
Me in beautiful Lanzo
The last picture taken of my grandmother and I before she passed away.
Standing next to two of my grandmothers second and third cousins as they show me around the nature reserve in Lanzo. Clearly not a good photo, but a memory I’ll hold on to