from the department of communication, harding university

Learning at HUF starts with a cappuccino
Written by Abby J Kellett   
Sunday, 21 March 2010 22:25

Harding University in Florence is actually located just outside the epic Florentine city in a small town called Scandicci. Named after a certain type of rock first noted in that area of Tuscany, Scandicci has a town square that hosts a large orange library, more than a few shops, and Mario’s.

Mario’s is a small café located on the corner of Via Raffaello Paoli and Piazza Giacomo Matteotti and is where, many say, the magic of HUF begins. After all, one of the unique elements about studying abroad is the opportunity to apply classroom lessons to practical life experiences.


“I learned more from getting out and actually using everything after class,” sophomore HUF student Chase Gentry said. “Usually (the professors) help you out, and you learn how to use it in the context.”


Gentry is among the hundreds of students to use his first Italian phrase at Mario’s.


“Vorre un cappuccino,” meaning, “I would like a cappuccino,” is the sentence taught by one of the HUF professors to students as they sit in the Villa’s classroom built in the 1400s. Soon after, the students are led to the town square and across the street to Mario’s café where they repeat this sentence.


For most of them, it's their very first interaction with Italian culture.


From behind the counter, Mario is the epitome of how one would expect the owner of a successful Italian café to appear. Married in his early twenties, he has run this café with his wife by his side for decades, and you can taste his experience in his frothy cappuccinos.


For Mario, HUF has become a part of his shop.


“It is so special to see (the students) come in, and they look around, and for the very first time, they speak Italian,” Mario said with a smile. “Vorre un cappuccino.”


HUF has done business with Mario’s for years, and the café is something former HUF students say they cherish in their memories of studying abroad. Many relate this café to the place where the beginning of their cultural growth began.


“You know, you order a cappuccino there, and it’s your first Italian interaction. From that moment on, you know how to act and what to expect in a café,” former HUF student Brad Grant said. “Then when you get home and you think back to where all your growth and experience came from, you start with Mario’s.”


Mario says he agrees.


“They walk in, and at first, it is just ‘I would like a cappuccino please.’ Then the next month, maybe a couple months later, they come in, and we have a whole conversation. It is a very beautiful, beautiful thing,” Mario said.


The small shop prominently displays freshly baked pastries glowing from behind glass showcases. Next to that, employees smartly dressed in uniforms rush about from behind the polished marble bar to make rich lattes, espressos and cappuccinos, filling the air with the aroma of an Italian morning.


While students try to order, locals bustle in and out rushing to get their shots of caffeine before they start their day. All of this adds to the experience.


“Mario’s is very social; it’s like a social hub,” HUF student Gina German said. “It always seems to be the place where people go.”


Mario’s is certainly a significant part of the HUF experience, and for Mario and his wife, after all these years they say this is the way they hope it remains.


“The (HUF) students are so special. Yes, it is traumatic when they leave, but I cannot imagine what life would be like without them,” he said.

Left: A map of directions to Mario's cafe. Click photo for larger image.


To read more from Abby Kellett, read her blog.

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