Italian words that I had known since I was in Thailand were Ciao (Hi, Hello, or Bye) and Grazie (Thank you). Just that, I did not know anything else.
Before going to Bolzano, I did not learn, nor bought an Italian book. In short, I did not pay attention to Italian language even a bit.
After living in Italy for less than a week, I realized that local languages were an important thing because people there did not speak English.
The first new Italian word that I learned unintentionally since the orientation day was “mensa”.
Will you go to mensa? Will you eat at mensa?
My friends asked me and at that time, in my mind, I was in doubt what mensa was.
Mensa referred to canteen. It was a place where we always had lunch and sometimes also dinner. They sold a variety of foods such as pizza, pasta, steak, and kebab. The food there was pretty cheap for students starting from 2.07 Euro to 3.10 Euro. (They were not full prices; as students, we got the cheap prices because of the support from the Autonomous Province of South Tyrol.)
But the taste was another story. Mostly the vegetables were overcooked and tasteless. One Italian friend told me that pizza at mensa was not an Italian pizza.
We complained a lot about mensa. But when mensa announced its closure for one week, we were missing mensa!
To eat at mensa, students needed to fill in money in their student cards first, then pay their lunches with the cards.
During my first semester, if I did not come to mensa earlier (before it opened), I had to wait in the lone line at least 15 minutes and sometimes half an hour. Mensa was improved a lot while I studied there. In the second semester, we did not have to wait in a queue anymore because they added one more selling point.
One reason that I loved eating at mensa because I had a chance to talk to friends, exchange ideas, and understand different cultures. For me, mensa was not just a canteen. It was a place that I got to know more friends.