Stefano Baldassarri, Ph.D.
As a teenager, I was lucky enough to have loving and courageous parents. They gave me a nest and they gave me wings as well, as the saying goes. At sixteen they asked me if I wanted to spend a year in the USA as a student on a program called “Experiment in international living.” A few months later I landed in Florida, where I lived with a local host family near Daytona Beach for my whole junior year in a local high school. It was 1985-86 (the same year MTV was launched) and I had the time of my life.
I thus started thinking that serving as some kind of liaison between the USA and Italy would be a fascinating, rewarding job. I only had to focus on a specific niche, as it were. Since I was not good enough in sports and an acting career was out the picture, I opted for academia. After all, I was studying Latin and Greek, so why not turn a torment into an asset? Being quite repetitive, I ended up getting two MA’s (one from “Università di Firenze,” the other from Catholic University of America in Washington D.C.) and two Ph.D’s (one from Yale, the other, again, from “Università di Firenze”) before becoming the director of The International Studies Institute (aka ISI Florence).
I have been in international education as a teacher and an administrator for some twenty-five years now. Working with students and scholars is a privilege. It’s more than a job; it’s a mission. It takes love, passion, hard work, and originality. In this field, one can help and learn a lot on a daily basis. That’s why, finishing this short bio, the following words from one of my favorite songs spring to mind: “I wish you were here.”
Associate Director for Student Life & Administrative Affairs
Caterina has spent her whole career working with American universities and has been with ISI Florence since 2004. Discovering the world of academics and students, Caterina realized that she wouldn’t want to work anywhere else.
Her frequent visits to American campuses to promote international education has given her keen insight into the cultural bridges that students must cross to make their adventure abroad a valuable one. While Italy’s universities don’t have the same campus structure as US schools do, she considers Florence a comparable campus-like size and lifestyle and encourages students to live the whole city experience.
Besides an extensive traveler and reader, Caterina can also be seen galloping on horseback, whizzing by on skates, or volunteering with the Red Cross.
Student Services Assistant
American-Italian native to Florence, Francesca is pushing her passion to assist international students who have decided to take on this life-changing experience of studying abroad. By supporting and sharing the Italian and Florentine culture with them, her goal is to help make this the most positive experience for students as possible. She studied abroad herself, as she earned a BA in Psychology at the University of Montana, and an MA in International Education at SIT Graduate Institute. As an international educator, she has experience in the study abroad world, but also as a teacher while serving in the U.S. Peace Corps (Mozambique) and volunteering in Costa Rica.
Elena was born in Romagna (Emilia Romagna) in the small city of Faenza, famous for ceramics and the world-known “Faiance” ceramics. That is one of the reasons why she loves art and this kind of art in particular, as in her home, pieces of important ceramics have always been around.
She graduated from Bologna University with a degree in foreign languages and literature. The love for foreign languages, and in particular for English and German, led her to choose a career in international environments.
But the reason why Elena came to Florence and stayed is… Love!
Her working background has been in the fashion business (Salvatore Ferragamo, Prada, Liberty of London, Polo Ralph Lauren, etc.)
Both work and pleasure have led Elena to many places like Finland, Germany, UK, New York, and Brazil, just to name a few.
After 25 years in the fashion business, she decided to dedicate more time to the academic and education field and so, in 2009, Elena joined ISI Florence.
Her first concern is to help students with all their needs or requests and contribute to making their experience in Florence and in Italy the most rewarding and pleasant as possible. She especially loves it when students ask for help with the Italian language.
Elena’s suggestion for students:
“Be curious and don’t be shy. Interact with local people as much as possible. Find an Italian friend to talk to… and breathe the whole city especially the Oltrarno area.”
Housing & Student Services Assistant
Half Italian, half American, fully Florentine Professional staycationer.
Two truths and a lie:
- I have recorded an album.
- I have taught English in Russia.
- I always cook “carbonara” pasta with cream.
Housing & Student Services Assistant
Ilaria was born and raised in Florence, where she got a degree in Foreign Languages and Literature and a masters degree in Linguistics. She herself experienced a summer program abroad in Finland during her university studies. Like every Florentine, she is absolutely convinced that Florence is the most beautiful city in the world, but this doesn’t keep her from her love of traveling.
“Traveling helps you learn a lot. It opens your mind, because you get in contact with new cultures and people. You get to know new sides of your personality that you could not even imagine and sometimes you face challenges that make you stronger. I also believe that trying to speak a little of the local language is a plus when you travel. When possible, I try to do this because it helps you immerse yourself in the new culture and makes locals very happy. So, during your study abroad program in Florence, try to parlare italiano!”
Ilaria’s favorite sports are gymnastics (she practiced it herself and taught to little girls for many years) and skiing. Every winter she tries to find some days to go skiing in the fabulous Dolomiti in northern Italy. She also loves cooking – especially desserts, pies and biscuits – and organizing dinners with friends who are her “testers”.
“I discovered I was a pretty good cook some years ago and when I have time I like to try new recipes. Whether I’m abroad or just a few kilometers from home in the next region, I always try the local specialties. So if you need advice about food or have questions about traditional Tuscan dishes, I will be more than happy to help you!”
Community Engagement Coordinator
Born and raised in Florence but a world citizen at the same time, Serena enjoys experiencing diverse cultures, and therefore, has traveled extensively both for pleasure and for studies in the fields of foreign languages and literature. From climbing the Kilimanjaro mountain to going deep into the heart of the Australian outback – following her interest in the Pacific Rim – she is always planning a new trip and a new discovery.
With ISI Florence almost since its foundation, she has guided students with their integration into the Florentine community and engagement with an authentic Italian setting.
“Break down the wall, get out of the American bubble and look at the world with new lenses. While learning about Italian culture you will discover your in-progress self-identity.”
She loves contemporary art and the young artistic vibe, which is why her favorite spots in Florence are the Oltrarno and S. Niccolò areas. There you can find artistic jewelers’ ateliers and other boutique artisan shops. Her favorite one is the street artist, Clet. Look for his sarcastic street signs all over the city!
Serena’s favorite quote is from Bruce Chatwin: “Travel does not merely broaden the mind, but makes the mind.”
Student Life, Social Media & Communications Coordinator
Her mixed Italian, British, and Australian background led her to meet people from all over the world, finding that cultural differences are not barriers but rather a resource.
“Observe people, learn from others, you might discover something about yourself”
Holding a BA from Università di Firenze in Linguistics and Communication, she has studied visual communication at Central Saint Martins (University of the Arts London). She lived in London for four years, earning a living as a teacher of English as a Foreign Language. She recalls her multinational students:
“A common goal brings people together, no matter what personality you have or what country you’re from.”
At ISI Florence since 2012: “The challenge is helping students break those barriers that keep them from considering Florence as their home. Rewarding moments are when I see sparkling eyes and the excitement that comes from those students who have truly experienced studying abroad and feel it under their skin”.
Health, Safety & Wellness Coordinator | Title IX Officer
Originally hailing from upstate New York, Miranda has called various cities (and countries) home over the past decade. Ultimately putting her roots down in Florence, Miranda has been discovering all the sites, smells, sounds, and tastes of the city for years now.
A graduate of Simmons University in Boston, Massachusetts, Miranda’s passion for foreign languages and international politics led her to study abroad in Barcelona, Spain and Florence, Italy. Her experience living among different cultures and languages impacted her greatly and later influenced her to pursue work as an EFL (English as a foreign language) teacher in Edirne, Turkey, and San Sebastian, Spain. Eventually, Miranda’s work brought her back to Florence in 2014, and she has never looked back.
“The extraordinary thing about Florence is that it has something for everyone. The best part of my job is helping students discover what it is that makes this city so special. Whether it be a local concert, food festival or sporting event, you’re never lacking in fun/memorable things to do here!”
Miranda has a secret passion. Her love of travel and keen organizational skills has turned her into an awesome travel agent. She loves helping students arrange their local and international excursions.
“While traveling is one of my greatest interests in life, I also love cooking, basketball, and Mobikes. But please don’t talk to me about soccer or the Yankees.”
Co-Curricular Activities Coordinator
I was born and raised in a small town near Arezzo, in southern Tuscany. After I received my degree in Political Science from the University of Florence I realized I wanted to improve my English, so I moved to England to live with a local host family. This experience has really broadened my horizons. I had the chance to meet people from all over the world and with many I’m still in contact today.
Adapting to life abroad (in my case England) was easier than I thought. Pretty soon I was replacing my morning cappuccino with tea and milk and started craving my dinner at 5:30 p.m. instead of 8 o’clock! By putting myself in situations to meet others from other countries, I was pleasantly surprised at my growth and openness to new cultures.
I started working in an American university program in 2009, just after I moved to Florence. I joined the big ISI Florence family in 2012, first as a member of the administrative office and now as site visits coordinator.
My interests are yoga, country hikes, and reading. I highly recommend discovering as many Italian cities as possible, but without missing any single part of Florence, any museum or piece of art. Enjoy the city, get your coffee in your neighborhood bar, read a book in one of the city’s gardens, buy local products at the grocery shop, and speak with locals… you will love it!
Marketing & Graphic Design / Diversity, Equity, Inclusion & Access Officer
Nina, a native of San Diego, has lived in Italy for over 30 years and is a dual-citizen. She herself was an exchange student from UCLA at the Università di Padova and Venezia where she studied studio art, art history, and Italian. Her fondest memories of her time abroad were seeing her art history books come to life as well as the numerous travels throughout the Italian peninsula by train.
“I highly recommend train travel even today. It is still considerably cheap and is a great way to discover new places. There is almost no place in Italy that can’t be reached by train. I usually traveled alone which gave me the unique chance to meet locals and especially to practice my Italian.”
Nina is always happy to share her vast knowledge of the territory (thanks to her work for many years in the tourism field, as well as being an avid cyclist) with new students eager to make the most of their experience abroad. A self-described food snob, she is very opinionated about where the best places to eat are.
“Discovering local food is also a great way to integrate into your new environment. Every region has its own traditions and every Italian is very proud of their local specialties. In order to understand what you meet on the outside, you need to discover what goes down on the inside. It’s also the best way to make local friends. You will be very dear to any Florentine’s heart once you’ve taken your first bite of “panino al lampredotto”!
Nina is a trained level 2 EMT first responder and in her spare time volunteers on a local ambulance service. Good communication and teamwork are fundamental aspects of this activity and she strives to bring the same work ethic to ISI Florence. She encourages students to have fun, but also to stay safe!
“Florence is a relatively safe place to live and small enough to walk pretty much anywhere. Common sense works here too so don’t forget to take that with you when you go out or travel. Other than that, explore, live and experience! I am certain you will make memories that will last a lifetime, if not change the course of your life.”
Don’t forget to ask her about her past as one of Italy’s pioneers of the LGBTQ+ rights movement! As the Diversity. Equity & Inclusion officer, she offers first-hand insight into students’ expectations abroad and strives to provide any resources needed to welcome students of all diversities.
She is a big believer in the Oxford comma and loves sharp pencils.
Assistant Director for Housing & Facility Management
Born and raised in Termoli, an enchanting fishing town on the Adriatic coast, he came to Florence in August of 2011 and immediately felt at home. “The very next day after my arrival, I already had people offer me coffee,” Rino fondly remembers.
He studied Communication Science and wrote his master’s thesis on “Organization of Business Communication Systems.”
Before organizing the housing systems at ISI Florence, Rino worked in the human resources department for a major international American printed circuit board company.
Detail orientated, an able multitasker, and “obsessed” with organizational learning, he defines himself “brilliant in understanding people’s needs.”
He loves sport (from soccer to functional training) and is very interested in fitness and wellness in general. This is only surpassed by his passion for motorcycles (he owns two) and jazz.
“I adore all of Italy. I love to hop on my motorbike and take off for a new adventure without any precise destination.”
Rino’s favorite travel quote: “Traveling not only broadens one’s mind; it gives it form.”
Advice to students: “Speak to people, ask for information, take public transportation, travel by train, always leave time for a simple walk around without any precise destination in mind. Observe!”
Special Programs Coordinator
100% Tuscan origins and proudly tied to the traditions of the territory, I have always been interested in the world of languages and Anglo-American cultures. I have a masters degree in Foreign Languages and Intercultural Studies at the University of Siena where, together with other Ph.D. students and professors, we have created a large digital archive of interviews in English of American expatriates in Tuscany.
I was a Visiting Instructor at the University of Rochester, NY, and during my last year of my master’s program, I realized that I wanted to work for Study Abroad programs at various levels.
This year will be my 12th year in this field. After different roles (Oklahoma University, Oberlin College, and University of Rochester) I have settled at ISI Florence where I focus on mediation between cultures, building relationships with institutions and the territory. Through my work, I am proud to give students the best experience our country has to offer.
Studying abroad is a crucial enterprise which shapes one’s future. I firmly believe that the more students are exposed to different contexts of Italian culture, the more they will return home with a rich baggage that will enable them to grow personally and professionally. Learning to be flexible, reinventing ourselves, learning from each other, stepping out of our comfort zones, but also, and above all, not forgetting our roots, values, and traditions that make up the base of our culture… this is what I hope to pass on to my children as well as to my students.