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Soul Searching in Italy: How Americans Are Reconnecting with Their Roots

By Brynna Rao from Gap Year Association

If your grandmother ever scolded you with a spirited “Mangia!” from across the dinner table, you likely inherited more than just a love for pasta—you inherited a beckoning call to explore your ancestral culture in Italy.

Back in the early 1900s, a staggering four million Italians immigrated to the United States. Today, a remarkable reversal is underway. Americans of all ages are taking flight over the Atlantic in search of connection, identity, and a slice of ‘la dolce vita’.

But this phenomenon isn’t merely about indulging in savory pasta alla carbonara in Rome or diving into the turquoise blue grottos of Sicily. It’s a profound journey of rediscovery—a rekindling of familial ties, cultural heritage, and personal narratives.

Gino De Simone, a second-generation Italian-American from Greater Boston, reflects, “Napoli represents more than just a city to me; it is a gateway to my roots—a place where I am planning to return for an extended period to fully embrace my heritage and immerse myself in Italian culture…to live like a true Italian.”

Gino De Simone (right) in Italy

For working professionals, retirees, students, and those navigating life transitions, the appeal of living in Italy for several months has become the new American dream. At the forefront of this movement is Italian for a While (IFA), a pioneering program that offers more than just language learning—it’s a gateway to living ‘la vita Italia’.

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“As an IFA student in Florence, I attend classes in the morning and spend the rest of the day working remotely or sipping coffee at my favorite spot,” says Michael Barca, a 30-year-old teacher.

Michael Barca growing up

Michael is taking full advantage of his sabbatical abroad and went on to express, “I have learned so much about the Italian language, and it has opened a new perspective on my cultural heritage.”

Structured around language classes at accredited universities, cultural immersion, and forging new international friendships, Italian for a While’s programs offer one week to 12-month experiences across 10 iconic Italian cities, including Florence, Rome, and Venice. Their flagship program is the 12-month IFA Gap Year, where adults, students, and retirees alike immerse in the Italian lifestyle, enjoying accommodation options ranging from private apartments to shared living spaces and homestays with local families.

For Brian Viola, CEO and Founder of Italian for a While, the origin story of IFA is a personal one: “Founding IFA was driven by the desire to help others feel a transformative connection to my home country—just as I’ve experienced across the world in my own travels,” he went on to say, “Our goal at ‘Italian for a While’ is to provide support to anyone wishing to immerse themselves in Italian culture, especially those of Italian descent.”

As Americans flock to Italian borders in search of renewed connections, one thing becomes clear: the allure of Italy isn’t confined to its landscapes or landmarks—it’s found in the echoes of history, the whispers of ancestry, and the timeless memory of your grandmother’s voice ringing out, “Mangia!” over the aroma of fresh tomato sauce and penne pasta.

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