Sara Lawrence in Florence
The primary focus of this program is the total immersion of its students. Academic, linguistic, social, and cultural aspects of integration are all heavily stressed, dropping students directly into Italian academics and everyday life. Students can choose to stay in Florence for either a year or a semester, and will live in Italian homestays with partial meal coverage. Students arriving in the fall will participate in a five-day orientation program in Pescia, which provides both a guided social entry into the Sarah lawrence program, and an intensive language program. Orientation continues upon the return to Florence in order to ease students into their new Italian lives. Students arriving in the spring will partake in a similar, yet abbreviated orientation program in Lucca. Students should be aware that the courses offered through this program will be primarily conducted through Sarah Lawrence, as opposed to through regular Italian universities. Two elective courses (in English, although eventually conducted in Italian starting mid-way through second-semester) are taken, one of which must be a humanities seminar, in addition to a course in Italian. Students who show adequate proficiency in Italian may replace one of their two second-semester elective courses with a course of their choice at the University of Florence. Prior knowledge of Italian is not required for this program, but at least a 3.0 GPA is necessary in order to qualify.
Further info can be found at: http://www.slc.edu/international-exchange/italy/florence/index.html
(Program handbook PDF: https://www.sarahlawrence.edu/italy/florence/Florence_Application_Process.html)
The strength of this program is that it takes students with no Italian background, which is fabulous, but learning more of the language first is always useful. The home-stay program varies greatly from student to student. It's definitely a good idea for the purposes of immersion. I was extremely fortunate in my assignment, with an elderly woman and her mother on the periphery. The distance was a small hassle at times, but worth it for the peace and quiet. The food was incredible. Other students were not so lucky, and moved several times for problems that were objectively defects in their families.
Though the language professors were friendly and competent, the language program that they all followed was very unstructured and failed to accomplish the level of language mastery that I expected all of us to reach after a full year of classes. Otherwise, I found all the Italian professors approachable, competent, and passionate about their subject matter. The amount of reading assigned was generally nowhere near a Reed level, though I felt the readings from my classes were well chosen and of an appropriate academic level. In my own experience at Reed, and in conversation with other students from Sarah Lawrence and Bates College, we agreed that the SLC Florence classes were not as academically rigorous as we were accustomed to, but, of course, it seemed right that we were not bogged down with reading and writing when we were trying to get the most out of living in a new culture. Take a summer Italian intensive at PSU, etc before going to Florence. Expect a really cool, in depth tour of Tuscany, like you could never get as a tourist. Then expect to do a little reading, a lot of listening to bright, but long-winded Italians, and to write a 10-30 page paper or two at the end of the semester. And be prepared to be around a lot of females, as they make up the large majority (if not the entirety) of the (thankfully small) program. Despite the problems I had with the SLC program, you still get a lot more out of it than what I saw the Syracuse program participants getting. SLC's field trips and weekend trips alone make it worth going there, as well as the very small classes.