Back to SummaryJoe Oehmke - Student Profile
MINOR: Political Science
ACADEMIC INTERESTS: Democracy, American and Japanese History, Creative Writing
I first went to Florence during spring break of my senior year in high school. It was only one stop on a ten-day tour of Italy, but the two days I spent in Firenze were more than enough to get me hooked. It was during that break that I decided to enroll at Stanford, and soon after returning to the States I was thrilled to discover that Stanford had a campus in Florence. Thus, the choice to study abroad there was an easy one for me; I had been planning it since before freshman year! But I still could never have anticipated just how much my overseas experience in Florence would mean to me.
By the time I began my junior year, I was itching to get off campus. The Farm is a wonderful place, but I wanted to be somewhere new. I wanted to see a new place, to explore new surroundings, and to challenge myself to expand my comfort zone by living in a different city, a different country, and a different culture. Florence was perfect for all those reasons and more.
Two of the most enticing reasons for me to go to Florence were the incredible history and beauty of the city. I remem bered doing a project on the European Renaissance in high school, and the prospect of walking the same streets as Dante and Machiavelli, standing inside the Florence cathedral and baptistery, and seeing with my own eyes Michelangelo’s David were experiences not to be missed. But more than feeling a sense of connection to the past, I wanted to be immersed in the aura of Florence. From the art-stuffed halls and corridors of the Uffizi to the statues in the loggia of the Piazza della Signoria, from Palazzo Pitti to the Duomo, and from the street-level view of the city to the panoramic one provided by the vantage point at Piazzale Michelangelo, Florence is a city of stunning beauty, history, and culture. And I wanted to experience it all.
It was in this setting that I was blessed to live la dolce vita, the sweet life, for three months. But there is much more to the Florence experience than just the history or art. While those things are meaningful, they are also static… it’s the people and culture that make it possible to really connect with Florence. Italians were some of the friendliest people I encountered in the six months I spent
abroad, and living in Florence was truly a pleasure. Of course the Stanford staff was friendly, outgoing, and always willing to help, but the real cultural interaction came outside the confines of the Stanford Center. My home-stay is a fantastic example. For me, living with an Italian family was one of the most daunting aspects of studying abroad. But as soon as I met my host mother, all my fears were quickly forgotten. She treated me and my roommate like family, and she was always quick to smile and encourage us when our language skills occasionally (and inevitably) faltered. This was consistent with the other people I encountered while in Florence. Thanks to the Language Partner Program and other social gatherings, I was able to meet Italian college students who were outgoing and fun. They enjoyed practicing their English and provided an informal forum for me to practice my Italian. One of my primary goals in Florence was to leave feeling a sense of comfort in my new surroundings, and the people I met in Italy played a pivotal part in helping me to accomplish that goal.
While I chose to focus most of my time and energy in Florence on learning about my surroundings, I was still a Stanford student—academics were important. And, just as studying abroad in Florence is an experience unlike anything to be found on the Farm, the courses offered in Florence are also unique. I had never considered taking an art history course, but the opportunity to see some of the most famous works of art in the world inspired me to take one on the early
Renaissance. It remains one of the most interesting and special courses I’ve taken at Stanford… after all, reading about Botticelli’s “Birth of Venus” and seeing it in person are very different! I also took a fascinating course examining Italian fascism through the lens of Italian cinema, as well as a photography course. In many ways, Florence was not only the place where I lived; it was also the subject of my studies. The interaction between academics, personal exploration, and cultural immersion was exactly what I had hoped to find in Florence, and it will continue to rank as one of my favorite academic experiences at Stanford.
So, if nothing else, I hope that one fact is apparent in the preceding paragraphs: I loved every second of my time in Florence. I can’t think of another place in the world where so much history and culture is packed into an area so small and accessible, nor can I remember a time when I felt so quickly comfortable in surroundings so initially foreign. In only three short months I explored a new city and country, improved my language abilities ten-fold, met new friends, took hundreds of pictures, and made memories that I will cherish forever. Florence is beautiful and charming, the people are friendly and welcoming, and it served as the backdrop for three of the most fun, challenging, and personally gratifying months of my life.
… and I didn’t even mention the food.