Annual Foreign Students Dinner

Rotary Club Pavia traditionally holds its Annual Foreign Students’ Dinner at the Collegio Fratelli Cairoli.

The inscription above the Collegio’s entrance states that in 1946 Plinio Fraccaro, President of the University of Pavia, obtained from the Italian Defence Minister (“praefectus securitati Italiae tuendae”) Manlio Brosio the property of the building, to be fitted out as hall of residence. Initially a Franciscan convent, it was transformed into the Collegio Germanico Ungarico by emperor Joseph II in 1783 to lodge 33 theology students. Under Napoleon, it was transformed into barracks.

The commemorative inscription dates from 1947.

President Plinio Fraccaro, who held this position from 31 August 1943 till 16 Febbruary 1944 and again from 1945 till 1959, was Professor of Greek and Roman History at the University of Pavia and a founding member of Rotary Club Pavia. He was also instrumental in the establishment of the first ladies’ hall of residence in Pavia in 1954, the Collegio Castiglioni Brugnatelli. It was housed in what had been the first hall of residence in Pavia, established by Cardinal Branda Castiglioni in 1429 in his private residence. First known as Collegio di Sant’Agostino, then under the name of its founder, it was incorporated by Collegio Ghislieri in 1803 with its remaining four students. In the booklet published on the occasion of the new hall’s thirtieth anniversary, the Turkish student Feryal Akin, who arrived in Pavia in November 1962, recalls how she attended RC Pavia’s annual dinners with the Collegio’s headmistress.

The “collegi” as part of the University of Pavia

In this field, Plinio Fraccaro reactivated a century-old tradition of the local university, as recounted by Giampaolo Angelini in his essay Domus, Schola, Gymnasium. Il sistema e l’architettura dei Collegi universitari, published in volume I, part I (pp. 375-382) of the Storia dell’Università di Pavia, edited by Dario Mantovani. The author stresses that “The two halls of residence founded by Carlo Borromeo and Pius V Ghislieri in the seventh decade of the sixteenth century attest to the longevity of these institutions; not perchance they arose at a time when these institutions had established themselves since the beginnings of the fifteenth century and had thus clearly defined the distinctive elements they had to measure up to so as to ensure the duration and the efficacy of the initial aims. These distinctive elements... are those which in the course of time allowed the Colleges of Cambridge and Oxford, the Parisian Collèges and the Colegios mayores in Spain to emerge as fundamental cultural and economic elements of their respective nations.”

Giampaolo Angelini situates Pavia’s collegi in the European context as follows: “The most ancient institution in Pavia was the Collegio di Sant’Agostino, later known under the name of its founder, cardinal Branda Castiglioni. It dates from 1429, thus long after the oldest Parisian Collèges, established between the end of the 12th and the mid 13th century, or the most famous collegio in Bologna, founded by cardinal Gil Carillo de Albornoz in 1365-1367, known as Collegio di San Clemente or Collegio di Spagna... At the end of the century Paris vaunted more than seventy colleges, as compared with the fifteen of Padua, eleven of Bologna and eight of Pavia...  The colleges thus arose with the principal aim of granting hospitality to meritorious but needy young men: the institutions thus offered free lodging and various services, distinguishing them from the student lodgings already existing in town”.

The colleges in Pavia were housed in the private residences of their founders. Giampaolo Angelini mentions the following: Collegio Sacco, established by will by the jurist Catone Sacco in 1456 but inaugurated only in 1480 because of the hostility of his heirs, open to needy students of theology or of civil or canon law from north of the Alps (the first college reserved for foreign students, although Collegio Castiglioni did receive a number of them). This college closed in 1525; in 1465 Giovanni Matteo Ferrari from Grado, personal physician to Bianca Maria Visconti, founded a college, as did the jurist Raimondo Marliani from Milan in 1475, the physician Ambrogio Griffi from Milan in 1489, Martino Cazzaniga in 1524, the jurist Torri in 1619, Giovan Francesco Caccia in 1616 but inaugurated only in 1670 at the extinction of the family.

Contrary to the colleges mentioned above, Borromeo and Ghislieri were housed in purpose-built edifices, “aiming mainly at helping young men from good but needy families and at creating, in the at all times turbulent university of Pavia, a decidedly catholic centre, whose example would be very useful for the cultural policy of the Counter-reformation”. (Quotation from the Ghislieri yearbook 1952-1957, page 61). Since 1946, when there were 4 foreign students, and ending 1997, this college has welcomed 493 foreigners, with a maximum of 15 in 1982.

The colleges founded after the Second World War

Following Collegio Cairoli (1947) and Collegio Castiglioni-Brugnatelli (1954), the following were founded in the years thereafter:

  • in 1961 Collegio Robecchi Brichetti for Afro-Asian students, managed by Gioventù Italiana; subsequently transferred to Regione Lombardia in 1975 to become Collegio Gerolamo Cardano (further information at the end of this list);
  • in 1963 Collegio Plinio Fraccaro, in a building that in the 19th century had housed a number of wards of the Ospedale San Matteo and in the years 1933 – 1943 was the seat of the Reserve Officers School for Army Engineers, named after General Luigi Federico Menabrea;
  • in 1972 Collegio Lazzaro Spallanzani, in a former private college that had been acquired by the University of Pavia in 1971;
  • in 1973 the Ladies Collegio Santa Caterina da Siena, sponsored by Pope Paul VI since he was archbishop of Milan;
  • in 1975 Collegio Gerolamo Cardano;
  • in 1977 Golgi I and II Residences, consisting in a series of mini-lodgings for students. Since 2018 the two have been amalgamated into a single residence;
  • in 1978 Collegio Nuovo – Fondazione Sandra e Enea Mattei for Ladies. In its first ten years (1978-1988) this college has welcomed 64 foreign students for a total of 85 years;
  • in 1980 Collegio Benvenuto Griziotti, in a building formerly a hall of residence run by the City of Pavia;
  • in 1984 Collegio Lorenzo Valla. Built in the 1930ies as “Collegio Principe di Piemonte” and later seat of GUF; after the war Plinio Fraccaro transformed it into the Casa dello Studente and it took on its present function and name in 1984;
  • in 2000 Collegio Giasone del Maino, in a building that in a distant past had been a hospital for the terminally ill and, thereafter, seat of the Cappellificio Vanzina;
  • in 2000 Collegio Alessandro Volta.

A more detailed mention should be made of the college bearing the name of Luigi Robecchi-Bricchetti (1865-1926, an illustrious specialist and explorer of Africa). Instrumental in the establishment of this college was Professor Marco Pavan, who in the course of his career became the Director of the Institute for Agrarian Entomology at the University of Pavia; he also had a profound knowledge of the political, social and human problems of the former Belgian Congo (Zaire). With the support of the president of the university, he succeeded in attracting the interest of Prime Minister Amintore Fanfani. At the inauguration of the college on 14 July 1962, Fanfani stated inter alia that the new institution was relevant “to the qualification and success of our country’s foreign policy... This is not an episode, nor will it be the final episode of a wise and long-term policy... it is an act asserting Italy’s presence in the world”. It was a tripartite institution: the University of Pavia appointed the headmaster and his deputy, the Ministry for Foreign Affairs awarded the grants and the governmental agency Gioventù Italiana (formerly G.I.L.) managed the refectory and the building.

The aim of the college was to offer foreign and in particular African students in Italy a comunity environment in which their career as students could develop in a serene atmosphere. After an initial tenure of the deputy headmaster Gianni Cagnotti from August 1961 till 30 September 1962 and a brief period under headmaster Mino Milani, the position was awarded to Professor Giulio Guderzo (13 November 1962 – 30 June 1964).

After the suspension of the grants by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs and the consequent withdrawal of the university, the college was managed by Gioventù Italiana till 1974 as a hotel. Subsequently the complex was ceded to Regione Lombardia, who in turn handed it over to the City of Pavia and its university, and it became the Collegio Gerolamo Cardano in 1975.

In the three academic years 1961-1964 the college received 28, 38 and 33 students, coming from 19 different countries. Under the cultural and recreational activities mention is also made of Rotary Club Pavia, with whose assistance  “meetings were organized and invitations obtained from other clubs for groups of students for week-end outings or ski-weeks”. (information obtained from the doctoral thesis “Il Collegio Robecchi-Bricchetti di Pavia” of Cristina Merlini, rapporteur Professor Giulio Guderzo). ( groups the existing colleges as follows:

  • 4 colleges legally recognized by the Ministry for Education, Universities and Research (MIUR): Borromeo, Ghislieri, Santa Caterina da Siena and Nuovo;
  • the colleges grouped under EDiSU: Castiglioni Brugnatelli, Fratelli Cairoli, Plinio Fraccaro, Lazzaro Spallanzani, Gerolamo Cardano, Benvenuto Griziotti, Lorenzo Valla, Alessandro Volta, Giasone del Maino, Golgi I and Golgi II (amalgamated since 2018);
  • the following private colleges are also mentioned: Don Bosco, Maria Ausiliatrice, Sant’Agostino. According to their respective portals they were founded in 1965, 1951 (at the request of Carlo Allorio, bishop of Pavia) and 1897 (by cardinal Agostino Gaetano Riboldi, bishop of Pavia).

The Foreign Students Dinner organized by Rotary Club Pavia

Due to the incomplete documentation relating to the early years of our club, we are not in a position to indicate the exact date or structure of the first event organized by us. Aurelio Bernardi, founding member of our club, professor of Roman history at our university and headmaster of Collegio Ghislieri from 1945 till 1979, was the driving force of this service. Initially, only Borromeo and Ghislieri admitted foreign students, on the basis of exchange agreements with foreign universities (we would point out that the dinner of 16 April 1967 was attended by two students of Collegio Castiglioni, five of Borromeo and nine of Ghislieri). On the basis of information available, as reported hereafter, it would appear that during the early years the evenings were theme-oriented. Later on, probably due to the increased number of colleges admitting foreign students, guests were invited to introduce themselves and to mention their country of origin as also the college attended (this format is first recorded in 1984).

In the course of the Rotarian year 2009-2010, our club produced a CD (edited by Paolo Mosconi) containing all available copies of our bulletin. Information relating to our annual foreign students dinner is as follows:

Probably during the second quarter of 1956, the Danish student Martin H. Berg, guest of Collegio Borromeo, held a speech under the title Presenting Denmark. He started his presentation stating “First of all, I would like to thank Rotary Club Pavia for its hospitality, greatly appreciated by the foreign students on the occasion of the international dinner of 15 March 1956”. It is thus ascertained that at least since 1956 our club, many of whose members were university professors, was active in this field, inviting a group of foreign students every year.

During that same period, Wataru Suetaka, professor of Interface Science of Metals at a Japanese university and guest of Collegio Ghislieri, reported on university life in Japan.

On 25 March 1961, the German student Ruef held a conversation on Rome during the classical age of German literature.

On 13 March 1962, the Australian student John Sebastian Meddemen, guest of Collegio Ghislieri, spoke about Perth, my city in Australia.

On 26 April 1967, the German student Rolf Knuetel, guest of Collegio Ghislieri, spoke of The legal premises of the parables in the Gospels. This dinner was attended by 2 students from Collegio Castiglioni, 5 from Borromeo and 9 from Ghislieri.

On 4 April 1973, Sunya Lekaguy, Ghislieri, presented Thailand, my country. The dinner was attended by 2 students from Collegio Borromeo and 7 from Collegio Ghislieri.

8 May 1974, the British student David Forgacs, Collegio Ghislieri, dealt with the subject English today.

On 12 May 1976, the Brasilian student Magda Torres, Ghislieri, presented Brasil, my country. Two students came from Collegio Santa Caterina, seven from Ghislieri.

On 9 February 1983, the American student Michael Sherberg, Ghislieri, spoke about Saint Louis: my city in the USA.

On 8 February 1984, the dinner was attended by 19 students from the colleges Borromeo, Ghislieri, Santa Caterina, Fratelli Cairoli, Cardano and Nuovo. Under a new format, probably due to the increased number of colleges invited, no particular subject was addressed; the club’s bulletin reported: “in a friendly atmosphere, the students presented themselves, mentioned their country of origin and stated the reason of their presence in Pavia”.

The annual dinner was held in all the years since. On the following occasions, the format reverted to one student being invited to expound a given subject.

On 25 March 1987, Mary Shaffer dealt with Typical aspects of agriculture and industry in Virginia.

On 1 March 1988, a special welcome was addressed to Aurelio Bernardi, initiator of the Annual foreign students dinner.

On 27 March 1990, “climax of the evening was an interesting “two-voiced” debate of two German law students, one from the West and one from the East”.

On 19 March 1991, “large number of foreign students. Andrik Abramenko, Ghislieri, student of ancient history at the University of Mainz, spoke on The relation between ancient and modern, and how the study of the former leads to understanding the latter.”

On 24 February 1992, “Robert Fürgut and Christoph Wagner, guests of Collegio Cairoli, spoke with verve and pointed remarks of Impressions of Pavia of two German students.

On 9 March 1993, “the speech was held by Mitsuru Haga, Japanese guest of Ghislieri, who outlined in clear and understandable terms the main distinctive elements of the Japanese alphabet and language and commented the overview he distributed”.

On 22 March 1994, “Maria Angela Célis Sanchez, Ghislieri, commented The role of monarchy in Spain”.

On 28 March 1995, “The floor was taken by one of the young guests, a German student, who briefly illustrated the main characteristics of univerisity studies in her country”.

On 23 April 1996, “Matthias Heinz (Fraccaro), spoke of Pavia and its dialect, as seen from Heidelberg”.

On 11 March 1997, “Philippe Wauters, Cairoli, spoke on Pavia and its university”.

On 10 March 1998, the Spanish students from Collegio Castiglioni, Betriz Macias (Seville) and Ana Romero (Ciudad Real) “entertained us with brief but pointed flashes on their lives in Pavia, at the university and in their college”.

On 27 April 1999, “The floor was taken by Jacqueline Komakec, from Uganda, who has just terminated her medical studies, and Chloé Ndaykunda, from Burundi, student of nursing sciences, both of them guests of Collegio Santa Caterina”.

On 21 March 2000, “Two students from the East, Maria Tatiana Comerzan (Moldavia, student of letters) and Inga Prokopenco (Ukraine, student of genetics), both from the ladies’ section of Ghislieri, briefly illustrated their experience of Pavia”.

On 23 April 2002, “In the name of all the students invited, Laura Christensen from Denmark (Collegio Giason del Maino) and Maria Lara Varela Aller from Spain (Collegio Castiglioni) thanked Rotary Club Pavia for the invitation and for their stay in Pavia”.

On 25 February 2003, “Thanks for the invitation and satisfaction with their stay in Pavia was expressed in fluent Italian by each student. In particular Katherina Gall from Heidelberg (Collegio Nuovo) and Meriem Dhouib (Collegio Cardano), one of the first students to benefit from the co-operation agreement between the universities of Pavia and Tunis, dealt in greater detail with their Italian experience”.

On 27 March 2007, Dario Scotti spoke of the five generations of his family devoted to growing rice. “Thereafter a number of foreign students took the floor to recount their experiences in adapting to the local eco-system. Particularly moving were the words of gratitude expressed by two students from Cameroon for their headmaster”.

On 11 March 2008, the headmistress of Collegio Nuovo, Paola Bernardi, commemorates the 30th anniversary of her establishment.

On 24 March 2009, on a proposal from club member Graziano Leonardelli, Rotary Club Pavia decided to establish a grant, awarded to Song Daren (Collegio Cairoli), a Chinese student attending the second year of CIMM (intercultural and multi-media comunication), who spoke of his experience of Pavia. “G. Leonardelli reported that in the previous year 351 scholarships, worth approximately one and a quarter million euro, were awarded to 351 foreign students. At the local colleges, 268 places out of a total of 1400 (almost 20%) are granted to foreign students”.

On 23 February 2010, it was decided to repeat the award of the previous year. As the club’s member Riccardo Riccardi had died a few months earlier and his son Fernando was member of Rotary Club Certosa di Pavia, this club joined the initiative and also financed an award. Both scholarships bore the name of Riccardo Riccardi. In the name of RC Certosa, Fernando Riccardi handed the cheque to the Albanian student Granit Rabia (Collegio Cardano, 3rd year of medicine), while Graziano Leonardelli gave RC Pavia’s cheque to Sandrine Kuemouo Tiabou from Cameroon (Collegio Santa Caterina, 3rd year of biotechnology). “The evening was enlivened by Meriem Asmat from Morocco (Residenza Golgi II), who underlined her appreciation of the evening and the friendly atmosphere prevailing with two songs, one in French and one in Italian, greeted by all present with a long applause”.

On 22 February 2011, club member Dario Mantovani held a conversation about The future has deep roots: the 650 years of the University of Pavia. The club decided to maintain the practice of the previous year, i.e. to award two scholarships, which were granted to Sergey Chepurnykh (Russia, Collegio Valla) and Yolande Sylvie Confack Dongmo (Cameroon, Collegio Castiglioni). “A charming student from Morocco then delighted the audience with applauded songs”.   

On 24 March 2015, the two scholarships were awarded to the Rumanian student Celmar Razvan Lucian (dentistry, Residenza Golgi II) and to Rebegea Raluca Mihaela (Rumania, second level degree in government and public policies, Collegio Griziotti).