Last spring, the spring of my sophomore year at Stanford, I went abroad to study at Oxford, and it was an experience that changed my life.

As an English major, I knew that I wanted to study at Oxford at some point, that I would probably do a course in Modernism, my area of interest. I knew I wanted to read some Joyce, to visit some other European countries, and have a relaxing quarter away from campus.

But I couldn’t have possibly predicted, or prepared for, what came next. The nights spent chatting around the tiny kitchen table eating home-cooked pasta or cheesy chips from the food truck down the street with people who are now some of my best friends at Stanford. The afternoons spent by the river, watching geese and people and boats and seeing the lovely college town that has been around for centuries. The discussions of my favorite literature with a tutor who was more passionate about James Joyce than anyone else I had ever met. Even the parts that weren’t so good, from falling asleep at Gatwick Airport on my way to Ireland at 4am, to running through the streets in a sudden thunderstorm, were incredible moments that I’ll never forget.

The best part of going abroad, however, is the unknown. It’s the fact that you don’t even know what to look forward to until you’re there and it’s all happening. No one can tell you exactly what it’s like to be abroad because it’s different for everyone. You’re out there in the world for three months and given the freedom to explore and learn and create and live.

Below are some accounts of students who were recently abroad—but really, no matter where you go, you can’t go wrong.


Florence – Meghan Sullivan

As one might expect from the heart of the Renaissance, in the Florence abroad Program there are classes in art, art history, and general Italian culture. Students regularly go to field trips at the world famous Uffizi museum and take classes on Tuscan cooking. Florence certainly isn’t the place for a STEM major to get through the core – but the program still tries to accommodate students who aren’t majoring in the humanities. In the past, students have taken CS courses remotely or interned at research centers. One shouldn’t expect to knock out any engineering courses in Florence, but with a little pre-abroad planning, students are typically able to take classes that align with their on-campus academic plan.

Every year, thousands of tourists flood Florence in order to visit its world renowned sites. As a student, these sites are your backyard. The Stanford Florence Center, (which is located in authentic and exquisitely decorated Palazzo) is located on the Arno, just five minutes from the Ponte Vecchio. Must see museums such as the Uffizi, the Accademia, and Palazzo Vecchio are also within a 10 minute walk from the Stanford Center. Here, students can see Michelangelo’s David, Botticelli’s Primavera, and the Duomo.

Many of Florence’s best moments take place in the lesser known locations. Students spend afternoons sunbathing in Tuscan gardens such as the Giardino Delle Rose or watching the sunset from Piazza del Michelangelo. Students get a daily 10 euro lunch stipend, which can be used on the countless panini shops nearby. Past favorites have been shops such as All’Antico Vinaio and Panini Toscani. The food doesn’t disappoint, whether you are dining at a Michelin star restaurant or at the closest gelateria. Most homestay neighborhoods have an enoteca where locals go to get the nightly aperitivo, similar to happy hour in America. Some of the best abroad memories in Florence came from these small, charming aperitivo moments—so be sure to explore the surrounding area for places that won’t show up on a mainstream travel guide. And if you ever get bored of the Florentine lifestyle, the Italian train system ensures that you are able to go to other cities such as Rome and Milan in just under 2 hours.

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Madrid – Emily Quinn

There’s something for everyone in this bustling Spanish metropolis, whether you’re looking to explore the famously late night life or immerse yourself in Spanish art and culture. The Prado is one of the most famous museums in the world, housing masterpieces from Goya, Velazquez, and others, and several classes offered in the Madrid program include trips to the site. Be sure to also check out museums like the Thyssen-Bornemisza and the Reina Sofia, which is home to some of the most famous Dali and Picasso paintings in the world, including Picasso’s Guernica.

Outside of the art world, Madrid is also famous for its variety of food markets; two of the best ones are Mercado San Miguel and Mercado San Anton. Pro tip: Order a cup of the frozen yogurt from Mercado San Miguel. Additionally, the Malasaña neighborhood has some of the best bars in the area many abroad students meet up there for a drink after class or to convene before a night out.

There are a variety of classes offered in Madrid, and the program is not geared towards any major in particular. Students working towards a Spanish Language major or minor can definitely get a class or two out of the way there—and there are also opportunities for students in majors like Economics, Urban Studies, or STS. It’s also a great opportunity to complete some WAYS like CE or A-II!

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Oxford – Claire Zau

Radcliffe Camera is the famous domed library. You’ll love studying here even if you hate working in libraries. Have to get there by 10 am for a spot during exam seasons. All the main Oxford libraries are connected by tunnel so you won’t have an excuse not to go. It also seems as if Oxford has a copy of every single book published.

As a student, you can go to any of the colleges on campus without paying, including Christ Church. It has all the classic Harry Potter set-related places (check out their dining hall, their church and even their main quads are amazing). Other notable colleges to check out are All Souls, Hertford, Merton, Trinity, Lady Margaret Hall, Queens…but honestly, they are all worth exploring.

The Ashmolean is one of many museums on campus and a great place to study.

Vaults and Garden, a café across from the Radcliffe Camera, has an amazing view of 16th century buildings. Go there to taste the best scones in town while sipping your afternoon tea.

At Covered Market, go to Moo Moo’s for unreal milkshakes that come in every flavor and pair it with Ben’s Cookies.

The perfect student snack? Kebabs. My personal fave was Ahmed’s, but I hear Hassan’s is rival because their chips (aka fries) are legendary. Oxford kids will not stop arguing over their own favorite.

Thrifting near Cowley comes in handy because Oxford has a ton of themed parties.

ATIK, also known as “Park End,” is my personal favorite club. It’s huge—the size of a large field with various rooms; one room dedicated to 2000s throwbacks, another to current top 50’s clubbing classics, another to techno… expect long lines, but luckily, everyone is a student.

The King’s Arms—better known as KA—is a great pub for day or night. I like to go here with a good book and enjoy their food and ciders.

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Paris – Gabi Piccininni

Paris is home to some of the most iconic food, sites, and art in the entire world; whether you’re studying there or just visiting for a weekend, there is never a dull moment. The museums you can’t miss are, of course, The Louvre, Musée d’Orsay, and Musée de l’Orangerie, amongst others. Stroll down the Champs Élysées for some classic sightseeing and great photo ops.

In terms of the going out scene, there is a wide variety of options, from large dance clubs to hole in the wall bars. Le Comptoir General is one of the most popular dance clubs in the city and is often filled with both locals and students studying abroad; many people choose to end their nights out there, but don’t get there too late or it will fill up! Lavomatic is a speakeasy bar that looks like a laundromat from the outside; in fact, you have to physically walk through a dryer door to get to the staircase that leads up to the actual bar. The 11th Arrondissement is one of the best neighborhoods for going out, and there are plenty of spots with something for everyone.

While going out is a critical part of the experience, how could we forget about the food? One of the most famous cafes in Paris is Cafe de Flore; there may be a wait, but it makes for a fantastic Instagram. For classic French fondue, check out Le Refuge du Fondue- for a set price, they bring you as much fondue as you want, and they also serve wine in baby bottles! For brunch after a night out, try Holybelly. There is usually a line, but it is delicious and well worth the wait. Classes in Paris cater to various majors. There is a French language requirement, but this is waived in winter quarter. This means that people from more STEM-oriented majors will choose to go in Paris because they can more easily take classes that relate to their major.

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Berlin – Mason Smith

Of all the European abroad programs, Berlin is the most accommodating for students in STEM fields. Classes differ per quarter, but typically there are Economics and Engineering courses offered. Here are a few suggestions from students who went abroad in the fall. East Side Gallery is an old portion of the Berlin Wall that is now covered in beautiful murals. It’s a classic tourist destination in Berlin, but a must-see. The historic Tempelhof Airport is no longer active, but was used during World War II and is now one of the places in Berlin that houses refugees. You need to get a private tour but it’s well worth it.

If you have time, definitely head to Dortmund and see if you can catch a Bayern Munich vs. Dortmund soccer game—they’re the top two teams in Germany. A great holiday tradition in Germany are the Berlin
Weihnachtsmarkt (Christmas Markets). The Glühwein (mulled wine) is excellent.


Stanford in New York – Katherine Eisenbrand

Stanford in New York is unique. While it’s not technically “abroad,” New York City sure is different from Palo Alto. Most of the things I learned were entirely unexpected—like when a Stanford alum taught us everything we need to know about wine, or when I had to transcribe the entire Academy Awards show from beginning to end. I can type really fast now—really, really fast.

Since it is a co-op, students spend four days a week doing an internship and one day a week taking classes at the Stanford center in the Flatiron district. Each quarter has a different theme; fall is the arts, architecture, and urban studies, winter is finance and media, and spring is the global city. Students take classes pertaining to the theme as well as classes about the bustling, new city around you, such as art in the city or street photography.

But, the star of the show is the internship component. Students are drawn to the program for a myriad of reasons, whether it be interest in an industry somewhat foreign to the Bay Area or just to see if they want to move to the big city post-graduation. For me, it was a mix of both.

Stanford in New York was the perfect opportunity to explore my interest in media, in the media capital of the country. I had always been interested in the publishing world, but as a computer science major, I wasn’t ready to commit to a whole summer of it. Instead, I did an editorial internship with Time Inc. in the winter. I got to research for video content, write articles for People Magazine and InStyle, report on the Grammys and New York Fashion Week, and personally interview the likes of Ciara, Pusha-T, and even Aly & AJ (#tbt). And my fellow students were doing equally crazy things at talent agencies, asset management firms, and even TV shows.

This program attracts pretty independent students. If you need a break from the bay, go experience the art, the nightlife, and the food in what some might call the greatest city on earth.

“They lived and laughed and loved and left.” – James Joyce, Finnegans Wake