The language requirement for undergraduates applying to the Stanford Overseas Program in Florence has been waived for the spring 2016 quarter in an attempt to make the program more accessible to students.
According to Ermelinda Campani, the Spogli Family Director of the Breyer Center for Overseas Studies in Florence, the change will allow more students to apply — especially STEM majors and athletes who might not otherwise be able to fit the requirements into their schedules.
“We encourage STEM majors in Florence to follow in the footsteps of the great engineers, scientists and thinkers of the Renaissance,” Campani said.
In order to apply for the spring, applicants in the past were required to complete the equivalent of one year of Italian language courses with ITALLANG 2A: “Accelerated First-Year Italian” or ITALLANG 3: “First-Year Italian, Third Quarter.”
The language requirement remains for students who enroll in the autumn quarter program, but the language requirement for winter quarter applicants has also been waived every year since 2014. Since this change, winter quarter enrollment in the program has increased dramatically — from seven students in winter 2012-13 to 37 in winter 2013-14.
All classes at Florence are taught in English, with the exception of the required on-site Italian course. Class topics range from Renaissance art to Italian cooking to bioethics.
“While the ideal is to have students who understand the language fully, in practice they seem to enjoy themselves and learn a great deal,” said Timothy Verdon, who teaches art history to the students in the Florence program.
The rich cultural heritage of Florence makes the city a haven for scholarship, Verdon said. Students in his art history classes don’t take trips to museums, but instead visit palazzos and public spaces where centuries-old art can be found.
“It’s quite remarkable — in America, we don’t have…paintings and frescoes that are still in the chapels in which they were painted,” Verdon said.
Despite the program’s draw for many Stanford students, Elizabeth Bernhardt, professor of German and the director of the Stanford Languages Center, doubts that students without a background in the language will be able to learn Italian while they are in Florence.
“The data are fairly clear that if a person goes into a foreign setting with no language ability on entry, they have virtually no language ability when they leave,” Bernhardt said.
Bernhardt also suggested that students without an appropriate language background may be at significant risk in case of an emergency, citing the recent attacks in Paris.
“It makes me very nervous for students to go to any foreign country without some knowledge of the language because things happen,” Bernhardt said. “When there is some sort of emergency, the assistance happens in the language of that country.”
Students studying abroad in Florence live with local homestays to allow for linguistic and cultural engagement. Because these hosts prefer to interact with students in Italian, conversational fluency is central to residential life, said Louise Stewart ’16, who completed one quarter of Italian before studying in Florence last winter.
“I had friends who didn’t take Italian, and dinners were torturous because they couldn’t communicate in Italian,” Stewart said.
“I would recommend taking one quarter even if you’ve fulfilled the language requirement,” she said. “And even if you haven’t taken it, still go.”
Depending on the program’s success, Florence coordinators will consider waiving the language requirement for future spring quarters.
Contact Augustine Chemparathy at agchempa ‘at’ stanford.edu.