Skip to main content Skip to secondary navigation

Prof. Rob Reich: Thoughts on Florence

Main content start
Stanford Professor Rob Reich

Why Stanford in Florence?
Rob Reich
December, 2013

I spent part of my junior year abroad and it was a transformational experience for me. It is for many students. Here’s why, and here’s what is special about choosing to study in Florence.


First, studying overseas offers a potent combination of academic and cultural learning.

It’s not just the courses you take.  It’s not just the cultural learning you find. It’s the intersection of the two, creating a powerful experiential education.  For most classes through BOSP, the courses you take are tied into the location – Florence, Paris, Cape Town, etc., -- and into the history of the location.  Your learning therefore takes place in and out of the classroom. The entire time you spend abroad constitutes your education; there is little separation between curricular and extracurricular activity.

Second, Florence is a welcome location for all academic interests, for any major.

Many students think that Florence is an obvious choice only for art history and maybe literature students, the place to go to see Renaissance art and to read Dante. This is true. But, just to mention a few examples, Florence is also great for students studying:

Engineering: The marvel that is Brunelleschi’s Duomo, an engineering and architectural innovation, just one example of many in Florence.

History and Political Science: Students have no shortage of material here, from ancient Roman ruins in Fiesole, to the battles of the between Florence and surrounding the city-states, to the glory years of the Medicis, to the unification of Italy, to World War II and the bombing of Florence, to the epochal flood of 1966, and up to the contemporary politics of the European Union.

Product Design and Few other cities contain as much elegance and careful attention to design as Florence. It abounds on every street. This is the country, after all, of Ferrari, Lamborghiniand fashion of the first order.

Philosophy: Florence is the home of Machiavelli.

Sociology: Come study immigration flows from and to Italy, examine levels of inequality in the European Union. Learn about the Gini coefficent, developed by Italian statistician in the early 1900s.

Anthropology: Learn about the distinctive role of family in Italian life; explore why Italy has one of the lowest birth-rates in the EU.

Archeology: Visit Pompeii, explore Rome, the city built atop and around ancient ruins.

Science: Florence was home to Da Vinci and Galileo, with an incredible museum dedicated to the latter and his achievements.

Math: Come to learn about Fibonacci, most important mathematician of the middle ages.

Economics or Public Policy: Learn about the economics and policy tensions between northern and southern Italy and concerning the continuing integration of the European Union economic policy.

Finally, come to Florence to expand your academic and cultural horizons in a beautiful city.

Consider a different approach: you’ve found time in your academic schedule to have one quarter off, taking classes that are unconnected to your major. You want an experience unlike what you’ll find on campus. You’re wondering where to go.

Consider Florence

  • Florence contains the world’s densest concentration of cultural achievement: in a walkable area, you will encounter first-rate art and architecture on a daily basis.
  • Florence is a small and manageable city. You walk everywhere, and you will know the city well after your stay.
  • You’ll be surrounded by beauty: the physical setting of Florence in a gorgeous Tuscan valley, the cultural beauty of Florence in the art and architecture everywhere.
  • Do you like Italian food? Do you like to eat well? Contemplate three months without a bad meal. The beauty of Florence extends beyond geography and art; it includes the kitchen.
  • Finally, do you want to participate in a program that is exceptionally well run? The staff at Florence is fantastic: they know every nook and cranny of the city, they helpfully arrange internships make available special programming on a regular basis. And the program is based in a glorious, newly restored Renaissance-era palazzo next to the Ponte Vecchio, directly across the Arno River from the Uffizi.