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22 January, 2011

Across the Sea: Bethlehem University Students Discover Italian Life and Ideas

Two Bethlehem University students set out to discover the smaller towns of Italy

ItalyRight: Manar and Daisy discovering a small town in Lecce.

Over the Christmas holidays, students Daisy Lama, who is currently majoring in Biology and Manar Shomaly, majoring in English at Bethlehem University, were hosted by two Italian families who reside in the village of Veglie, located in the Salento region of Italy; often identified on maps as the heel part of country. A graceful flat land, known for its natural beauty and abundant produce, including wine grapes and olives for oil, this area was historically invaded and built up by foreign conquerors attracted by its strategic location between Europe and the East. Many Baroque architectural delights also await visitors, carved out of the local limestone which a part of the area is famed for. This is a side of the country perhaps not as well known to most Palestinians but with much in common with Palestinian towns such as Bethlehem, as it contains many small towns in a Mediterranean climate.

ItalyRight: Daisy with her host family in Veglie

This cultural exchange, which constitutes part of a cultural bridge building initiative between Palestine and the Salento region, was facilitated by Mr. Enrico Catassi, Jerusalem representative of the Region of Tuscany (Italy), and Dr. Rino Maenza, responsible for producing Bethlehem’s Concert for Life and Peace, allowed the two students to get a taste of small town Italian life while allowing their hosts to learn about Palestinian youth and life in Palestine. Both Manar and Daisy found that little of Palestinian issues and culture were known to their hosts, which indirectly included many other students and residents. Through conversations and social interaction, Daisy and Manar were able to rectify many misunderstandings of the Palestinian situation that their hosts had, including showing them how peaceful and educated Palestinians are.

Right: Manar with her host family at a family meal.

The young ladies also noted how eager their hosts were to learn more about their country, even “printing out a Google map to understand the location of their home,” according to Manar. Daisy and Manar were also invited to speak at a conference, organized by The Association for Life and Peace and held in the city of Galatina, which centered on the Palestinian issue and informed attendees of the grim situation in Palestine and efforts being made to oppose the occupation and the segregation wall, nonviolently. The aim was to inform and also to inspire young Italians and Palestinians to engage in dialogue, understanding and resistance to the segregation and occupation imposed in the Holy Land. The conference and the two students was broadcast on RAI television and also featured in a local Italian newspaper.

ItalyDaisy, who was blessed to enjoy the hospitality of Pinuccio and Lucia and their children Simone and Elisa, enjoyed the family’s delicious cooking and warm treatment. Manar, who enjoyed her stay with Salvatore and Maria Frisenda and their two children, Alberto and Enrica, was delighted to have been treated so well. Both students felt very much at home and felt they truly experienced local Italian family life. The girls were able to see a great part of the area, visiting such small towns as Otranto and Gallipoli and cities such as Lecce and Galetina. Manar and Daisy expressed gratitude for their hosts for their generosity saying “It was great!”

After having experienced the powerful exchange of ideas and information that can take place through such a cultural exchange, Manar and Daisy believe such events can benefit both sides in order to break down false ideas and fears that keep people from knowing the each other. They encourage other students to jump at such an opportunity in order to spread the truth about Palestinian life and also to learn about people of other cultures and how they like to be treated. Such understanding helps individuals to further themselves and Palestinian institutions in the world stage while building trust between themselves, their institutions and the rest of the world. Bethlehem University seeks to always build bridges of peace and understanding so that our students can be part of a thriving and dynamic community in the world. Many thanks to our friends, particularly the Frisenda and Rienzo families, as well as Mrs. Valeria Corvino, Mr. Gigi Nestola, Mr. Bruno Ciccarese, and Mrs. Maria Roasaria de Bartolomeo for the efforts!

ItalyItalyManar and Daisy with hosts that helped make their visit possible. Also, a view of an Italian field which reminded the girls of Bethlehem.


Bethlehem University Foundation
Phone: +1-240-241-4381
Fax: +1-240-553-7691
Beltsville, MD USA
Bethlehem University in the Holy Land
Phone: +972-2-274-1241
Fax: +972-2-274-4440
Bethlehem, Palestine