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Making Friends While Studying Abroad: Connecting Over Dinner

November 22, 2023
by McKenna Yates

How Family Dinners Became the Best Way to Make New Friends Abroad in Italy 

When I applied to my study abroad program in Florence, Italy, I didn’t know anyone from my school also studying there. I consider myself an outgoing, friendly person, but I still worried that I’d struggle to make friends in my new city. But the thought of not making any friends was gone almost immediately after arriving in Florence, because I got introduced to the Italian customs of inviting and sharing.  

a candle and food platter on a set table
As the sun sets, the table is lit by candlelight and we enjoy our aperitivos outside.

Aperitivos and Invitations Under Candlelight – It's the Italian Way 

Since living here, I’ve learned that some of the most important values in Italian culture are to share and gather. Italians use food as a means to do both of these things! Food is a crucial element in families, friendships, and any relationship that’s valuable to a person in this country. It allows people to interact with one another while gathering, preparing, serving, and enjoying a meal. We often utilized our shared space at our CEA CAPA apartment and spent evenings eating together outside. 

Balcony view of Italian street and courtyard
The view from our upstairs window as we prepared to host our first family dinner.


Family dinners begin with “aperitivos” which are an Italian custom where people gather for a drink and a light snack of sorts before eating a meal. It’s a time of slowing down, connecting with one another, and enjoying the company of friends (with a good bite to eat!). We play some tunes and allow the energy to flow as the sun begins to set. Once the snack tray (usually a mixture of cheese, bread, olive oil, and cold cuts) is empty, we move on to dinner.

a person cooking over a stove
Sid helps prepare the pasta sauce for our main course for family dinner.

We tend to make lots of pasta and have many sides. The night continues at the table lit by a candle, and dessert follows later. The first dessert we made for family dinner was panna cotta! The key to all of this is slowing down; there’s no rush, just allowing one another to be present. 

a person pouring mixture into baking trays
We tried this delicious cream-based dessert at our CEA CAPA welcome dinner and wanted to make some for ourselves. 


Our Italian professor for the Food, Culture, and Lifestyle Under the Tuscan Sky course informed us that by welcoming people into their homes for a meal is the Italian way of becoming real friends. You’re not truly friends with someone until you have shared a meal in their home. We borrowed silverware and dishes from our neighbors to make sure everyone has a seat at the table. 

a person setting a table
Jack sets the table for our second family dinner that we hosted.

My flatmates and fellow CEA CAPA students from next door started making “family dinners” as a means to connect with one another on a deeper level and create a space for genuine connection. Since none of us really knew each other yet, it was a wonderful way to start to make new friends while studying abroad

two people walk downhill in a busy Italian street
Enjoying the atmosphere of Riomaggiore on our first night in Cinque Terre as we searched for a place to eat dinner together.

We hosted family dinners outside together, and they became our favorite parts of the week. Then we invited more friends over for dinner and now they’re a tradition. Everyone brings a piece of the meal to share, whether it be a loaf of bread, a pasta dish, gelato for dessert, or simply extra forks.  

two people walking along a small European street
Wandering the streets of Sarzana together, searching for the fort we'd later explore.

These family dinners brought us all closer together and allowed around ten of us to regularly host meals with one another. Because of this, we traveled together and pursued closer friendships outside of the classroom. Friends we made through our family dinners planned a trip to a coastal city called Castiglioncello. 

a group of people under umbrellas at the beach
We spent the day at the beach together and shared more food in one another's company.

I’m so grateful for the gift of sharing and inviting others to our table! 

McKenna Yates is the Content Creator - Photographer in Florence, Italy, and is currently studying at University of Colorado Boulder.
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