Natalie Adams-Menendez - Stanford in Florence
College year while abroad: Junior
About the photo: The photo above was taken at sunset in Venice, Italy on the Saturday before Carnevale. My friends and I had traveled to Venice that weekend on a "field trip" for Professor Verdon's course about the Florentine Renaissance, where we went on a scavenger hunt throughout the city to find and learn about famous works of Venetian Renaissance art. After our adventures winding through the canals, we filled ourselves with "fritelle" and magically stumbled upon this gorgeous scene of colors streaming onto the Grand Canal! Personally, this photo represents not only the beauty of the art, architecture, and environment that we were exploring, but also the friendships that developed throughout our time together.
Questions and Answers with Natalie
Why did you choose to study abroad in Florence?
I always knew that I wanted to go abroad (I had kept a map in my room with pinned destinations since I was 5), but my big question was "where?!?" Ultimately, I found Stanford in Florence to be the ideal study abroad program because of its many opportunities for academic growth and cultural investigation. Because I have studied French at Stanford and have a background in Spanish through my family, I wanted to use my time abroad as a chance to learn a new Romance language and immerse myself in a new culture. Additionally, I wanted to further explore topics within my major of International Relations, particularly as they pertained to my concentration in International History and Culture. From lectures at the Uffizi Gallery, to class "field trips" in Rome, studying abroad in Florence provided me opportunities to unleash my curiosity while quite literally using the city and Italy as a classroom. This combination of academics and experiences, plus the chance to live in a homestay with an Italian family, led me to choose to study in Florence. Not only did studying abroad in Florence add both breadth and depth to my education, it encouraged me to appreciate the city as a source of inspiration --- and gave me an excuse to spend a quarter surrounded by beautiful art, architecture, and food!
What were your expectations before you went and how did those change once you arrived in Florence?
Before I went abroad, I expected studying in Florence to be outrageously expensive, particularly for people, like myself, who are on financial aid. However, the support that the students in Florence received, both in care from the staff at the Stanford Center as well as financially to help support our cultural and academic exploration, was absolutely incredible. If you are currently hesitant about studying abroad because of your financial situation, DO NOT WORRY. The staff in Florence are amazing and work very hard to ensure that all students have the ability to take advantage of the city and its opportunities. If you are like me and are on financial aid, please do not let concerns about finances keep you from studying abroad. Instead, take this as my direct invitation to you. Apply!
What were some of the academic benefits from studying abroad in Florence?
Regardless of your major, studying in Florence offers many academic benefits! As an International Relations major, studying in Florence helped me fulfill my concentration in International History and Culture while simultaneously meeting my major's study abroad requirement. For other majors, Florence is still a fantastic place to study abroad! The program offers courses throughout academic disciplines in the social sciences and humanities. Even if you are not majoring in one of these subjects, studying abroad with the Florence program is a great way to fulfill your WAYS requirements in AII, SI, ED, and CE! No matter your academic program, you will be able to apply your academics in Florence towards graduation. Beyond the subjects and courses offered in Florence, the opportunities provided through the program are incredible! As a student in the Florence program, you have the chance to learn from amazing professors and professionals, such as museum directors, EU ministers, Italian politicians, and visiting scholars from Italian universities. Additionally, many of the professors integrate Florence and Italy directly into their courses, providing students with opportunities to take class "field trips" throughout the city and the country!
What did you learn about yourself while you were studying abroad?
While I was studying abroad, I gained a new form of confidence and discovered my own strength and capability as an independent woman exploring new cities, countries, and continents. When studying abroad, especially in environments where one is unfamiliar with the local language, it can be daunting to travel by oneself. However, I found that I was happiest when I said "yes" to investigating new places and trying new experiences that interested me, even if it meant exploring them alone. By taking initiative and saying "yes" to myself and my interests, I was able to do so much more than I had originally thought possible. Through my solo travels, I learned about a new and important form of personal strength: my faith and confidence in myself.
What was the most challenging experience you encountered while you were abroad and what did you learn from it?
The most challenging experience that I encountered while studying abroad was when my cohort had to evacuate Italy due to its COVID-19 outbreak and resultant lockdowns. Although it was very frightening and stressful, I think that the experience made me more resilient as an individual and provided me with a new perspective on appreciating the time and opportunities that I had during my weeks abroad. Because my cohort did not have a full quarter abroad, I found the time that we spent and the new relationships that we built in Florence to be so much more meaningful.
What was the biggest cultural adjustment you had to make?
The biggest cultural adjustment that I had to make while in Florence was related to food. As someone who would typically eat lunch between 12pm - 1pm and dinner between 6pm - 7pm at Stanford, I found that I had to readjust my body's schedule to fit Italy's later lunches and MUCH later dinners. In addition to the differences in mealtimes, I also had to adjust to the difference in food options and ways of eating. Some quick tips - a cornetto or a shot of espresso at a "bar" is breakfast, lattes are just milk, never drink a cappuccino after noon, panini are only sold until 3pm, and don't be surprised if dinner lasts longer than two hours! Jokes aside, Florence is a great place to explore and enjoy food - just do NOT race out of a restaurant after a long dinner to catch a train unless you apologize profusely to the chef on your way out!
What was your favorite part of your everyday life in Florence?
Aside from exploring the city through my classes and with my friends, my favorite part of everyday life in Florence was my walk between my homestay and the Stanford Center. Every morning and every evening, I walked over the Ponte alle Grazie bridge and in front of the Basilica di Santa Croce, listening to the church bells chime through the winter mists. Whether they were telling me to hurry to class or giving me more time to look around at the cobblestones and Renaissance buildings, I always found myself smiling as I went past them. Now, even though it was an everyday occurrence, my daily walk past Santa Croce and over Ponte alle Grazie is one of my favorite memories of Florence.
What was the most memorable experience you had while you were in Florence?
I honestly believe that it is impossible to have one "most" memorable experience from a quarter abroad in Florence, so here are a few highlights from mine: having private tours of renowned art museums, such as the Uffizi Gallery, which included lectures by Professor Verdon directly in front of works like Botticelli's Primavera and the Birth of Venus; spending evenings after class with our "Friends a Firenze," singing and dancing to "Settimana Bianca;" going out for tea, dinner, and gelato with my friends for their birthdays; watching Italian shows, baking, and learning TikTok dances with my host sisters; and climbing up to Piazzale Michelangelo to see the sunset over the Arno!
What 5 words would you use to describe your experience?
Enlightening, Inspiring, Exploratory, Transformative, Beautiful
What was your favorite food you had in Florence?
Apart from gelato, my favorite food that I had in Florence was either "pappardelle al ragu di cinghiale" (Tuscan wild boar pasta) or "ravioli al tartufo" (truffle ravioli)!
What was the most valuable item you took with you on the program?
The most valuable items that I brought with me on the program were a collection of notes from my friends, a portrait that my little sister drew of the two of us for Christmas, and my camera, which was (too) often used to take photos of food - much to the dismay of my hungry friends!
What was your favorite music/band that you discovered in Florence?
While I was in Florence, I surprisingly didn't listen to a lot of Italian music (except, of course, "Settimana Bianca"). However, I loved listening to and learning about Moroccan rap when my friends and I went on a weekend trip to Marrakech!