From Qatar to Fiesole: A GU-Q Student’s Perspective of the Villa 

Mia Boykin

February 22, 2024For the students on Georgetown’s Main Campus, Villa Le Balze and Georgetown Qatar can feel lightyears away. However, for a new student at the Villa, these educational spaces could not be closer to her heart. 

Natali Fanik, a junior at GU-Q, offered insight into her early study abroad experience at Villa Le Balze. In addition to coming to Georgetown’s Main Campus, GU-Q students can study abroad in any program offered by Georgetown’s Office of Global Education, and studying at the Villa has become increasingly popular. 

Fanik pictured in front of the Monument to Dante, a statue in Florence. Photo: Natali Fanik/January 2024

Fanik cites her International History major as her main draw to the Villa, which is both itself a historical artifact, and filled with them. “One of the biggest reasons I chose Florence or studying at the Villa is because I’m a history major. [On excursions,] I spend hours. I’m always the last one, it sucks because everyone’s moving on and I’m still trying to read every plaque,” she says. 

Fanik touched down in Italy in early January, meaning she has only had a month or so to adjust. She is Palestinian but was born in New Jersey, and then raised in Jordan, and despite these big moves in her past, the VLB experience is the first time she has been away from her family. 

“The first few days were hard. I couldn’t describe what I was feeling like I was very overwhelmed. I was asking myself like, why am I here? What am I doing here? This feels wrong. I should go back,” she says. Whether you’re in D.C., Florence, Qatar, or elsewhere in the world, homesickness is a common experience for students studying away from home.  

“But,” she says, “that was before we had orientation. When you meet the people like the residential advisers or the DC kids, it slowly kind of falls into place. I was like, ‘I am going to study in Florence for a little bit with these cool people, it’ll be fine.’ And, so far it’s really fun. I am really happy with my decision.” 

The community that the Villa strives to build gives students the chance to create a second family, especially after those initial moments of worry and anxiety. When it came to making friends, Fanik says the fact that everyone is new at the Villa helped her come out of her shell. 

“We’re all kind of just meeting each other for the first time, it’s a new environment for everyone. Compared to going to DC, it would just be a new environment for me because everyone would already know each other. But here everyone doesn’t know each other, so it’s nice creating new friendships.” 

A Different Perspective   

Taking classes in a new environment can be intimidating, but Fanik holds an open mind to ensure she gets the best education possible. Most of her classes are history-based, such as HIST-2602 The Mediterranean in History: From Highway to Barrier, and ENGL-2740 Italian Cinema. 

She describes the contrast in the curriculum of a class, where the history has differed based on the perspective of the country in which you are studying. “It’s very interesting to learn two different viewpoints of the same history.”

This aspect of cultural differences in academia provides opportunities to broaden Fanik’s perspective. Classes at the Villa have aided in her academic journey by giving her diversity in these ideas. 

She says, “It’s good to keep an open mind of how different countries or different periods of time have seen history. And you shouldn’t just see it from one point of view because history is not like a universal experience. That’s something I’m discovering here from learning from different professors with different backgrounds.” 

These discoveries don’t only happen within the classroom for Fanik though. She describes how even just walking around the Villa can bring historical insights. “But what’s really cool about the Villa, they have the desk of Charles [Augustus Strong], the couches look old, there are older paintings of people, etc. It’s just so interesting to be studying the history of the country that I’m in while in a historical building. Just, it’s so cool.” 

Exploring Florence 

Despite the historical artifacts decorating the Villa, her absolute favorite part is the view. She says, “The view is so pretty, every time I walk, I just pause. My whole gallery is filled with pictures, it’s so breathtaking. But the thing is, your phone doesn’t take it as pretty as your eyes see it.” 

Fanik pictured on one of the Villa’s terraces. Photo: Natali Fanik/January 2024

She describes the Villa as being homey, with small classrooms, lunch after class, and coffee areas that are visited during breaks. When asked whether she preferred this more chilled-out vibe that the Villa takes pride in, or the fast-paced lifestyle of nearby Florence, she couldn’t choose. Instead, she says the two locations serve different purposes for students. 

“Up there [at the Villa], it’s so green. There’s nothing there, it’s just a cathedral and then the Villa. Studying, I think the Villa is perfect, it’s very nice to be separated from the hustle and bustle. And when you’re on the balcony, you can see everything, it’s so relaxing.”  

However, Florence holds a little more business to it, but that doesn’t make it unenjoyable for students. She says “Florence is like the abroad part of the study abroad. Everything is so close, you can get to the Duomo, the train station is nearby…I love how everything in Florence is so close-knit.” 

The Journey Continues

Fanik’s time in Italy is far from over, and she will have ample time to explore both the Villa and Florence, partly thanks to Italy Today, a required experiential course that brings students to museums and hands-on demonstrations. 

After the COVID-19 pandemic, Villa Le Balze noticed an uptick in applicants from the Qatar campus. Though every student at the Villa is new to the courses and lifestyles, students from Qatar can bring a unique perspective that sheds light on the importance of opening your education. As we move full throttle into this semester, acknowledging students’ different backgrounds is integral to an effective experience. 

Despite the difficulties in the beginning, Fanik is enjoying her time at the Villa. Whether she continues to explore the historical intricacies of the Villa or makes her way through the Florentine street markets, the Villa will provide her with everything needed to give her the best experience possible. 

Fanik pictured with friends during an excursion to the Leaning Tower of Pisa, in Pisa, Italy. Photo: Natali Fanik/January 2024