Stanford in Florence, Winter 2013-14
College year while abroad: Junior
Why did you choose to study abroad in Florence?
I had been to Italy before with my family. Catching a glimpse of the friendly, warm, and laidback Italian culture and people made me want to go back and experience things more fully. Florence in particular remained in my memory as a city with amazing food and art. I also felt like I could envision myself participating in a culture centered on family.
What were your expectations before you went and how did those change once you arrived in Florence?
My expectations were to improve my Italian, to eat good food, and to get to know my host family well. I was grateful that all three of these things happened! At first I was a bit nervous about finding my way around the city and worried about my lack of Italian since I had taken only two quarters at Stanford. I expected that I would get lost in the city (which I did) but it happened a lot less than I thought it would. I was surprised that I left Florence feeling comfortable navigating the city streets and acclimated to Italian habits. As for the language, once I arrived in Florence and started using my Italian, it became more natural.
What were some of the academic benefits from studying abroad in Florence?
Being able to take a class that counted towards my major elective requirement made going abroad a more viable option and reduced the pressure I felt to fit in classes for my major. At the same time, taking classes unique to the Florence program such as a museum class gave me an excuse to take classes in fields I probably would not have pursued on campus. One of the advantages of taking classes in Florence is that they utilize the resources uniquely available in the city; for the classes I took these resources included the San Pietro Igneo Hospital and museums in the city.
What did you learn about yourself while you were studying abroad?
I learned that with a little bit of persistence and courage, I could meet strangers and become friends with them even though my language skills were limited. I also learned that it’s not so scary to enter a new city, to find your way around, and meet people.
What was the most challenging experience you encountered while you were abroad and what did you learn from it?
There were several times when I felt overwhelmed by the language. On my host brother’s 18th birthday, there were about 20 people crammed into the dining room. There was so much going on and so many conversations happening that I felt that all I could do was to sit on the side feeling self-conscious about my Italian since I couldn’t participate in the conversations. After a while, I realized that it was okay to sit back and listen and just observe the party going on around me. Despite my initial discomfort, I learned that it was a privilege just to be present and a part of my host family.
How was your experience living with local families?
I had an amazing experience with my host family. My host mom is a force; she took care of my three host siblings and I with a lot of love and humor. I looked forward to going home and spending time with my host family in the evenings and on weekends. I watched a lot of soccer games and movies with my little host brother and host sister. With my middle host brother, we found a common interest in chamber music.
What was the biggest cultural adjustment you had to make?
Getting used to the fact that some Italians, especially the older generation, hold some stereotypes about Asians was a cultural adjustment. I learned to interpret questions about my ethnicity as good-natured curiosity rather than something to take offense at.
What was your favorite part of your everyday life in Florence?
The freedom in my day to slow down from the busy pace of life at Stanford and explore the city or hang out with my classmates and host family. I’d spend a large part of my day just wandering the city and stopping in to a gelateria or an Italian pastry shop. I loved strolling along the passegiata home with other Florentines before dinner. In the winter, there are Christmas lights strung up across the streets as well as trees lit up with lights. It’s beautiful! I wish there was an equivalent to the passegiata in America. I also really enjoyed the Italian church I went to on Sundays. Ask me if you have questions about finding a church!
What was the most memorable experience you had while you were in Florence?
Going to my host brother’s orchestra concert was one of the most memorable experiences I had. The concert was in honor of maestro Claudio Abbado who had recently passed away and my host brother’s music school was putting on a joint concert with professional musicians. The concert was by invitation only and I was allowed to go along because the families of the student musicians were invited. We arrived about an hour early (my host mom was endearingly hyper about being on time) and sat in the second row. When my host brother came on stage, I tried to avoid making eye contact because I didn’t want to embarrass a teenage boy who maybe didn’t want his family sitting in the second row. To my surprise, my host brother seemed to look for a moment to find us in the audience and then he gave me a huge smile. This moment made me feel so privileged to share in something incredibly important for my host brother. After the concert, my host brother was beaming and I felt so proud of him. He has aspirations of becoming a professional violinist.
What 5 words would you use to describe your experience?
Memorable. Yummy. Eye-opening. Once-in-a-lifetime. Absolutely worthwhile.
What advice would you give to someone who was considering studying abroad in Florence?
First, I would advise you to research the program and talk to people who have studied abroad there. Talking to students who had studied in Florence played a huge part in my decision. Ask any questions you have, even if they seem small or silly. If you decide that Florence is the right program for you, do as much research as you can before you go so that you have a head start in being knowledgeable and savvy about the culture and geography of your host country. In my experience, you won’t ever feel fully prepared before you go, but it really helps to know as much as you can ahead of time to maximize your very short time there!
If you had to do it all over again what would you do differently?
I would not be so nervous about going abroad and being away from my family. The Florence staff and the host families do an amazing job of taking care of you. I wish I hadn’t worried so much before.
How has the experienced changed or enhanced your future academic and career goals?
My experience in Florence has changed my view of how travel enriches education. After studying abroad, I can also envision myself doing international work in the future.
What was your favorite food you had in Florence?
This is a really hard question to answer, but I would have to say I ate pappardelle con ragu di cinghiale (wild boar) more times than I thought was possible. It was just so good that I kept ordering it over and over again—and almost any place in Florence makes it really well. The pasta is perfectly chewy and the red sauce with meat is incredibly flavorful and savory. I also was a huge fan of the ribollita (a Tuscan soup with bread and vegetables) at Trattoria di Mario. The gelato, of course, was amazing (favorites were kiwi and pecorino cheese at Carapina, limone and tiramisu at Grom, and chocolate at Cantina del Gelato.) I also got hooked on the Pan di Stelle biscotti, which are light chocolate cookies—the perfect thing for breakfast!
What was the most valuable item you took with you on the program?
Good walking shoes.
What was your favorite music/band that you discovered in Florence?
Arisa, the winner of the Sanremo Music Festival 2014 (an Italian pop contest.) Ask Alessio if you want to know more. He’s a fan.
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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