Keith Calix - Student Profile
MAJOR: International Relations
MINOR: Modern Languages
I can honestly say that my time in Florence was one of the most special experiences of my life. Having been raised by an Italian mother in a close knit Italian community in Queens, New York, I was eager to connect with the family in Italy I had always heard stories about and in the process learn more about the interesting personalities and family traditions I had always been surrounded mystified and intrigued by.
While studying in Florence I was lucky enough to study "The Politics and Policies of the European Union" with Professor Elena Baracani which taught me an immense deal about the history, development, and nuances of the existing structure of the European Union. Although all of us in the class were certainly nervous at first of the prospect of studying politics in Italian, Professor Baracani was more than understanding of our initial nerves as she effortlessly explained detailed concepts in her native tongue. Her expert ability to weave present and past politics would bring any student irrespective of one’s background with politics to a greater understanding and appreciation of European political development and governmental organization. By the end of the course we all were extremely grateful for the manner in which she encouraged us to ask questions and relate concepts and policies that at a first glance may appear incongruent.
Ironically enough, I was extremely grateful to have studied the politics of the European Union in Italian when I had the unique opportunity of being interviewed for a regional television news channel for my opinion on ‘supermartedì’ or ‘Super Tuesday’ and to gauge my opinion on current Italian and European political affairs. It would be an understatement to say that I was petrified of the prospect of appearing for an interview on television so all of Florence and my classmates could watch. More so than any exam, however, the experience taught me how useful and relevant Baracani's class was. I was able to speak about important Italian and European issues in a foreign language on television and relate them to my experiences back in the States. The experience itself empowered me in the sense that I became confident in my Italian speaking ability but also in my knowledge of Italian, EU, and U.S. politics. Needless to say, when I returned home, my ‘mamma ospite’ (host mother) Angelica, an incredibly funny, warm and intelligent woman, had prepared an amazing meal with family and friends and we all watched the interview later that night. It seemed as if my host mom had told everyone she knew to watch the clip, but in a surprising way, the pride she had really made me feel like I had become a member of my host family in the time I was there.
Perhaps the greatest part of my time in Florence was the sense of family I felt during my stay. This strong sense of support and family was provided by my host family, the Stanford staff, and the incredible group of students I had the privilege of sharing my abroad experience with. From my arrival when my mamma ospite encouragingly shouted ‘forte…forte’ as I struggled to carry my luggage up what appeared to be a insurmountable mountain of stairs to the night when my host dog ‘Rum’ cried outside my bedroom door because I had forgotten to let him in, I knew I was a part of something special. Perhaps the connection I made with my host family was something unique. Personally, I believe the warmth, generosity and tremendous support I received from my host family which was only multiplied by the outstanding staff at the Florence center is a true testament to the ‘Florentine’ way. Despite what other Italians might be quick to tell you about Florentines, beneath their proud exteriors are people who are willing to share a piece of themselves and their historically, culturally, and architecturally magnificent city to those who are eager to listen and willing to share a piece of themselves.
In a very real way, my host 'home' became my home away from home. Every day, whether I had an exciting adventure to share or was exhausted from a night of paper writing, my host family was always there to make me laugh, share their experiences of the day, and challenge me intellectually. It was truly an incredible experience to discuss immigration policies in Professor Allam’s class or watch a particularly moving or interesting film in Professor Campani’s class to later discuss them with my host family and gauge their opinions on important and very relevant topics. In this sense, the host family provides a unique opportunity for students to grasp a sense of Italian perspectives and opinions on policies and events that come at a very crucial time for Italy. Even now, I exchange emails with my mamma ospite regularly. I recently used a recipe that she had taught me that was an absolute hit, much to her delight!
Similarly, the Florence staff is a tremendous resource. To say there is never a dull moment at the Stanford center is truly an understatement. What struck me most about the Stanford staff in Florence was the genuine interest they take in each and every student. Before arriving in Florence, I spoke briefly with Fosca (voted by our quarter as ‘Most likely to run the world’—you will learn why soon enough) about my interest in development work. Soon enough, she had contacted me to tell me she had been able to book me an interview with COSPE, a nationwide non-profit based in Florence. During this internship experience, I was able to draft a grant proposal to the European Commission, a task that was tremendously aided by my newfound understanding of the Commission that I gained in Professor Baracani’s class. This internship provided me a unique understanding of the policy side of development. Ultimately, from wanting to stay updated on our home stay experiences, to asking for our input on activities, to arranging a language partner program, to helping me book a Valentine’s dinner, the staff in Florence found the perfect balance between providing support for its students as we learned to navigate a foreign country and allowing us to experience the city in our own way, make our own mistakes and come to our own conclusions.
Finally, the amazingly talented, creative, intelligent, eclectic, and hilarious group of students I studied abroad with made my experience in Florence unforgettable. Before going to Florence I can honestly say I only knew three other students in the program closely. In a large part, I think my unfamiliarity with the other students in the program reflects a tendency at Stanford for students to stay within their social and academic comfort zones—I would be the first to say I am guilty of this. Computer science majors will tend to be friends with other tech majors, and the same goes for the arts etc. Florence, however, provided the opportunity for a diverse group of students—from Psych to Music, from California to New Jersey—to bond over our mutually shared unfamiliarity with living overseas and our genuine interest in Italian language and culture despite our very different backgrounds. From exploring gelato shops, dinners with our language partners, bike trips through Lucca, walks through the Boboli Gardens, host family dinners and sunsets at Piazza San Michelangelo my fellow Stanford classmates helped shape me to become a more confident, concerned and globally conscious person. Ultimately, this energetic and diverse group catalyzed by a dedicated and vivacious staff really made my experience abroad the perfect recipe for building my confidence, allowing me to understand myself as a global citizen, and facilitating real personal growth.
While I can talk for days about why Florence has something special to offer to any type of student, I will conclude with this, I was reunited today in Cape Town with Professor Campani who is the director and a professor at the Stanford in Florence program. As we spoke, it was as if I had never left Florence. I was immediately taken back to the smells of the pizzerias, the bright lights along the Arnot at nighttime, Alessio and Fosca’s laughter, Valentina’s encouragement and advice, Giovanna’s subtle acts of kindness, Fiorenza’s smile and sassiness, Professor Campani’s energy, and the countless memories I shared with some of my closest friends. It was then that I realized that the bond of the famiglia Fiorentina extends far beyond the confines of the enchanting city that is Florence. It is this bond that I am better for. It is this bond that I will always hold dear to my heart.