Un buongiorno a tutti di voi! This weekend was different than any other yet. We went traveling in the north of the country — one day in Verona, one in Milan and, while my friends went to Torino, I visited our family’s hometown of Cuggiono.

Italy has a stellar train system and we took advantage of it. We left Rome on Thursday night and rode a six-hour overnight train to Verona. When we got there in the morning, we checked into our bed and breakfast, which was like something out of a storybook.

Our bedroom could not have been any cuter. The walls were pink with decals of birdcages, and there were bright red flowers hanging on the canopy over one bed. There was classic-looking dark wood furniture and all of the accent colors were red with old books and tapestry pillows. The owners were Italian and around our age, and they were so kind.

Our day in Verona was so fantastic. We walked toward the city center. We  saw a Christmas tree being put up in a town circle.

Then, on Sunday, while my friends went to Torino, I went to Cuggiono.  A contact we had there came and picked me up at the train station, and I was welcomed with open arms. First, we went to Cuggiono’s History Migration Center, home to the association of which my new friend is a board member. It’s a meeting place, museum and memorial of all those who immigrated to the U.S., particularly to Herrin and St. Louis.

After, he took me on a tour of Cuggiono and I saw the adorable town. Then he brought me to their house for a home-cooked lunch with him, his wife, their son and the son’s girlfriend.

Speaking in Italian, getting to know my new Italian friends was just too phenomenal for words. The son and his girlfriend even invited me to come with them and their friends to the Festival of San Martino in the afternoon, which was so much fun.

Afterward, I got to meet a member of my family. I met one of my distant cousins in the Cairati family and she was beyond kind to me. She showed me my great-great-grandmother’s old house, her church and the surrounding town, proudly introducing me to everyone we met as “la mia cuginetta.”

She even took me back to her house to meet her husband, and we ate her homemade apple cake. It truly was like we were long lost friends finally reunited, and it gave me a true notion of what family is, reminding me of my mom back home.

Everyone in Cuggiono was so incredibly hospitable to me. I can never thank them enough. I can’t wait to go back and visit again and keep in touch with my cousin. There’s something about seeing where your roots come from and meeting family in the homeland; it’s an experience unlike any other. It helps you know yourself better and it makes the idea of family all the more special.

LACIE GOFF is the daughter of Janice Gualdoni and the granddaughter of Louie and Beauella Gualdoni, all of Herrin. Lacie is a junior at California Lutheran University in Los Angeles, majoring in communication and journalism. She is spending this semester in Rome, studying Italian, history and art history.

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