[Author’s note: Gemellagio is a beautiful Italian word that really has no English language equivalent word or phrase. Like “simpatico”, it doesn’t translate well into English. Clumsy interpretations like “twinning” or “twinship” fail to convey what a beautiful thing it is to be a sister city. Let’s just stick with “Gemellaggio”.]
International travel is a growth experience so it is not surprising that the students would return more mature and more self confident. It is, however, much more than the travel experience that changes the students. Making close new friends in a different culture on another continent gives these young people a new perspective of the world and their place in it. Living with a family that welcomes them as their own is an experience that most young travelers are not able to embrace and learn from. Spending time in a city that has special ties to their own gives them an opportunity to sense that they belong in place they have never even seen before.
Living in Alba or just visiting the city gives everyone an opportunity to experience a different culture and a different lifestyle. Very few return to Medford without bringing some of that into their own lives whether it is a healthier diet, an appreciation of Italian music or a love of fine wine. Many acquire new language skills that can influence the way they think and even how they relate to others.
Enjoying friendships in our sister city ties us emotionally to what is happening the other side of the globe. We share triumphs and tragedies, both personal and collective, with our sister city friends. We watch international news with an eye toward how our friends are impacted by world events. When a severe quake hits northern Italy we almost feel its effects and are soon in touch with our friends in Alba. When the horror of September 11, 2001 echoed around the world, hearing from our friends in Alba was comforting and fortifying.
A book could be written about the all the personal stories of how lives have been changed by having been connected with Alba. Here are a few chapters that just one family could write.
Via John Snider in his memory.
In 1971 John Snider’s younger son Doug was a Naval Flight Officer serving in southeast Asia during the Vietnam war. He had been away from anything related to architecture during his naval service and was uncertain about entering his chosen profession after almost five years of unrelated military service. He had been connected with the sister city program since 1960 when his father helped get the relationship started. He already had dear friends in Alba including Pino Dutto who was more like a brother than a friend. Snider thought that breaking into architecture in Italy might be a way of starting his chosen career on a non-committal trial basis and an opportunity to see parts of the world the Navy hadn’t shown him.
While awaiting to return home from his final overseas deployment, Snider contacted Pino who made arrangements for him to have a work experience in Italy. Pino’s cousin Gianni Toppino and his wife Pina had a friend in Torino, Andrea Bruno, who was a very well know architect. He invited Doug to work in his studio for several months and housed him for several weeks until he found an apartment. Another good friend, architect Valerio Demaria, invited Doug to work in his studio in Alba. Valerio had visited Medford with a group in 1964 . His brother Enrico was Alba’s second ambassador to Medford and a very dear friend of the Snider family. The experience in both firms convinced him to pursue the profession he had studied. A few weeks after returning to Medford, Snider attended a picnic welcoming Gianni and Pina Toppino who were visiting Medford. He sat at a table with two complete strangers, Jeff Shute and Jerry Hunter, partners in a Medford architectural firm. They offered him a job on the spot and he has been working ever since. He has operated his own firm in Medford for over twenty years.
Ryan and his wife Jaime just celebrated their eighth wedding anniversary. In 1997 they were total strangers even though they lived only a half mile apart. Ryan attended St. Mary’s School and Jaime was a student at South Medford High School. They met while participating in the Medford-Alba student exchange and years later reconnected. Comparing their life experiences over an internet social network, they quickly realized that they had experienced Alba together several years before. Perhaps Alba cannot take full credit for the romance that followed but their experience in Alba was the life changing event that first brought them together. Their sons Zack and Josh are already learning Italian and will no doubt someday have their lives changed in Alba.
Doug and Carol Snider’s youngest son Sean first visited Alba in 1994 with his family. Although he was only eight at the time, he embraced the experience. He knew only a few Italian words but didn’t let that stop him from striking up conversations with his peers in Alba. On one occasion, he approached the service counter in a coffee bar while his parents were visiting at a table with a friend. Sean confidently placed an order although he had no money nor enough Italian to make himself understood. In 2003 during his junior year of high school, he returned to Alba with the student exchange. His fellow student ambassadors relied on Sean to interpret for them when an Italian host student was not available.