Aracely Valencia - Stanford in Florence
Major: Political Science
About the photo: This was on one of the first weekend trips I took with my friends. We were in Cinque Terre - Manorala to be specific. I'd always seen pictures of Cinque Terre on the internet, but those pictures truly did not do it justice. The 5 cities were absolutely stunning.
Questions and Answers with Aracely
Why did you choose to study abroad in Florence?
I suppose that part of me had always been drawn to Italy. My favorite foods, drinks, and even desserts were Italian. I wanted desperately to see the beautiful art and architecture. I loved the language and was convinced there was nothing more beautiful than the Tuscan sun setting (there isn't). So by the time I got accepted to Stanford and learned about the Bing Overseas Studies program, I was overjoyed. I would finally be able to travel abroad - and more importantly, live abroad in Italy! The prospect of living in Florence for a quarter meant that I would be able to truly immerse myself within the culture and life of the city - the idea of becoming part of the amazing history and culture of Florence was, and is, thrilling.
What were your expectations before you went and how did those change once you arrived in Florence?
I didn't travel much - and certainly, never abroad - before Florence, so I definitely thought it would be a lot harder to acclimate. But the nice thing about Florence, is that, it is a small city. It's easy to get around - in fact, it's been several months since I've been back, but I still have the entire city mapped out in my head!
What were some of the academic benefits from studying abroad in Florence?
Prior to studying abroad, I'd never really had the chance to take an arts or art history class (aside from photography). But, in Florence, it almost feels like everyday is an art history class since everything you see is art - and often, older than the US! I would certainly recommend taking a film or art history class (or multiple) as this is the perfect environment to learn and really immerse yourself. Florence also provided the perfect environment to really learn - and become comfortable with - Italian. There is a saying that you learn by doing and to be honest, I learned a lot just by living in Florence. For example, my two hour dinners with my host parents gradually become Italian-only dinners.
What did you learn about yourself while you were studying abroad?
Living abroad in a new country really taught me that I was more independent than I'd always assumed. When things got tough - and they did, because I had a fair amount of Trenitalia disasters - I managed to get myself through every time. I also learned that I liked living in a city - which is a lot for someone who has only ever lived in a suburb. I liked walking and more importantly, I really liked getting lost on these walks so I could find out new things about Florence. Through cooking classes and even lessons with host parents, I also learned that I really liked to cook.
What was the most challenging experience you encountered while you were abroad and what did you learn from it?
I'm a really anxious person so getting to know and meet new people can be a lot. In Florence, it was just my host parents and I in our homestay and we often had really long dinners - in some cases, over two hours long. I used to get really nervous about dinner in the beginning of the program because I never knew what to say and I didn't want it to be awkward. So, I ended up asking my host parents a lot of questions about Florence and their lives. We also gossiped a fair amount and by the end of it, I feel like I walked away from the program really having gotten to know my host parents. Now, I miss those two hour dinners!
What was the biggest cultural adjustment you had to make?
This is a close tie between the late eating hours and the many, many courses that make up Italian dining. My host parents would generally eat dinner around 8:30-9 every night and these dinners often lasted for two hours! Which ends up making a lot of sense when you realize how much food there is to eat.
What was your favorite part of your everyday life in Florence?
My walk to and from the center. On the way there, I'd get to catch the sun fully rising and the city waking up. On the way home, I'd always manage to capture the most beautiful sunsets across the Arno. If you don't believe me, take one look through my camera roll! Truly, walking through Florence was one of the most wondrous experiences in my life. A little piece of advice: stop into the shops you pass by and try some of their goods - I can't tell you how many amazing things I got to see and try just by doing this.
What was the most memorable experience you had while you were in Florence?
One of the most memorable experiences I had while abroad was learning to make tiramisu with my friend's host mom, Sandra. Sandra is kind of program famous for making the absolute best tiramisu, so when she offered to teach us, I jumped for joy. It was such an incredible and unique experience to learn how to make this traditional dessert from Sandra. She put a lot of love into her tiramisu and tried really hard to impart that to us as well. I guess, it truly goes to show you how immersive study abroad in Florence can be. So, even if my tiramisu doesn't taste quite like hers, I'll always have the memory of learning with her and my good friends.
What 5 words would you use to describe your experience?
Chaotic, transformative, spiritual, educational, exciting.
What was your favorite food you had in Florence?
"In a city like Florence, it's impossible to narrow it down to one item. So instead, here are my top 5:
- Pecorino tarfutato e rucola panino from i Fratellini - only 4 euro and the best panino I have ever had!
- Margherita pizza from Gusta Pizza
- Pasta pappardelle alla carbonara from Salsamenteria De' Ciompi - only 5 euro if you get take out!
- Cioccolata calda from Bar Perseo
- And of course, any gelato from La Carraia.
Bonus: Tiramisu from Sandra (just ask)"
What was the most valuable item you took with you on the program?
My journal. I'm really into writing poetry and I often rely on these journals to jot down ideas. I always made sure to pack it in my bag just in case a moment of inspiration struck - which, given that I was in Florence, came often. Aside from that, I would definitely have to include my phone as well. I can't tell you how helpful Google is in figuring out transit and translating.
What was your favorite music/band that you discovered in Florence?
"When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie, that's ... being abroad in Florence!" —Dean Martin & Aracely Valencia
All jokes aside, I got really into oldies music (especially Dean Martin, who is actually Italian-American!) while I was abroad. It provided the perfect soundtrack for me to explore the beautiful and historical, Florence. Although don't worry, I also have a playlist of absolute bangers for those long Trenitalia journeys."