“It has been a little intimidating living in a country where you don’t really know the language,” said Arielle Sison ‘15, who is currently participating in a Bing Overseas Studies Program (BOSP) in Florence.
While in the past students were required to have completed a full year of Italian language coursework to attend the Florence program, there was no language prerequisite for Winter 2014, allowing students like Sison to go abroad without any Italian language background.
“[The change] was a mutual decision, which involved lots of parties and which took into account also the recommendations coming from SUES [Study of Undergraduate Education at Stanford],” wrote Ermelinda Campani, the director of Overseas Studies in Florence, in an email to The Daily.
This decision, however, is temporary.
“The modification of the language requirement for Winter 2014 was a pilot program,” Campani explained. “BOSP will consider the results for the Winter 2014 and Winter 2015 terms before deciding whether to extend the modification.”
The change in requirements appears to have dramatically affected the popularity of the program. Campani said that there are currently 37 students in Florence after just seven studied abroad there last winter quarter. According to information provided by BOSP Senior Program Advisor Lee Dukes, the Autumn 2013 program in Florence did not have a waitlist, but the Winter 2014 program did following the second round of applications.
Additionally, more majors are represented in this group’s demographics and the gender distribution, typically two-thirds female, is almost 50-50 this quarter, Campani said.
Beyond attracting more diverse students, dropping the language requirement has caused few other changes to the program this quarter.
“The main and, really, only change is that academic classes are offered in English,” Campani explained. “We used to offer most of our classes in a mix of English and Italian.”
Campani added that the biggest logistical issue has been accommodating the various levels of language experience for the required on-site language course, with the program more than doubling its class offerings.
“We have students who came with no Italian, we have one Italian major, one student who lived in Italy in the past and all levels in between,” Campani wrote.
Students at Florence stay in homestays, but to accommodate those with no language background, students have been matched with families that speak English.
“We chose families where some English is spoken,” Campani wrote. “But students take Italian here so also their ability to speak in Italian with their host families increases dramatically as the quarter proceeds.”
Several students who spoke to The Daily from Florence via email echoed this sentiment.
“It’s hard to communicate with them due to my limited background in Italian, but as time goes by, my knowledge of the language increases and it becomes easier,” said Nchedo Ezeokoli ‘15 of her host family.
While Ezeokoli did not taken Italian before arriving in Florence, she quickly improved.
“It can be frustrating, but nevertheless it’s just as rewarding to see the look of understanding on my host family’s faces when they’ve understood my meager Italian,” she said.
Many young people in the area also speak English, allowing students to interact with others in the city.
“I am amazed at how many people speak English, and the amount of abroad students here is unbelievable,” said Santiago Seira ‘15, who had taken a quarter of Italian before arriving. “Also, speaking Spanish can get you by in any situation as long as you’re able to laugh off some made up words.”
Back at Stanford, there have been repercussions from this change in Florence with the Italian language department seeing a decline in enrollment in first-year Italian.
Italian language coordinator and lecturer Anna Cellinese said that the number of students enrolled in all first year Italian courses — ITALLANG 1, 1A, 2, 2A, 3 — dropped from 98 in Autumn 2013 to 72 in Winter 2014.
“In any case, the difference may be insignificant, but in a small program like ours, this is a number that makes the difference, and we feel it,” Cellinese said. “I believe it is due to the Florence program change since our numbers have always been stable throughout the academic year.”
Cellinese hopes that BOSP Florence will be a starting point for future studies for the new students of the Italian language.
“I consider the Italian program a little bit like a boutique,” Cellinese said. “Students who chose to study Italian are genuinely interested in its culture, history and especially arts.”
Contact Alex Zivkovic at aleksa ‘at’ stanford.edu.