New Changes at Villa Le Balze Bring More Students and Time in Florence

Mia Boykin

September 22, 2023 — Villa Le Balze made some exciting changes this past summer, specifically in the summer program format. The new structure allows students more flexibility to create a summer Villa experience that meets their academic and cultural immersion goals. Students can choose to study for one or two summer sessions and can enroll in one to four courses (if doing both sessions). This summer the Villa was able to host almost double the number of participants and allowed for students to spend more time in Florence while earning more credits. It’s a win-win for most students considering studying abroad. 

A Student’s First Impressions

Winnie Ho, pictured in front of the Leaning Tower of Pisa in Tuscany, Italy.

Winnie Ho (CAS ‘25) was shaking with anticipation when she arrived at the Villa in late May, “I really didn’t know what to expect because I never experienced a Villa before,” she said. “And then you’re up on a cliff and you get the entire view of Florence. Villa le Balze means ‘villa on the cliff’, and literally you‘re teetering over Florence, you can see everything.” 

The Villa Le Balze sits on the hillside above the cultural center of Florence, Italy, a city that has been constantly bustling since the first century CE. By the 14th century, Florence had achieved prominence in art, commerce, science, and food, making it an excellent destination for Georgetown students who want to experience a rich history. 

As more students are studying at the Villa, accommodations changed to a nearby student residence in downtown Florence. Students take classes at the Villa and commute from the residence. Villa traditions, like family-style group lunches in the Villa’s dining room, are still an essential element of the program.

Ho goes on to describe how the recent changes affected her as a student traveler. “I think since they changed the program so that we don’t live at the Villa anymore, we definitely got to experience what life was like in Florence itself and not just in Fiesole. That was very nice.” 

If you’re a student who doesn’t necessarily like the hustle and bustle of city life, Ho recalls her favorite place when she just wanted a second to breathe. The southern part of Florence features a more residential neighborhood called Oltrarno – Italian for “across the Arno” because this area sits across the Arno River from the historic center of the city. She says, “Florence is a very touristy place and they speak a lot of English, but if you cross the Arno, you can get a more authentic experience. If you’re just looking to stroll around, a small place to grab a coffee and do your work, I found they were all across the Arno.” 

City-Sized Classroom

Professor Oldenburg snapped photo this of students during a class excursion at Villa Dianella.

Not only does residing downtown give students the opportunity to explore Florence and the surrounding sites outside of their classes, but the professors at Villa Le Balze heavily emphasize the importance of experiential learning when it comes to their syllabi. Professor Ann Oldenburg has been teaching International Journalism: Reporting From Florence at the Villa for two summers now. She gives insight into how this new change in class structure has affected her teaching style. 

“I was just going through a PowerPoint about news writing basics that I use in my intro course here on the main campus and how I changed it to focus on Florence. Florence is so rich with art and culture that students are able to go out and find an artist, an artisan, and interview that person and write a profile,” she said in an interview. 

Courses taught at the Villa open students up to a city-sized classroom, giving professors the ability to teach using hands-on learning practices. Oldenburg says, “Every class had at least one excursion a week, which was really fun. Those included visiting a vineyard, a pasta-making class, and of course, museums.” 

Oldenburg believes that Florence offers great experience for journalism students, and allows her to shape her class around understanding what it means to be a foreign correspondent. She attributes the students’ understanding of correspondence to the diversity found within Florence. “I think it all helps you grow as a journalist to think broader about your sources, how you conduct yourself, and then how you present the story because you’re telling people how you see this place, this situation. So are you being fair? Are you presenting it in the way that you think it should be presented and doing it accurately?” 

Professor Oldenburg and her journalism class this past summer on the Villa’s terrace.

As the Villa begins another semester – the new cohort of students arrived on September 2nd – we are excited to hear what both faculty and students have to say when they return home on the Hilltop. However, the memories of this summer at Villa Le Balze will never be forgotten. Oldenburg says the biggest takeaway for her students is the bonds they make with each other. “What I saw is that students really bond. Students make friends that they bond with, they go through these experiences and they’ll always remember that. They’ll always think of that time, that summer in Florence when they did whatever it was, whether it was my class or some other adventure that they were on.” 

To hear directly from a student about last summer’s program read Grace’s article on the Georgetown University News website.

Learn more about Villa Le Balze’s Summer Sessions.