Nicole DeMont - Student Profile
MAJOR: Political Science
I had never traveled outside of the United States, so by the time I had been accepted to Stanford, I was itching to go abroad somewhere. After taking Spanish in high school, I wanted to try something new, and my freshman RA advised me, “You have to take Italian with Professor Tempesta. It will change your life.” The second half of his advice was meant as somewhat of an exaggeration, but little did I know that my RA would be exactly right.
I took three quarters of Italian with Professor Tempesta, and I enjoyed every minute of it. His passion for Italy’s culture, food, art, and language was evident every day of the week, making it impossible to not want to study in Florence. Fortunately, I already knew that I was going to major in political science, so I was able to plan my classes so that I could go to Florence during my sophomore year. Because I had never been to another country, I wanted to make going abroad the most engrossing and unique experience I could possibly have. For that reason I decided to stay in Florence for two quarters.
That engrossing, unique experience is exactly what I found. It took no time at all for me to settle in with my host family. My host mom couldn’t wait to invite me to my host brother’s First Communion and my host sister’s eighth grade graduation. My host dad was one of the most insightful people I have ever met, and he was always eager to discuss politics over dinner. He also happened to be an amazing cook with a strong preference for everything Sicilian, where he had grown up. Sundays were by far my favorite day of the week because grandparents, cousins, and family friends would come over and we would all sit down for lunch. Four hours later, we were still at the table talking, laughing, and enjoying the fifth course of the best meal I had ever eaten. All of our guests always wanted to hear about my family, talk about the classes I was taking, and find out what life is like on a college campus (something that doesn’t exist in Italy).
And, of course, they were always willing to help me with my Italian. Sometimes, though, I learned the hard way. I will never forget eating homemade pasta with a black sauce I had never seen before. I told my host dad that I would never be able to eat anything else again because it was so delicious. He gave me the name of the sauce in Italian, but I didn’t know what the words translated to in English. Later that night I was Skyping with my mom, and I told her about the incredible pasta I had eaten. She told me to look up “squid ink sauce.” That was exactly what it was. I would have never even tasted it if I had known beforehand, but that was the first (and probably only) time that I was glad I didn’t know what the Italian words meant. After that experience I decided that I would not let myself miss out on anything in Italy just because it was foreign or unknown to me.
This led me to choose classes I would have shied away from at Stanford. I had always been set on studying American government, but it was in Florence that I took a class on the European Union. My professor was a leader in the field (the President of the International Political Science Association, so how can you not be impressed?), and his “insider” stories made the classes that much more interesting. When writing the final paper, I found myself doing an excessive amount of research because I was genuinely intrigued by the topic and not because I had to. And that’s not a rare occurrence in Florence classes. After Professor Verdon’s Renaissance Art class, I had a much greater understanding and appreciation for art, a subject I had never studied before. Actually, it’s difficult to even call one of Professor Verdon’s classes a “class” because it is a learning experience unlike any other.
We studied early Renaissance art winter quarter, and each class was chronological, from the works of Giotto to Michelangelo. Every week we met at a different location in the city and would follow Professor Verdon around from landmark to landmark as he told us the stories of Botticelli, Donatello, Brunelleschi, and so many other artists. His wealth of knowledge is truly incredible, and it’s more than you could ever take in during one quarter. Still though, I never walked by the bronze doors of the Baptistry again without thinking about the competition that Ghiberti won that gave him the rights to design those “Gates of Paradise,” as Michelangelo called them.
The internship program for students who stay in Florence for two quarters is another completely unique opportunity. Fosca is one of the wonderful staff members who has the task of placing students in internships. Without a doubt she can find a way to get you in an internship you are interested in, whether it’s making delicious chocolate in a chocolate shop, writing for a Florentine newspaper, or working on a project for the mayor of Florence, like I did. I helped with Project LINK, a very new project that sought to connect young Florentines with foreign students.
My work focused on American students, but I got to work with eight other interns from all around the world. I did anything from updating the Facebook page to translating the website to attending social mixers. And because the project was so new, I was given a lot of freedom as to which direction I wanted to take it in. My boss also knew that I was interested in the inner workings of politics, so she invited me to the mayor’s press conferences and weekly staff meetings. I think the internship was so valuable because it gave me an understanding of how politics work in a foreign country, something that most people learn about but do not experience firsthand.
As cliché as it sounds, studying abroad really does change your life. It’s an unforgettable experience, and I truly believe the Florence program offers unparalleled opportunities. Not only did I come home with a completely different outlook on the world around me, but I also came home with a completely different vision of myself. Living in Florence is exciting, challenging, fun, and educational. It teaches you how to adapt to a new language, a new culture, new friends, and a new family, which can be difficult. But knowing that you have a second home 6,000 miles away makes it clear that all those difficult moments were completely worth it.