Sage Behr



Stanford in Florence, Winter Quarter 2014-15
Major: Comparative Literature
College year while abroad: Junior


Why did you choose to study abroad in Florence?

Honestly, the language waiver was lifted and I had wanted to go to Italy since…forever. I had a linguistic base in Spanish, and I figured that Italian would present a fun challenge. (I practiced saying Italian food names: pancetta, ribollita, lasagna…pancetta.)  

What were your expectations before you went and how did those change once you arrived in Florence? 

What was a somewhat random decision CHANGED MY LIFE! I had an experience I never could have imagined. I had an image of Florence as a city sized museum. Beautiful, but a little hands-off. Well, Florence is basically an open-air museum, but it also has lots and lots to do besides gaze at fine art from a safe distance. The experiences that ended up being most significant came from exploring the people and spaces that invest in Florence as a community: the It’s Yoga! studio (on Via dei Bardi, where the Stanford Center is located) and Orti di Pinti community garden on Borgo Pinti, and the amazing art students at NEMO Academy of Digital Arts.  

What were some of the academic benefits from studying abroad in Australia?

I learned another language! And amassed a lot more knowledge in art history, Italian history, the history of WWII & Fascism… I felt reinvigorated to learn after my quarter in Florence, because I had such a blast in all my classes there.  

What did you learn about yourself while you were studying abroad?

Two things. One, the travel bug is a very real phenomenon and my time in Australia made me want travel more than ever! Two, I absolutely thrive in the outdoors. I loved every sunshine, sweat, mud, and sand-filled moment we spent in Australia. The hikes, snorkels, and mangrove treks were by far the best part of the experience.

What was the most challenging experience you encountered while you were abroad and what did you learn from it?

That as adaptable as I/you might be, it is worth it to invest in the places where you are. Even if it is short-term. Three months in Florence felt devastatingly short…but I would not have had as meaningful an experience if I hadn’t worked very hard to learn Italian, understand the city, click with Italians, and live Firenze. (I also would not have had the resources to return this summer, which I did for eight weeks.)  

What was the most challenging experience you encountered while you were abroad and what did you learn from it? 

Cultural differences can make friendships feel challenging, especially at the beginning. It takes patience and a sense of humor to become friends with someone who comes from a different cultural and linguistic background than you. I had a hard time feeling like I was making significant friendships with Italians. What I learned was so important: friendship knows no bounds, not language, not culture. It takes more time, and it can push you out of your comfort zone to be vulnerable with people right off the bat just by function of being out of place. But it is absolutely worth it to try, try and try to make new friends. Don’t be discouraged! 

How was your experience living with local families? 

Awesome. I lived with a host family somewhat far from the center, but I was always so excited to get home at night that the walk or bus ride felt like nothing. My host family took very good care of me, were super patient with my spotty Italian, and always made me feel like I was in my own home.  

What was the biggest cultural adjustment you had to make? 

A lot of people will tell you that it is hard to “slow down” to the “pace” that Italians take in day-to-day life. I disagree, not least because I’m completely down with slowing down my pace. I also disagree because I think that statement reduces what is a complex and fascinating cultural difference. In the U.S., we have a culture of working hard so you can “relax”, aka be absurdly slothful and over-consumptive. In Italy, I found that mindset shifted to a more balanced and present lifestyle in general. Sure, you can lean back and relax for a lot longer after your meal, because that check’s gonna take its time in arriving anyway. But there’s no Door Dash, less Netflix dependence, more errands done on foot. Relax, but don’t be lazy. It was hard for me to do, because I have a hardwired dichotomy between work and play. It’s a nice adjustment, I think, it just might be harder to achieve than you expect.  

What was your favorite part of your everyday life in Florence? 

Morning cappuccinos and 6pm yoga at It’s Yoga! just a few steps from the Stanford center. Rituals! They balanced each other out, each comforting me in different ways.  

What was the most memorable experience you had while you were in Florence? 

This was this summer, but I went to an anarchist named Taro’s funeral in Carrara (Northern Tuscany), ate calda-calda con pepe, swam in a river named “Frigid” and practiced yoga in a mountain valley…in one day! It was fun. 

What 5 words would you use to describe your experience? 

Quiet, happy, learning, gelato, tomato

What advice would you give to someone who was considering studying abroad in Florence? 

DO IT!  And go the whole way: if your only goals at the beginning of the quarter are to eat and drink, rest assured. You can have a much deeper and more meaningful experience and still eat and drink plenty of good things.  

How has the experienced changed or enhanced your future academic and career goals?

My quarter abroad encouraged me to expand my academic horizons beyond the technical scope that is common to ERE. Since coming back I have made it a point to take classes that look at energy resources issues through an environmental and ecological lens. I also discovered how much I loved working outdoors and hope to incorporate this into any future job I have.

If you had to do it all over again what would you do differently?

Go for two quarters. 

How has the experienced changed or enhanced your future academic and career goals? 

I’m going to take an Italian language class this year, and …if the opportunity presented itself, I’d go live in Italy in a heartbeat. (Come on out of your hiding place, opportunity!)   

What was your favorite food you had in Florence? 

Morning cappuccino and apple pastry.  

What was the most valuable item you took with you on the program? 

Good walking boots. It is a city meant to be explored on foot!  

What was your favorite music/band that you discovered in Florence? 

Hmm. Not a lot of new music in Florence, but I really like the classics like Lucio Dalla and Lucio Battisti. You can’t go wrong with a little Lorenzo Fragola, too.