Photo by Collin Richie

As the Romans do: Italian speakers meet to say ciao

When Kelli O’Neill decided to submit her college application—then just 15 credits deep—to the American University of Rome, she intended to stay for only one semester. But after falling in love with the culture, O’Neill remained in Rome for the next three years, eventually earning her full degree in the city famous for popes and pizzas alike. Once she returned to her hometown of Baton Rouge, she and her friend Meg Marshall did everything they could to maintain the practice of speaking Italian, and they eventually came to the realization that others, too, might be looking for someone to converse with. Now, O’Neill’s Baton Rouge Italian Language Meetup Group, which she started in December 2015, meets once a month at La Divina Italian Café in the Acadian Village Shopping Center, where they gather to eat gelato, sip espresso and talk among friends in the musical rhythms of the Romance language.

“We have two native Italians in our group,” says O’Neill, “and others who may trace family ancestry to Italy, or who just have a passion for the country, like I do.”

O’Neill doesn’t want anyone to feel like they need three years in Rome and a mastery of Italian to stop by for a chat, though.

“It’s certainly easier the more Italian you know, but it’s not just for intermediate learners,” she says. “I really encourage anyone who wants to be involved to stop by and hang out with us and see how much they remember.”

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