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Exploring the food system in Italy by Ka Hing Choi, Food Science major

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Posted: January 26, 2016

I will never forget about this trip because I got to meet so many amazing people. Many of them have affected the way I see things. I have learned the importance of learning more languages and also the importance of higher education.
Left-Me inside the Palazzo Reale, Right-Making Tortellini in Bologna

Left-Me inside the Palazzo Reale, Right-Making Tortellini in Bologna

First, let me begin this travelogue by introducing myself. My name is Ka Hing Choi and I was born and raised in Hong Kong. I came to the United States about four years ago to pursue my bachelor’s degree, and currently I am majoring in food science at Penn State. I have switched my major so many times since I got into college because I did not know what I wanted to pursue in my future -- all I knew was that I got a strong passion in food. Therefore, I picked food science as my major at Penn state two years ago when I applied to Penn State as a transfer student.

Last summer, I got an email from the student programs assistant at our food science department and it was about a food science course that would be offered during spring 2015. This course caught my attention because it was an embedded study tour that focused on food production in northern Italy and the class would travel as a group to Italy during the spring break. Ever since I was little, I always loved to travel to different countries to explore different cultures. I had traveled to Italy two years ago with my sister and after that trip, I always wanted to go back and explore different parts of this beautiful country, and enjoy the delicious cuisine. When I got this email, I thought this would be a great opportunity for me to learn more about the food production system in Italy while exploring the parts of Italy that I have not been to before. Therefore, I immediately signed up for the class, and hoping that I could get into the class.

Around January, I got notified by the professor that I got accepted into this class. I was really excited because I knew that traveling as a class would be so different than traveling on my own; I would get to visit places that usually do not accept visitors. Our class met up for a couple of times before our departure to Italy, and we got to know about the itinerary and learned some basic Italian words. Also, we got to work in groups with other people in the class and found out more information about the companies that we were planning to visit. This was a great idea, because we got to plan ahead on what types of questions we could ask during our visits.

Finally, spring break had come and we finally got to visit Italy! The three cities that we travelled to included Bologna, Parma and Torino. Bologna was the first stop of our trip, this city is famous for its tortellini and Bolognese sauce. Upon our arrival, we went to have a group lunch at a local restaurant then we headed to a place and learned how to use fresh pasta dough to make tortellini and also pasta of different shapes. This was a really fun experience because we all got to make tortellini and we had that for our dinner. The next day was Sunday, therefore we got a free day to explore the beautiful city. Bologna is a small college town and therefore, it was really easy to walk to everywhere we wanted to go. I had been to Bologna two years ago and I was so excited to be back to this city. I took my best friend to go to places that I went two years ago and I am so glad that she liked the city too! During the following week, our class visited facilities that manufacture Salumi, Balsamic Vinegar of Modena, Parmigiano Reggiano, Parma ham, Barilla pasta, Barolo wine, Ferrero Rocher, Gorgonzola cheese.

I really loved all these visits, because I got to see how the products were made and this was a really eye-opening experience for me. Among all these visits, I especially enjoyed the Barilla pasta and Ferrero Rocher plants. This could be due to the fact that I have known these companies and their products ever since I was a kid, and it was so hard to believe that I could go into the facilities and saw all those amazing machines and try the fresh products that were moving on the production line. During the visit at Ferrero Rocher, there were some people who have already retired from the company who came back just to give us a tour around different facilities. They were so knowledgeable about the products and the technologies because some of them were involved in developing them years ago, and I could deeply feel that they are so passionate about the company even though they were retired for more than ten years. From them, I learned that it is really important to follow your heart and do what makes you happy in your life, since you only live once. Also, I have learned that I should not be shy of asking questions, because most people are very willing to answer questions from others. And asking questions is a part of learning; it is always good to be curious about everything.

Overall, this trip was really enlightening and memorable. I will never forget about this trip because I got to meet so many amazing people during this trip. Many of them have affected the way I see things. I remember one night my friend and I went into a local restaurant, and during the dinner we started talking to people who sat next to us. One of them was from France and the other one was from Belgium. Through this conversation, I have learned the importance of learning more languages and also the importance of higher education. Knowing more languages allow you to interact with people from all over the world and learn about their cultures, and it is really fun to exchange ideas with people from different backgrounds. After this trip, I am planning on learning Italian in this coming summer. After mastering Italian, I hope that I can also learn other languages such as German and French. I think knowing more languages will definitely benefit my future career because I have always wanted to open up a fusion restaurant in the future. If I could speak Italian, German or French, I could go to these countries and learn how to make the authentic traditional dishes from these countries and share them with the rest of the world.