By Kourtney Schott (’18)
Fifty years of passionate students; fifty years of incredible study-abroad adventures; fifty years of enriching interactions and relationships.
For half a century, Gonzaga-in-Florence has been connecting Gonzaga students to experiences that cannot be replicated. Besides the art, the food, the drink and the shopping, the temporary residence of choice makes a meaningful impact on study abroad students. While some Zags choose to do home-stays in Italian residences, many stay in a pensione – an Italian boarding house. These are frequently family-owned and offer a couple meals as well as safe living spaces for study abroad students. One family responsible for putting a pensione roof above the heads of hundreds of GIF students over the years is the Gelli family.
On his study abroad trip to Florence in 1979-80, ’81 Timothy Hogan had no idea that he would develop a home away from home in Pensione Casci, a two-star hotel owned and operated by Orlando and Bruna Gelli. As Hogan reflects, “I recall my initial reaction being one of dread as I entered the dark foyer with the grand staircase leading up to the labyrinthine hallways, nooks and crannies of the old building.” This first reaction did not endure though – Orlando, Bruna, their 15-year old daughter Manola and 9-year-old son Luca all appeared and welcomed the students as if they were family.
As the semester progressed, lifelong memories were made around the breakfast and lunch tables, as the Gelli family graciously provided the first two hearty meals of the day. Breakfasts were traditional bread and jam with coffee and milk, and a favorite treat at lunch was Italian bread drizzled with olive oil and a pinch of salt. Not all pensiones are family-owned nor are they tended to as caringly as the Gelli’s establishment. Timothy recalls that while he and his fellow peers staying in Pensione Casci had plenty of good, wholesome food to eat, friends in other pensiones were left hungry. He considers himself quite lucky for having landed by chance with the Gelli family.
Though homestays are traditionally considered the most immersive and culturally diverse study abroad program, Hogan and others who have stayed with the Gelli family counter that staying in a pensione is not an alternative to a homestay. Those fortunate enough to reside in a family-owned pensione experience the Italian culture just as richly as if they had been with an individual family.
With Pensione Casci being such a large space, it was often difficult for the Gelli family to locate a student if there was a call for him or her on the main phone. An in/out board was created, and students had tags they would display that said either “here” or “not here.”
An Enduring Warmth
Hogan kept his passion of travel and appreciation of other cultures alive through many trips over the years, 17 of which included returning to Florence. And as accepting as they had been from the moment he met them, the Gelli family still welcomes Hogan to join them for at least one family meal when he is in Italy.
“They are without doubt ‘mia famiglia Italiana.’”
Tim Hogan (’81)
Though the family no longer owns Pensione Casci today, they have had multiple pensione locations over several decades. Generations of Gellis have opened their arms and their hearts to the traveling students of Gonzaga. The family hotel in more recent years has been managed by Orlando and Bruna’s daughter, Manola, and her partner, Matthew Bates; these two are the primary caretakers of Hotel Nazionale in Florence. From a young girl helping prepare lunches to a grown woman full of hospitality, Manola is the essence of a nurturing mother to the Gonzaga students in her care. She and Matt have continued to create an atmosphere of warmth, just as Manola’s parents had done years before them.
Manola herself has become an extremely impactful figure to those who have studied at GIF. When she and Matt were invited to attend Gonzaga’s 2015 graduation, they stayed in Seattle with Hogan. As they strolled down to the busy Broadway district, a woman on the street passed by and stopped them with a single question: “Manola?” Amazingly, after over 30 years, there was a long lost connection that remained strong.
For Future Generations
Regardless of the degree being pursued, students who study abroad cannot deny the value of living in and experiencing another culture so different from their own. The real heart of study abroad, though, is creating memories with genuine people who make a foreign place feel like home, just as the Gelli family has done for almost 40 years. To give other Gonzaga students a chance to partake in these life-shaping adventures, Hogan has established the Gelli Family Gonzaga-in-Florence Scholarship fund. Besides giving students a chance to have a life-changing experience studying in Florence, he wishes to “establish an enduring tribute to the family that was so instrumental in making my personal experience so incredibly impactful.” Every student deserves an opportunity to immerse themselves in a place outside of their own cultural borders – and every student deserves an opportunity to feel at home while doing it. The Gelli Family Gonzaga-in-Florence Scholarship is able to alleviate the financial worries of students and parents while honoring the very foundation of the scholarship’s creation.
It is undeniable that the passion for study abroad is contagious; when financial need is provided for, one cannot simply turn down the opportunity of studying abroad. The Gelli Family GIF Scholarship opens a world of possibilities for Gonzaga students. To preserve it for years to come – both for the sake of students and gracious hosts, like the Gelli family, donate to the Gelli Family GIF Scholarship fund at gonzagawill.com/giveonline. Simply select “I’d like to choose my Gonzaga Will Campaign Priority” and then copy and paste “Gelli Family GIF Scholarship fund” into the “Fund Not Listed” box.