Siena, Best Option For Complete Italian Immersion August 01, 2018

By (Pennsylvania State University - University Park / Penn State) - abroad from 01/15/2018 to 05/02/2018 with

IES Abroad: Siena - IES Abroad Center

What did you gain/learn from your experience abroad? Was it worthwhile?
I learned that it is okay to be frustrated in certain situations as long as you can grow out of it. I forced myself to be okay with always feeling uncomfortable or out of place and it was so refreshing and new.

Personal Information

How much international exposure did you have prior to this program? 0-2 weeks

Review Your Program

* Overall educational experience

Academic rigor, intensity, resources, etc.

The classes were very easy but the style of teaching was different. It was mainly lecture style and professors didn't allow much participation or discussion. I also felt that they classes were way too long (2 hours each). But the professors were very kind and knowledgeable and made use of their surroundings (walking tours, museum guides, etc)

* Host Country Program Administration

On-site administration of your program

The IES staff was amazing. They really made sure we were comfortable in Siena, at our homestay, and with the academics. They would always check in with us individually and as a group and were knowledgeable of everything in Italy. They pushed us to go outside of our comfort zones and immerse ourselves into the culture.

* Housing:

How satisfied were you with your living arrangements?

My homestay was the nicest woman in the world. She provided me with dinners and every night and accommodated my schedule when I needed to go out one night or do at-home interviews for summer internships. Every morning we had coffee together because it was really important to her for us to start our day relaxed and happy. She and I had such a great relationship to the point where she even took me to her country home for the weekend.A

* Food:

Being that I was with a homestay, I was able to experience authentic Italian cooking. Some dinners were quite experimental but overall they were amazing. I've never experience a full course meal every single night – it was great.

* Social & Cultural Integration:

How integrated did you feel with the local culture?

IES did a great job at introducing us to other Italian students. They showed us different programs that we could join in order to meet Italian students. Siena was such a small town that if you went out at night, you were bound to meet new people. Everyone was so friendly and open to meeting us which made the experience 10x better. Picking up on the language was definitely frustrating at first but my Italian professors provided me with tools on how to get more comfortable speaking it.

* Health Care:

How well were health issues addressed during the program?

This is kind of funny but the 3rd week I was there, I got the strangest rash on my legs. I notified IES and right away they took me to the local doctor. It was free of charge and I only had to pay for my medication. I had one friend who got very sick and one of the IES staff members took her to the hospital and stayed with her the entire night. Even though my friend was pretty chill about the entire situation, the staff member thought it was important for her to be there to translate and give her comfort.

* Safety:

Siena was such a safe town, I never once felt unsafe. Due to the fact that the Palio is so important, every member of the contrade sort of had reputation to uphold so they were very respectful and kind to us. I went out many nights with friends and very completely safe walking home alone at night. I definitely wouldn't recommend this in the bigger cities but Siena itself was so different.

If you could do it all over again would you choose the same program? Yes

Siena was probably the best town I could have picked in Italy. I had a lot of friends from home who studied in Florence and Rome but their experience just didn't seem fulfilling. In Siena, I was forced to learn the language and get to know the pure Italian customs. My professors were so kind and never made their academics so hard to the point where we couldn't enjoy ourselves. The staff at IES were probably the nicest people I've ever met. They truly wanted us to have the time of our lives and gave us so many chances to learn more about the town and just have fun.

Finances

* Money: How easily were you able to live on a student's budget?

(1 = not very easy/$200+ on food & personal expenses/week, 2.5 = $100/week, 5 = very easily/minimal cost)

I did a lot of budgeting before my trip and then made sure to stick with it for the entire duration. I saved about $3,500 for the 4 months and it lasted me a good time. Towards the end I was running short so there was some opportunities I had to pass on but overrall I had a good experience. I did a homestay so my breakfasts and dinners were paid for, I just had to fund my own lunch. I tried to buy groceries and eat at home a lot, really only spending $40 a week. I used most of my money on weekends away (airbnb, dinners, museum fees, etc) and just tried to be smart about how much to spend. I do wish I saved more money so I could have done bigger trips to other countries but at the end of the day, I'm still a student. I think saving around $4,000 is the best option for a 4 month stay.

Not including program expenses, about how much money did you spend on food and other expenses each week? I spent about $40 a week on groceries, $20 a week on miscellaneous purchases (drinks, coffee, etc) and then on big weekends away I would spent close to $150-200 (food, living arrangements, travel).
Do you have any general money-saving tips for future study abroad participants? In order to splurge on your bigger trips, I suggest buying groceries for your weekday meals. I saved a lot of money doing a homestay because I could eat leftovers for lunch and I was able to use a lot of their condiments. In regards to traveling, it's always good to go in groups and plan ahead. The best form of transportation in Italy is the flixbus because it's incredibly reliable and cheap. I encourage everyone to do the airbnb or hostel option. It's really not necessary to stay in a hotel because you will be touring around the city all day. Be smart about your expenses. You don't HAVE to do or buy everything! Sometimes sitting in your local piazza with a book could be a great experience.

Language

* Did your program have a foreign language component? Yes
How much did the program encourage you to use the language?

0 = No encouragement, 5 = frequent encouragement to use the language

We had about 2 Italian classes per week and a Friday session (twice a month). Our classes were pretty small so the professor really helped us with our language skills and worked within our comfort lessons. The Italian teachers also helped us understand the culture more and how to function in Siena (showing us the train station, grocery stores, etc). After four months, I definitely wasn't fluent but I felt a lot more comfortable getting around and speaking the language. It's really all about comfort.

How would you rate your language skills at the beginning of the program? Beginner
How would you rate your language skills at the end of the program? Intermediate
What was the highest level language course you had completed prior to departure? Level 3 in Italian at Penn State (so the highest level you could take without doing the minor or major)
How many hours per day did you use the language?
Do you have any tips/advice on the best ways to practice the language for future study abroad participants? If you really want to learn the language, you should live with a homestay because they were encourage you to speak more. My host mom always had the Italian news on so having that background noise at all times was helpful. I also dubbed a lot of my tv shows in Italian so I can pick up the language more. My only advice is to just be comfortable and accept the fact that you will make mistakes. I was very frustrated at the start of my program, not being able to communicate my feelings towards my host mom and strangers around town. Once I mastered my anxiety, I just kind of went with it. Italians were just happy that I tried to speak their language and didn't just assume they knew English.

Other Program Information

* Where did you live?

Select all that apply

  • Host Family
* Who did you live with?

Select all that apply

  • Host Family
* Who did you take classes with?

Select all that apply

  • Americans
About how many local friends did you make that you will likely keep in touch with?

A Look Back

* What did you like most about the program?
  • My homestay
  • How small the program was
  • Siena's location
* What could be improved?
  • Style of lectures
  • Help me more with my language
* What do you know now that you wish you knew before going on this program? I wish I budgeted a tad bit more and rationed it more efficiently throughout the trip. I think I spent too much in the beginning and should have paced myself.

Reasons For Studying Abroad

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The Outright Urbanite
A social butterfly, you're happiest in bustling cities with hip people, and took advantage of all it had to offer. You enjoyed the nightlife, and had fun going out dancing, and socializing with friends. Fun-loving and dressed to the nines, you enjoyed discovering new restaurants, shops, cafes, and bars in your host country.