Kristin Chesnutt


Stanford in Florence, Winter 2014-15
Major: Human Biology, Italian Minor
College year while abroad: Junior


Why did you choose to study abroad in Florence?

I have been playing classical violin since the age of three, and my violin was made in Italy. I wanted to spend more time in Italy, and surround myself with the Italian culture, music and arts.

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

I wanted to go to Florence to learn about the history of the music of the country. I was extremely engaged in the musical history and culture, but I was surprise about how interested I became in other art forms during my time abroad. I have never taken an art history class and have found it difficult to read about art in a textbook. My favorite class was a Renaissance art history class that took place within the most famous museums of Florence so that we could study the world famous works at arms distance.

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

I was always eager to go abroad and decided to take a year and a half of Italian before leaving in order to be able to communicate effectively. It wasn’t until I returned home that I realized how close I was to an Italian minor. Since returning, I have taken two classes and successfully achieved an Italian minor. This academic distinction further validates my time in Florence as educational and fundamental to my education at Stanford.

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

During my time in Florence, I tried to play with different performance groups. One orchestra that I connected with had rehearsals until 11 pm, at a location outside of the city of Florence. There was a bus that I could take to get to rehearsal, but the bus system stopped at 10 pm, an hour before we would be done. Even taxis didn’t service that area because it is too far out of the city. The orchestra manager said she was sure someone would be able to take me home, but gave no confirmation of even a request. I decided to take a chance and attend without any sure way to get home. After she made her second announcement that I needed a ride, a gentleman finally offered to give me a ride back. It was an example of a time when I had to act out of my comfort zone, understanding that I might have to use improvisation in problem solving back up means of getting home.

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

I learned more about myself in my three months abroad than I did in the three years at Stanford beforehand. When living in a new country, one’s senses become hyper aware. Every experience, even buying a snack at the local grocery store, is more difficult because of the many unexpected lingual challenges and cultural differences. Everyone has their own comfort zone on the scale from risk taking to risk aversion. During my time abroad, I became aware of my comfort zone and how much I wanted to stretch myself. Since returning to campus, I have applied this desire for stretching to my academic, career and personal decisions.

How was your experience living with local families?

I think the host families are one of the distinguishing parts of the Stanford study abroad experience. Most of the cultural insight and deep discussions of current Italian perspective came from discussions with my host mom. At the end of the day, we would sit around the dinner table to a gourmet Italian home-cooked meal and tell her about our day of class and hear about her day. Then after we finished eating we would sit together and watch the Italian news. I found this incredibly insightful because she would explain the politics and differing perspectives presented in the news. She was extremely willing to share her story and her life with us.

What was the biggest cultural adjustment you had to make? 

Every morning I had class at 11 am. My roommate and I joined a gym (to justify eating three servings of pasta ever night), which opened everyday at 9 am. With the time it took to workout, walk back to our home, shower and get to school by 11 am, we didn’t have much time to spend getting ready. The first day we got to class with wet hair my teacher nearly had a heart attack. “You are going to get sick!” “You will have arthritis in your neck by age 30!” It wasn’t that much colder overall than it was in my hometown, but the cultural norm was to always dry your hair. It started to become a running joke between our teacher and my roommate and I, but even so we tried more and more to dry our hair before leaving the house. As we became more aware of the cultural norm, we noticed how people would react even on the street when our hair was not properly dried.

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

My favorite part was walking to and from school. When you walk, you notice the little things that would just fly by in the car. It also gave me time to think. I really enjoyed this personal time, and the opportunity to notice details of Florence that are now some of my favorites.

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

There are many memorable experiences from Florence, but when I think of my favorite moments, I think of my favorite place in Florence. Living in a new country, with a new family, and with a roommate, I found myself wanting more personal space. Whenever I could, I would take the long way home from school and find my favorite spot in Piazza della Signoria, looking up at the statues and the Palazzo Vecchio.

What 5 words would you use to describe your experience? 

Experiencing heightened awareness of beauty.

What advice would you give to someone who was considering studying abroad in Florence? 

Decide what you want to get out of the experience. Do you want to travel, stay in Italy, or stay in just Florence for the ten weeks? How do you want to fill your days? I also think it is valuable to think about the difference between living and traveling. You can always come back and visit Florence, but you may never have a chance to live there again. Make sure you take advantage of it.

If you had to do it all over again what would you do differently? 

My two friends and I spent significant time together in Florence. We had all taken over a year of Italian and had talked about our similar goals of an authentic experience. Many of my favorite memories in restaurants and travels are because we were together and felt comfortable to talk to people, which created great personal experiences. I think having two other people was great because I was able to feel more comfortable and have confidence to push myself out of my comfort zone, but it also didn’t push me to act by myself. If I could have stayed another quarter, I would have loved to push myself to have more individual time. This would have made me challenge myself without the comfort of friends. I think there is value in both experiences, but if I had a chance to do it again, I would have loved to have more individual experiences.

How has the experienced changed or enhanced your future academic and career goals? 

I learned how I feel about myself in how I like to treat risk. I would not have identified myself as a risky person before studying abroad, but while in Florence, I discovered distaste for complacency.  This has translated into my future goals in helping me intentionally find career options for next year that won’t allow me to be too comfortable, and rather opportunities that will challenge me. My distaste for complacency in every realm of my life has pushed me to take challenges and risks that help me to learn about myself, in school and in my future career.

What was your favorite food you had in Florence? 

I absolutely love pastries.  In every city we visited I tried a new pastry, and every time I wanted a sweet snack after class, I tried a new bakery in Florence.  My favorite pastry in Italy was a Siennese almond cookie, called Ricciarelli. Although you could find them in any store in Florence, I found my favorite bakery in Sienna and nearly returned just for an afternoon snack one day!

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

I took my violin to Italy. When I bought my violin years ago, I spent months trying out different instruments and testing them to see which one I preferred. I fell in love with my instrument, a violin on which I have played countless competitions and performances. As I looked deeper into the history of the violin, I discovered it was crafted by an Italian man in Cremona, the most famous city for violinmakers in the world.  This instrument was the inspiration for my traveling to Italy, but also continued to inspire me to engage with the people and music in Florence during my time abroad.

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

As you might have guessed, my favorite musical experience was classical, at the Milan State Opera. My conducting teacher from home had a connection with the newly appointed concertmaster of the Orchestra dell’ opera. It was absolutely incredible to sit and have a meal with arguably the best young violinist of my generation, and the next night watch a performance of the orchestra in one of the most famous opera houses.