Let me preface this post with a brief introduction. My name is Andy (Andrew) Bainton and I’m studying in Siena this semester (in case you couldn’t tell by the title). For my first post, I wanted to write something helpful for prospective CET students both about some of my thoughts going into study abroad slash why I chose the program that I did, and also a few things that I’ve learned in my short time here. So with being said, here are the 3 main reasons why I think Siena is the perfect place to study abroad.
1. City Size
When I say Siena is the perfect sized city, I don’t mean just to say that the city is small enough so that you can walk to anywhere from anywhere else in under twenty minutes. And I don’t mean to say that it’s big enough that there’s a seemingly endless amount of so many stores, restaurants, side streets, and interesting areas to be explored all throughout the city.
While both of these are true and great selling points on their own, I have noticed something in my time here about the size of the city that I think is worth mentioning. I think the size of the city allows for a near perfect community feel. In Siena, there are not many homeless people, or much visible poverty for that matter; it feels as if everyone in this city has their place and the culmination of this is a very balanced society. The result of this is a friendly and neighborly vibe throughout the whole city. Furthermore, as a part of this the people of Siena feel a great deal of pride for the city they live in / area they come from (there are different neighborhoods within Siena called contrade). I felt like this was important to mention because it’s something that likely won’t come up in a brochure or website trying to sell you on Siena, but it’s something that’s made me feel very comfortable and excited as I start to become a part of the positive community that already exists here.
2. You Will Learn Italian
This was one thing I was concerned about when deciding where I wanted to study abroad. Becoming fluent in another language has always been a goal of mine, and when I started college I somewhat randomly decided that I wanted that language to be Italian. So you can imagine my concern after talking to my friends who had studied abroad in Florence and learned very little of the native language, also citing the fact that many of the locals spoke to them in English.
It was this fear that drove me to pick a small city in Siena as opposed to some of the more major Italian cities such as Rome, Milan, or Florence. After being here for a little over a week I can say my Italian has improved dramatically. You can get around the city well enough having never studied Italian, but even so, you will start to pick it up quickly as the locals very much prefer their native language. I have already been in many awkward encounters in my time here caused by linguistic shortcomings (not knowing a word for something, forgetting a verb tense, etc.) but it is in these very encounters when the most learning is done, so I hope to have many more of them!
My final point for this, if you take anything away from this blog post, is that I *highly* recommend doing a homestay. This is not only for learning the language and cultural immersion, but also for my last point which is…
3. They Weren’t Kidding About the Food
Seriously. Every meal I’ve had in Siena has been spectacular, and they’ve been such a pivotal aspect of my experience so far. The reason I think it’s so important to do a homestay is because every night your homestay family cooks and eats with you. This offers two huge benefits. Because the family is cooking for you, you never have to cook or grocery shop for yourself. Also, living in a homestay opens the door to having consistent conversation in the native language. These conversations are crucial for apprehension because they increase exposure and reinforce lessons learned in the classroom.
But back to the food, it is everything I imagined and more. And on top of that, I’ve loved observing and taking part in the culture that surrounds food here. One of the best memories I’ve made so far was our first lunch as a whole group during orientation. It lasted two hours, and while not every Italian lunch is this long, I felt like it was symbolic of the unhurried approach Italians have towards food. This approach also allows for extensive conversations and encourages a positive and friendly environment.
These values directly oppose what I’ve grown accustomed to growing up in America, where it feels as if most meals are rushed and are taking up time between one thing and another. It is important to slow things down and spend time with people. This is one of many lessons I’ve learned in my short time abroad, and I hope I am able to incorporate it in my daily life upon my return to the U.S.