By Lauren Mulvey
The shock of entering a country without knowing the language can be disorienting as a long-term visitor like many study abroad students. However, FUA-UAF has produced a solution to help students
learn to communicate in Italian through their ChatPal Program.
ChatPal pairs FUA English-speaking students with Florentine Italian-speaking residents for a weekly cultural exchange. Once paired, students and their partners organize weekly meetings on
their own schedules. Typically, students are expected to spend an hour with their ChatPal. It is expected the pairs should spend 30 minutes speaking English and 30 speaking Italian.
But many students explain that the meetings are a bit more spontaneous. Oftentimes, students will attempt Italian as the Florentines respond in English, or they split their meeting naturally
into 60% English and 40% Italian. Time spent with a ChatPal is often required for courses at FUA-AUF and allows students not only to practice their Italian, but to see Florence through the eyes of long-time locals. Students come to
ChatPal with a wide variety of Italian-speaking experience. Some are beginners like Caeley Gruhn who says the program has helped her adjust to Italian customs and practices.
“We’re working on the language but I’ve learned more about the culture,” Gruhn said. “I’ve learned things I never would have learned if I hadn’t had a ChatPal.” Arriving in Florence without any prior Italian-speaking experience, Gruhn has begun to practice ordering food in
Italian and using basic conversational phrases.
Discussions with her chat pal have helped Gruhn to understand cultural differences as well. Learning the particularities of Florentine interactions, Gruhn’s favorite new practice is saying “buon appetito” before starting a meal with friends.
Another beginner, Ivy Guan, shared that her interactions with her ChatPal in conjunction with her Italian language course have helped her to learn faster. She dreams of living in Florence as a
permanent resident and as she is already bilingual, Guan is confident she will be fluent if she keeps at it.
ChatPal also creates friendships that could extend beyond the semester’s length. Weekly meetings can be anywhere in the city, and oftentimes, Florentines have shown students the best spots to hang out with friends, grab a meal or see the most beautiful views. A friend, personal tour guide, and language exchange partner built into one, ChatPal offers students an exclusive look at Florentine life.