You can build relationships anywhere and that’s exactly what Joanna Lingenfelter found in a little panino shop in Reggio Emilia, Italy.
On a day-trip to Reggio Emilia in December, I ran into a small Panino store to grab something quick for lunch before going to the train station. It was a cute little place with a nice window where all the meats, cheeses, and sauces were displayed and neatly labeled. Although my Italian was pretty good at the time, I still didn’t know the names for many of the different preparations of meat, so it was helpful to be able to see everything. With so many choices, though, I was still having trouble deciding. Luckily the lady working behind the counter was really nice and helped me choose something. It was a very fast interaction that resulted in a really great panino, and I left for the train station with a very happy tummy.
Now, fast-forward to January when all of the students in the spring session arrived in Reggio. On our first full day in the city, I was exploring with a group of fifteen-or-so students when somebody wanted to stop for lunch. The panino place came to mind, so I led this group of fifteen or so American students there. I walked in, and the lady whose name I later learned is Jessica, said to me in Italian, “It’s my friend.” It made me smile that she remembered me from our 3-minute interaction a month earlier. I had spoken to Jessica in Italian when I had been there the other time, and I learned this time, when I was accompanied by a group of fifteen Americans, that she didn’t speak any English (but she does speak Spanish), so I helped everybody order and/or ask for suggestions based on things that they liked. Many were a little intimidated by the number of choices like I was the first time and just decided to copy me; “Arrosto in Salsa Genovese” (roasted pork with basil sauce) became a famous panino among our session of USAC Reggio students that day. In the end, everybody left happy and raving about how good the paninos were.
Throughout the semester, I ate at the little panino store, which is called “Un Panino Diverso” almost daily. It was always so good and convenient on my walk into town from my host mom’s house. I also really enjoyed talking to Jessica about school and how my study abroad experience was going. With our conversations, I would always get my same panino, but Jessica was having none of that boringness. She was always trying to get me to try new things. She would give me samples and ask me every day if we could try something new. Finally I gave in, and it was only then that I realized that Jessica is a wizard at making sandwiches; she really knows how to make an excellent panino. A note to future Reggio students, although “Arrosto in Salsa Genovese” is delicious, trust Jessica’s panino powers and try new things. She knows what she’s doing and will never fail to take excellent care of students’ lunchtime hunger problem and give them a new favorite panino.
Despite the language barrier, many other students built a strong relationship with Jessica throughout the semester as well. In fact, by the end of our time in Reggio, Jessica knew most of us by name and what kind of paninos we liked. She always tried so hard to communicate with everybody regardless of their language ability, and as everybody learned more Italian, they were able to communicate more with her and tell her about basic things going on in their lives. So many of us were close to her at the end of the semester that she and her family had a goodbye barbecue at her house for us on a beautiful day in May. It was a wonderful day full of excellent food, soccer, and watching her adorable six-year-old son break-dance for us.
This is all to tell future USAC Reggio Emilia students that Jessica, her husband Davide, and “Un Panino Diverso” took good care of us in the Spring 2015 session, and we genuinely want future students to know that they are there for you too. There’s a lot of pressure on students to be adventurous for the entirety their study abroad experience and to spend all of their time and money trying new things, but building relationships and having at least a little bit of consistency is definitely important too. For that consistency in their home-base that still allows for a little bit of adventure, Jessica and Davide are there to make Reggio students “un panino diverso” (a different panino) every time they go into their store. They are there to feed students well, help them practice their Italian, and to be their ever-so-nice sandwich friends throughout their time in Reggio. Jessica and Davide will definitely be what I miss most from my time in Italy, and I hope that they can be that for future students as well.
Check out our Italian programs and see where you might find your newest friends abroad or maybe a new favorite sandwich!