When in Rome: Cultural Extractions from Local Cuisine, the Learned Experiences of Trinity University Study Abroad Students

Tisha Whitney Temple, School for International Training


This paper examines the connection between food and culture for study abroad students. In order to better prepare future students, this qualitative study discovers the sources of information that Trinity University study abroad students utilize to obtain in-depth knowledge of the connection between Italian food, culture and customs. Utilizing an experiential education framework and the phenomenological methodology, the study asked thirteen returned study abroad students how they learned about the Italian culture through their experiences with its food. After coding the significant statements in the interviews and saturating all possible categories, six major sources of information emerged: Personal observances (conclusions that could be drawn from observing the behavior of Italians); Opportunities provided by their Study Abroad program (such as living with a family, Italian roommates, classes offered, and the professional staff of the program); Food Purchases and Preparation (open-air markets, grocery stores, cook books); Food Industry (waiters/waitresses, chefs, restaurant owners, Bed and Breakfast owners); Travel (ability to observe differences in the cuisine from region to region, local specialties, food availability); and Previous Connections (Italian family heritage, pre-existing friendships with locals). Results discussed include the reasons that several students did not achieve profound learning through their experiences with food, analysis of why students did not always make the connection between food and culture, and the learning points discovered through the process. Further research into the connection between food and culture in recommended, focusing either on the impact of study abroad on students’ food choices upon return or a longitudinal study on students’ perceptions of the connection between food and culture before, during, and after study abroad.