Josie Bianchi (she/her) - Stanford in Florence
Major: Political Science
College year while abroad: Junior
About the photo: I flew to Italy 4 days before I was scheduled to arrive in Florence, and I spent that time exploring Rome. This picture is in Piazza Navona from my first day in Italy. I was incredibly nervous to be traveling alone for the first time ever -- and it was my first time in Europe -- but I had the most marvelous time!
Questions and Answers with Josie
Why did you choose to study abroad in Florence?
I knew that I wanted to study abroad even before I got into Stanford. During the college application process, I considered the strength of programs at different schools, and BOSP clearly offered accessible options that made me excited to study abroad at Stanford. Once I confirmed my acceptance, my next order of business was figuring out which program to attend. Something always drew me to Italy — I come from an Italian family, so the cuisine and culture already impacted so many facets of my life that I wanted to experience it in its true form. However, after taking Spanish for 6 years and absolutely loving it, I knew that studying in Madrid would greatly enhance my language abilities and also offer insights into a country I'd never been to. Long story short, after taking a full year of Spanish at Stanford, I started taking Italian — and it truly changed my life. I took it every quarter of sophomore year and found incredible friends and professors in the Italian department. When it came time to apply to BOSP programs at the end of the year, I knew that Florence offered me the best of both worlds: worldly exposure and academic rigor, a check off a bucket list whilst also improving my language skills.
What were your expectations before you went and how did those change once you arrived in Florence?
I expected to feel like a bit of an outsider or a tourist who happened to get lucky and spend 10 intimate weeks living the “true” Italian way. However, that quickly changed, and I realized that Florence could be my home. I found a routine of my own, learned the streets so well that I didn’t need a map, found certain cafes and restaurants where the staff knew my name -- by the end of the quarter, I left feeling more connected to real Florentine life than I ever expected. I also expected that I’d travel around Italy a little bit -- maybe two or three weekend trips. But, by the end of 10 weeks, I ended up seeing so much more than that. The transit system in Italy is impeccable (when the trains aren’t late!) and I visited Rome, Venice, Milan, Cinque Terre, Naples, Sorrento, Pompeii, Positano, Barcelona, Madrid, and Paris by the time I flew back home to California.
What were some of the academic benefits from studying abroad in Florence?
Florence’s history, lifestyle, and culture illuminated every aspect of the academic experience for me. Whether it was in art history class, Italian language class, or even science and engineering, the city-turned-classroom atmosphere created lasting academic memories I’ll remember forever. As a political science major, former Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s class was a major highlight. I never thought I’d be taught by a former Prime Minister, and by the end of the quarter, we knew each other on a first-name basis! His stories and insights gave me something I never would’ve found in the department on Stanford’s campus. Also, I studied Italian at Stanford for three quarters prior to going abroad. Being in Florence was probably the best academic decision I could’ve made for my language skills -- from translating daily dinners with my roommate and host family to the Italian classes held at the Stanford in Florence campus, I learned more about Italian language and culture in 10 weeks than in 30 weeks at Stanford, and bringing that knowledge back home helped solidify my capabilities in a way I never thought possible.
What did you learn about yourself while you were studying abroad?
I learned that I’m capable of adapting to a new culture and place without losing a sense of who I am. I’ve lived in the same 20 mile radius all my life thus far, and the thought of leaving always excited me, but I was hesitant about truly being able to embrace another place as home. In Florence, I learned that I could. Being open to new perspectives, living with a Florentine family, using my language skills with confidence, learning from my mistakes -- the entire experience gave me the proof that I was malleable and could adapt to different ways of living while still being my true self.
What was the most challenging experience you encountered while you were abroad and what did you learn from it?
Figuring out Wi-Fi in our homestay. I know that sounds like a classic modern-day college student answer, but it was almost a safety issue for me and my roommate -- we lived in a room under ground level, and had no Wi-Fi or cellular reception at all. No one could communicate with us until we went upstairs to our kitchen, if that, because the signal was so weak. The first week was the most difficult because we didn’t know how to fix it, but we decided to talk to Alessio, a staff member at Stanford in Florence, and he gave us some tips on what to do with our Wi-Fi router. He ended up finding a separate wireless provider for us and helping us install it one day after school; the staff at the Center will always do everything they can to make your situation the best it can be, and Alessio’s assistance with our Internet issues was the first challenge we overcame!
What was the biggest cultural adjustment you had to make?
Eating so late! Italians (and most Europeans) eat pretty late at night, so my roommate and I rarely had dinner before 8:30pm...sometimes we’d start dinner as late as 9:30pm! It took both of us some time to adjust to eating meals right before bed, but we found plenty of places to get food during the day to tide us over!
What was your favorite part of your everyday life in Florence?
Walking home along the Arno. Every day, whether on the way to school or back home, whether with friends or alone -- I’d notice something I’d never seen before. A dazzling sunset, a plaque, a hidden church -- each day in Florence leaves you with something to marvel at, and walking those 30 minutes along the river are the perfect time to think and observe all the wonder. Another highlight was seeing our host sister every night. My roommate and I became very close with Chiara, and spent 10 weeks learning Italian slang, sharing laughs, and eating dinner with her. She showed us a side of Florence we never would’ve seen without her, and her presence made daily life all the more fun.
What was the most memorable experience you had while you were in Florence?
It’s incredibly difficult to pick one most memorable experience...so I’ll say a two-fold private tour of monuments in Florence and Rome in Matteo Renzi’s class. During the quarter, our entire class went to Rome for a day -- we had a private tour of Palazzo Madama, the seat of the Italian Senate, and crossed the street into Palazzo Giustiniani for our class period. Being led around publicly inaccessible Italian government buildings by a former Prime Minister was SO COOL. A few weeks later, instead of having our last class period of the quarter at the usual time, we met Matteo at Palazzo Vecchio after hours for a private tour -- we climbed the torre and saw Savonarola’s jail cell while Renzi gave us short lectures in almost every room about the history and politics behind the city. Such a unique class with unique moments that I'll remember forever!
What 5 words would you use to describe your experience?
Rewarding, transformative, thrilling, fruitful, humbling.
What was your favorite food you had in Florence?
Pici cacio e pepe at Trattoria Sant’Agostino, cappuccini at Serafini, gnocchi at Salsamenteria de' Ciompi, everything at Ditta Artigianale, “la summer” panino at All’Antico Vinaio, truffle gnocchi at Osteria Santo Spirito, Buontalenti at Badiani, Crema de’Medici at Gelateria de’Medici. You’re welcome for the recommendations!
What was the most valuable item you took with you on the program?
It’s a tie between my locket and my computer. I’ve worn the same heart-shaped locket for over 7 years now; my grandfather gave it to me when I was younger and I’ve rarely taken it off ever since. Before going to Italy, I thought about leaving it behind, just in case it got lost...but realized that I wanted to carry my family with me everywhere I went while abroad, so keeping the necklace was crucial. I also say my computer...which sounds cliche, I know, but I used it as a means to create an incredibly valuable gift from my time abroad. I made a website -- I hesitate to call it a blog, because I really used it for personal documentation and the ease of updating my family 9 hours behind me, but whatever it is, it's the best way I could've documented my daily life and thoughts while abroad. You can see it at www.josiejourney.tumblr.com!
What was your favorite music/band that you discovered in Florence?
Music actually played a big role in my abroad experience, which is something I wasn’t expecting at all! Before going to Florence, I listened to a good amount of Italian music because my mom really likes Eros Ramazzotti and I liked listening to popular Italian songs to practice understanding the language. When I got to Florence, our host sister Chiara told us that she loved the band Calcutta, and that was a band I’d listened to before coming! I only knew a few songs, but Chiara would share new ones with me all the time; it’s really a peak “local” experience to be able to share music in a new language with someone you just met 5 weeks ago. Also, my roommate heard a song in cafes a lot and told me she liked it but didn't know the name. The next time we were out and heard it, we used the glories of modern technology to Shazam the song -- it’s called Se Piovesse Il Tuo Nome by Elisa, and it quickly became our anthem the entire trip. To this day, we’ll play it and scream every word!