Alyssa Liew


Stanford in Florence, Winter 2016-17
Major: International Relations
College year while abroad: Junior
About the photo: “Strawberry and Lemon Gelato ft. Alyssa.” On our trip to Venice during Carnivale weekend, my friends and I took a short day trip to Murano and Burano, two beautiful islands nearby. This photo was taken in Burano, where you can’t possibly feel down when you’re surrounded by color!


Why did you choose to study abroad in Florence?

Florence provided me the opportunity to “travelled thickly”, as our director, Professor Campani, encouraged us to do. I expanded my cultural fluency and appreciation for not only Italy, but also interweaving my weekend adventures to my overall study abroad experience. Florence became a place where I was able to learn about art history, a passion of mine that I haven’t been able to explore at Stanford due to taking classes for my major. Gelato and pasta were definitely contributing factors to my decision as well!

What were your expectations before you went and how did those change once you arrived in Florence?

I was quite worried about the Italian language barrier I might experience in my host mother, since my Italian was limited to my favorite hometown Italian restaurant menu. Luckily, my Italian teacher, Fiorenza, was incredibly patient though she also pushed us to practice as much as possible. I loved that within the first few classes we learned phrases and vocabulary fit for everyday life in Florence – we had a class where we went to a café and ordered breakfast, putting our newly acquired language skills to the test.

As for my host mother, I had the most amazing time with her. She and I spoke both and English and in Italian and she quickly became a person with whom I knew I could practice with without any laughs. She also became a person who inspired me to travel more with her amazing adventures. She and I formed an incredibly close bond and text quite often now that I’m home. I’m already looking forward to the next time I can see her!

What were some of the academic benefits from studying abroad in Florence?

I took art history in high school and always dreamed of visiting Italy to see the art and architecture I saw in my textbook. Fast forward a few years and I was walking around Donatello’s bronze David with Professor Verdon learning about the patronage and influence of the Medici family at the Bargello, rather than sitting in a classroom in Kentucky. Being able to directly engage and immerse myself with the art and culture of Florence was one of the most stunning opportunities.

What did you learn about yourself while you were studying abroad?

 In Florence, I learned how much I valued exploring new things, whether that be trying a panino place other than my one true love All’ Antico Vinaio or switching my study spot to the rooftop of the Oblate with a beautiful view of the Duomo. At Stanford, and in Florence, I found so much comfort in the routines that I established. However, challenging myself to actively change one thing each day encouraged me to find new interests and change my perspective, both in Florence and back at Stanford.

What was the most challenging experience you encountered while you were abroad and what did you learn from it?

While in Florence I had an internship with COSPE, an organization working to bridge the gap between immigrants and Italians, where I worked with a high school comprised predominately of Chinese immigrants. It was so interesting to see how much these students were like me in that they were first generation Chinese immigrants, but also differed greatly from my personal upbringing. My family and the community around me highly valued higher education whereas these students’ ambitions were stifled by the negative Chinese stereotypes that Italians held as well as their own familial pressure to drop out of high school and begin working in a factory or a corner store. Working with these kids and their teachers, we created programs and events where Italian cultural immersion was encouraged and additional tutoring was provided. It was eye opening to see the discrimination that these students faced first hand, especially as I was often perceived as a Chinese immigrant or tourist rather than an American exchange student. It was also heartbreaking to see the lack of support these students received in their education because of their immigrant status, an issue that I believe affects the United States as well. While I don’t believe that my ten-week internship made leaps and bounds in creating change in their education system, I was able to help two girls get information about applying to college and the steps they needed to take. I learned that helping just two people through this process will have the ability to create a greater wave of change, as they become role models for their peers and supersede the limitations placed upon them.

What was the biggest cultural adjustment you had to make?

The light breakfasts – Italian families often have smaller breakfasts, such as a piece of toast and an espresso, which is quite a shift from having a plate full of protein!

What was your favorite part of your everyday life in Florence?

I loved walking across Ponte alle Grazie to and from class every day. This bridge had an amazing view of the Arno, Palazzo Capponi, and Ponte Vecchio. Each sunrise and sunset were moments where I felt a burst of joy for being in Florence with an amazing BOSP staff and host mother.

What was the most memorable experience you had while you were in Florence?

My most memorable experience from going to Florence had to be our lovely Bing Trip to Puglia. My favorite city that we visited with this unbelievably fantastical city called Matera, where architects used subtractive architecture to build directly into the cave heavy terrain.  I also discovered my favorite cheese, burata, on this trip!

What 5 words would you use to describe your experience?

One euro scoops of gelato

Fun Questions:

What was your favorite food you had in Florence?

I discovered my love of soup from my host mom’s amazing dinners, which is perfect after walking home in the winter. However, something that’s more accessible and what I believe everyone needs to try while in Florence is a five-euro panino from All’Antico Vinaio! My personal favorite is “La Favolosa” and I even bought two of them for my trip back home to the States.

What was the most valuable item you took with you on the program?

My journal became an amazing keepsake after my time abroad. I saved my ticket stubs from weekend trips, museum admissions, metro passes etc. and pasted them in, creating something that is so great to look back on after you get back from abroad.

What was your favorite music/band that you discovered in Florence?

I took Professor Campani’s “Fascism through Film” class (highly recommend!) and loved the role that music played in guiding the narrative and portraying the evolving views of fascism.