Stanford in Florence, Spring 2013-14
Major: Computer Science
College year while abroad: Sophomore
Why did you choose to study abroad in Florence?
The food. Just kidding. Kind of (not really). I had visited Italy a few times before with my family and was enamored by the Italian culture, the warm people, its architecture and long history, and (you guessed it) the delicious food. I wanted to experience a new way of life and be immersed in a culture different from my own. Living in Florence for almost 3 months gave me a wonderful opportunity to experience living with an Italian family, speaking to locals, eating at really good cafes and Italian restaurants, and understanding and breathing in the rich culture while exploring the beautiful city.
What were your expectations before you went and how did those change once you arrived in Florence?
I did not expect to become so close to my host family. Getting to know them was one of the best parts of my entire Florence experience and I can’t be more thankful to have had the opportunity to meet them and experience their hospitality for almost 11 weeks. They introduced me to the warmth of Italian home life, brought me to their favorite spots in the city, taught me how to prepare Italian and Tuscan specialties, and even bought me and my roommate gelato (pistachio is the best) on many occasions!
What were some of the academic benefits from studying abroad in Florence?
Being a Computer Science student, I felt like I never had time at Stanford to pursue classes outside of the Engineering department. At Florence, I was finally able to take classes like film and urban architecture that I had always been interested in (and also conveniently fulfilled general requirements) but had never had the opportunity to take on campus. Having a balance of classes is really important for any Stanford student but I had always felt pressured to take as many science and engineering classes as I could at Stanford. I was definitely pushed out of my comfort zone with my classes in Florence, especially with our studio art class, and tried my hand at skills I had never attempted before (which made me realize just how bad I was at it, but that’s the first step to improvement right).
What did you learn about yourself while you were studying abroad?
I really appreciated the slow pace that Italians bring to life. I’m used to always being in a hurry – rushing to class, doing a lot of activities, getting things done and trying to be as productive as possible. In Italy, I tried to mimic how Italians acted very deliberately and took time to savor what they were doing everyday and this brought a sense of satisfaction to a lot of my everyday activities. When you get so wrapped up in what you’re doing and getting everything done as quickly as possible, it’s really easy to forget why you enjoy what you’re doing. Walking home at the end of the day while enjoying the view across the Arno river was one of my favorite parts of the day. My goal after leaving Florence is to bring this equanimity and inner peace to the bustle of campus life.
What was the most challenging experience you encountered while you were abroad and what did you learn from it?
Speaking the language with locals was quite difficult and there was definitely a learning curve when I first arrived. In my weeks there, I had to force myself to speak Italian (even when the locals I were speaking to could speak English too) just so that I could practice and improve my Italian. At the restaurant I interned at, a lot of the staff did not speak English and I had to practice a lot of my conversational skills as well as learn a lot of kitchen vocabulary.
How was your experience living with local families?
It couldn’t have been better! I loved my host family and we had a lot of common interests (primarily movies – they had seen more American films than I had!). They were also really interested to learn more about my own heritage and we were able to exchange a lot about our cultural backgrounds.
What was the biggest cultural adjustment you had to make?
Italian men on the streets are quite forward. Sometimes, complete strangers would try to speak to my roommate and I as we walked home or would catcall as a group of us walked by. This was something we had to get used to, especially because we were of many different races and Florence is much less diverse than the Bay Area.
What was your favorite part of your everyday life in Florence?
One of my favorite memories is walking across the Arno River every morning while looking at the mountains in the distance, admiring the historic buildings on the banks of the Arno, breathing in the fresh air, and listening to the locals speaking in Italian around me. Firenze is a beautiful city!
What was the most memorable experience you had while you were in Florence?
Working in the kitchen and pastry lab of Golden View Restaurant! I had a really great experience working with the chefs at this local Italian restaurant. I would go in twice a week for 4-5 hours each day. In the early morning (around 6:30 am) I would help the chefs bake the panini and pastries for the morning customers. Then we would prepare the bases ingredients (like pastry cream and pastry dough) before making more pastries for the next day. (The chefs made preparing those beautiful pastries look so easy, but everything was so difficult for me!) I also worked in the kitchen area – prepping ingredients and then starting to cook the pasta dishes when the lunch crowd arrived. I never dreamed I would get the chance to work in a real Italian restaurant. It was an amazing experience!
What 5 words would you use to describe your experience?
Delicious (of course), Heartwarming, An Adventure, FUN
What advice would you give to someone who was considering studying abroad in Florence?
You’ll love it. The people, the food, the scenery – you’ll make memories that you will not forget. While you’re there, focus on absorbing the vibrant Italian life and interacting with the locals as much as you can. Finally, live in the moment and dare yourself to try new things!
If you had to do it all over again what would you do differently?
I would spend more time outdoors and enjoying the beautiful scenery. I would definitely explore more of the nature spots close to Florence (like hiking the beautiful Tuscan hillsides)!
How has the experienced changed or enhanced your future academic and career goals?
I realized just how much I love traveling to new places and learning about the cultures of the people who live there. Whatever job I pursue in the future, I want it to be flexible enough that I can travel for long periods of time and learn from people all around the world!
What was your favorite food you had in Florence?
Ribollita! It’s a winter vegetable soup made with bread and vegetables that is so delicious. My host mom, Francisca, told me that I must be a Florentine at heart because all my favorite dishes while I was living there were all the traditional Tuscan dishes. Francisca gave me a cookbook with Florentine recipes just before I left Italy so I could try to make some on my own in the US! :)
Every Stanford undergraduate should give serious consideration to studying overseas.
Regardless of the academic path you choose, you will be enriched by time spent in another country. Achieving cultural literacy and gaining substantive understanding of other perspectives in the world will deepen your awareness of yourself, your educational goals, and your own society. Nearly one-half of each graduating class studies abroad through one of Stanford's overseas programs.
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