Welcome to Siena
Understanding identity abroad is important—regardless of whether or not you think it will play a role in your own experience. While we strive to create and maintain programs that support students of all races, religions, abilities, gender identities, and sexual orientations, you also play a crucial role in creating a welcoming and supportive environment for your peers navigating aspects of their identit(ies) in a new country. The information and resources on this page serve as a starting point to help you understand experiences you or your CET classmates may encounter while abroad.
Race & Ethnicity
Generally speaking, Siena itself is a very open-minded city and students seldom report contradictory experiences. Due to the increase in the immigrant population in recent years, resentment against non-European communities within Italy has grown. As a result, students may hear some blunt opinions while out and about or on the news from outspoken far-right politicians. Students of color have reported that they are first considered American before their racial/ethnic identity comes into play, if it is considered at all. This can be a very different experience from the saliency students of color feel in respect to their racial/ethnic identities back in the US.
While it is always evolving, Italy on the whole can still be reluctant to fully embrace LGBTQ individuals and issues. However, Siena itself (and bigger Italian cities in general) is an open, international city where LGBTQ individuals are welcomed. Though same-sex civil unions are recognized by law as of May 2016, Italy still lags behind other countries on things like same-sex marriage, which is not yet officially recognized. There are several local LGBTQ community groups that students can reach out to, and on-site staff can provide more information upon request.
Generally speaking, Italian culture often reinforces traditional gender norms and roles. The local society is patriarchal, and the objectification of women by men is not an uncommon occurrence. This is sometimes apparent and reinforced by pop culture and advertising.
Italy is not yet fully accepting of gender diversity on the national scale, but gender diverse individuals are usually more accepted and comfortable in bigger cities like Siena.
Though Catholicism is the predominant religion in Italy, prejudice against other religions is often less prevalent than in the United States. Students that wish to practice their faiths abroad should have no issue in doing so. A list of religious services is made available to students during orientation. Excused absences can be granted from some activities or classes for religious purposes with advanced notice.
Cost of Living
Siena attracts fewer tourists than bigger Italian cities like Florence and Rome, resulting in a slightly more affordable cost of living. Some things might be cheaper (e.g. groceries, coffee, bus tickets, etc.), but other things can be much more expensive than in the US (e.g. rent, utilities, high-end fashion retailers, and taxi rides.). However, as with any European city, cost of living can vary depending on individual spending habits. Past students have mentioned that establishing and adhering to a budget at the beginning of the term was a strategy that helped manage any financial stress. Check out a budget sheet to get an idea of what life in Siena might look like financially.
CET makes every effort to offer accommodations comparable to those of your home institution. Disclosing early helps us to make proper preparations and work with you to determine if a program will be a good fit. We recommend that you use the following details to inform your decisions and conversations with your Student Services Coordinator.
ACCESS in ACADEMICS
Students typically attend classes for 1.5 to 6 hours a day, Monday through Thursday. Classes have between 1 to 15 students on average. Semester students that choose to take one semester’s worth of Italian will have an intensive 8-week course during the first half of the term. Students that choose to take two semesters’ worth of Italian will take intensive language classes all 15 weeks of the program.
Services available for students with documented need: Low-distraction test environment; extra time on exams; modified deadlines and seating; note-taker; exam reader; audio recordings of lectures; permission for service animals on campus; syllabi/readings/assignments in advance; a computer to take exams; sighted companion; mobility orientation to campus.
Classes are held at the CET Center on Via Montanini, one of the city center’s main streets. This gives students convenient access to Piazza del Campo, the bus station, and the train station. The building is accessible to those in wheelchairs and has five classrooms, a small student lounge, wifi, and elevator access to all floors. Staff offices are also located in the CET Center.
CET occasionally plans mandatory academic activities and optional trips to nearby sites and other cities after class and on weekends. Excursions may involve urban walking, rural hiking, use of public transportation, and/or going up and down stairs.
Itinerary modifications and accommodations can be made for students with documented need. Transportation can be arranged as necessary, and excused absences are provided for mandatory excursions that are inaccessible due to a disability.
ACCESS IN HOUSING
Your Home Abroad
All apartments and homestays differ in layout and location but all are within a 20-minute walk through the medieval historical city center to the CET Center, where classes are held. Housing can be wheelchair accessible if requested in advance. Apartments and homes are equipped with basic appliances and furnishings, many of which are smaller when compared to those in the USA. Housing can be wheelchair accessible if requested in advance.
Utilities are highly regulated in Italy. For example, a law states that the heat should be set to 19°C/66.2°F (+/- 1°C). Students should plan accordingly and bring clothing that will keep them warm while inside.
Students are typically assigned to apartments according to their housing preference form. Apartment configurations vary but can include mix-gender and same-gender setups. Rooms within the apartment are same-gender. The form also includes questions to help accommodate the needs of gender diverse students.
Rooms are typically shared, but a single room in a shared apartment, with a private shower or toilet, may be available for students with documented need if requested in advance. Homestay students are provided rooms of up to double occupancy (shared with a CET classmate) and share common spaces with their local host family. Homestay students can store food in the fridge and in dedicated spaces, but are not permitted to use the kitchen on their own.
Due to the structure of the city itself, Siena is not easily navigable by individuals with disabilities. Sidewalks are not common in the city center, and streets are often uneven, steep, and narrow. All public offices, restaurants, museums, and schools are required by law to be accessible to those with disabilities, but in practice, many private businesses are not. Though certainly not impossible, students with mobility issues should be prepared to face challenges in navigating the city.
Health & Diet
As a part of your program fee, you are enrolled in GeoBlue health insurance for the entire duration of your program. Learn more about GeoBlue and how we operate programs with health and safety in mind.
Health & Medicine
During orientation, on-site staff provide students with basic information and recommendations for seeing a doctor and buying medicine. On-site staff are also available to help advise students seeking health services throughout their time abroad.
Students should request enough prescription medication (including birth control pills) to last for the duration of their stay in Italy. Medications should be packed in their carry-on bag, in the original bottles, and accompanied by the doctor’s prescription. A copy of the prescription and list of medications should be left with a trusted family member or friend in the US. Some medication that is considered OTC in the US requires a prescription in Italy—students should do their research beforehand and bring the necessary amounts with them. Medication cannot be shipped to Italy.
Keeping Fit in Siena
Siena offers many opportunities to stay fit while abroad, including beautiful countryside runs outside the city walls, or on the path atop Medici Fortress, not far from the CET Center. Students can also join a gym for a monthly fee, typically around 55 EUR/month or 150/3 months. It should be noted that these gyms also usually have a one-time membership fee and are much smaller than those in the US.
Managing Mental Health
Upon request, students have access to an English-speaking mental health professional that accepts GeoBlue insurance.
Vegetarian and gluten-free diets are easily accommodated in Siena, and staff can provide a gluten-free translation guide to those who need one. Vegan diets are increasingly easier accommodate—though meals in restaurants will most likely need to be specially ordered.
Resources from Alumni
These are alumni-written essays that reflect upon how their own identity affected their time abroad (both good and bad) and what it was like to navigate another culture in their position. We encourage you to read these to better understand what studying abroad in Italy could be like for you or your future peers.
- Finding Pieces of Home Abroad: First generation, Latina experience in Siena
by Leydi Alatorre Medina, CET Siena | Spring 2022
This is a curated list of blog posts chosen specifically to provide context for life abroad. Posts here may cover culture shock, diversity, daily life and workload, etc. To see all posts from students in Siena, head to the Student Voices blog.
- An American in Siena
By Benjamin Trombetta, University of Virginia | Spring 2020
- Finding Home While Abroad
By Andrew Bainton, Vanderbilt University | Spring 2019
- Siena: On Rules for Eating, Unofficial Language Pledges, and Music After Midnight
By Cosima Smith, University of Virginia | Fall 2018
ITALY Alumni Insight
In final evaluations, we ask students how their identities affected their experience abroad. The following are a few select quotes from recent program evaluations to help you understand what life in Italy may be like for you or your future peers.
TALK TO ALUMNI
Chat with alumni about their experiences abroad. Once you start an application, your online CET account will give you access to the following resources:
- Alumni Support List: A directory of students who have volunteered to chat about their experiences abroad in Italy.
- Identity Abroad Support Network: A group of students who have volunteered to discuss their identity-related experiences in Italy. This is a volunteer-based program that started in 2019. Volunteers can also opt to have their contact information kept privately by CET staff and only shared when certain lived experiences are asked about.
Don’t see anyone listed for the Identity Abroad Support Network? Call CET for more information and resources. Consider joining after your program to support other minority students abroad.