Students can travel to Italy without leaving the 40 Acres. They will not see famous biblical figures along the Sistine Chapel or toss a coin in the Trevi Fountain, but anyone interested in speaking only Italian for an hour can join Tavola Italiana, which meets every Friday at the Cactus Cafe.
Tavola Italiana is open to all members of the UT and Austin community. In order to practice their Italian fluency, attendees talk about politics, different flavors of gelato and Italian architecture.
Antonella Del Fattore-Olson, an Italian senior lecturer from Rome, said the meeting is only one part of the Italian club. She has worked with the Italian club since 1984.
“The club has not changed,” Fattore-Olson said. “That’s the beauty of it. It has the same spirit.”
Fattore-Olson said she and other members of Tavola collaborate with Italians living in Austin to educate the community about Italian culture. Last year, Tavola worked with Lucky’s Puccias & Pizzeria, an Italian restaurant in downtown Austin dedicated to creating Puccias, authentic regional Italian sandwiches.
“We like to be to an active community,” Fattore-Olson said. “It strengthens our bond.”
While working for Fattore-Olson as a teaching assistant, Elisa Valentini, Italian studies graduate student, learned about the weekly meetings. She said she loves the club because she thinks it is a valuable place for students to practice toward fluency.
“We are in a bar during Tavola,” Valentini said. “It helps students feel comfortable, and every student is represented. Students that come to the Tavola see how a community works and what it means to be a community. It’s super relevant.”
Computer science sophomore Ginevra Gaudioso transferred from Bologna, Italy, and said she attended Tavola because it helped her meet native Italians.
“There’s a huge community of us,” Gaudioso said. “We like to stick together. We have this diversity and we are all connected because we are all having the same experience abroad. We can share our origin and our culture.”
Gaudioso is now the vice president of Tavola. She said learning a language is difficult, but Tavola is a safe learning environment.
“I like seeing students learn Italian,” Gaudioso said. “I like to see how they study and how they learn. I like to give them the possibility.”
Juhie Modi, former Texan staffer and political communications and Italian senior, never thought she would study Italian. Modi said she was not interested in learning Italian until she was required by the University to take a foreign language. She said she took an Italian course because of her love for Italian food.
“It’s intimidating to start a language,” Modi said. “The nice thing about Tavola is everyone is understanding of that because we are patient and learning with each other.”
Modi also said people need to be a little selfish when learning a language.
“If learning a language makes you happy, you have to make the time to do it,” Modi said.