Rebecca Rodriguez-Soto (she/her) - Stanford in Florence
Minor: Data Science
College year while abroad: Junior
About the photo: A short train ride away from Florence is a beautiful medieval town called Siena. I could not get enough of the beautiful city view from the top of the Siena Duomo!
Why did you choose to study in Florence?
I wanted to take a step back from my large STEM classes and engage more with art, culture, and history. I wanted a program that tailored classes to the city and country they were in, and the Florence program created amazing classes that focused on tying big themes to Italian life and contemporary issues.
What were your expectations before you went and how did they change once you were in Florence?
Before I arrived, I expected to stumble into a museum or a villa every afternoon and see everything the city had to offer, but I realized that you need to put quite a bit of effort into seeing everything you want. It can be time-consuming and expensive to visit all the sites, so it helps to prioritize what you want and put effort early on into seeing those things. Once school gets into full-swing, it's easy to fall into a routine of going back to the student residences and missing out on what the city has to offer.
What were some of the academic benefits from studying abroad in Florence?
Every class, even if it's at max capacity, is quite small. The classroom discussions and interactions with instructors are so focused and understanding. I found that everyone was very engaged and loved working together.
What did you learn about yourself while studying abroad?
I credit my study abroad experience for re-sparking my intellectual vitality and excitement to take new classes. Prior to study abroad, I was only taking classes for my major and not engaging with activities outside of my field, but upon returning, I've taken a more diverse set of classes and extracurriculars.
What was the most challenging experience you encountered while abroad and what did you learn from it?
It is very challenging to witness and experience racism. We were prepared beforehand with readings and talks about the presence of certain prejudices, but actually hearing people say racial slurs was distressing for the group. It sparked a lot of dialogue with instructors and each other that I found very enlightening and taught everyone how to be supportive in new situations that we had not faced to regularly before.
What was the biggest cultural adjustment you had to make?
You have to be careful about where and when you walk around alone. I never felt unsafe in a group but you do have to engage some street smarts and rely on others when traveling at night.
What was your favorite part of everyday life?
Walking to school seemed like it would be a daunting task when we started but everyday I could have amazing conversations while strolling through the beautiful streets. It was a great way to get to know people better and learn new routes through the city.
What was the most memorable experience you had while in Florence?
Learning how to make seafood pasta with my CIAO family and getting a taste of authentic home-cooked meals.
What 5 words would you use to describe the experience?
Grounding, revitalizing, historic, connection, reflection.
What was your favorite food?
The "Ravioli burro e salvia" at L'arte di Dory was the best dish I had in Florence. I cannot recommend it enough!
What was the most valuable item you took on the program?
Comfortable, broken-in walking shoes. The best activity was always walking around different neighborhoods and getting to know the city and it was NOT fun when your feet hurt.
What was your favorite music/band you discovered in Florence?
While I was there, the Sanremo Musical Festival competition was going on and Brividi by Mahmood&BLANCO was constantly playing in restaurants, classrooms and shops. It was a huge marker in Italian culture and a wonderful song to get stuck in your head!