Don’t you know it’s going to be all right?

Written by Brenna Sullivan, (University of Virginia) Student Correspondent CET Siena, Spring 2017

On our first day in Siena, terrorists attacked London.  Our parents worry, we run practice scenarios about what to do if you are in a city when it is attacked, people ask where it is safe to travel.  There is no known answer, leading some to fear travel, but we are all here, trying to find a balance between being bold and cautious.  It is scary to be reminded of the terrible things people can do to their fellow humans when you are far from the security of your home.  It makes it hard to travel with confidence, hard to trust in people, but my first few days in Siena have reminded me that there are good people all over the place.  Despite the fact that I am a worrier, I am trying to use this time abroad to embrace a more trusting and open way of living.  I am trying not to underestimate my ability to handle the unpredictable, nor to underestimate people’s willingness to assist me when I cannot manage alone.  I am an advocate for getting lost, reading old-school paper maps, messing up, and asking for help.  While I occasionally find myself in a state of confusion, I am confident it will be okay – the world is not so scary, and people are mostly good.

Elderly Italian man plays piano at an art gallery in Siena

Here are just three of my successful mess-ups thus far:

  1. I did not thoroughly read the arrival instructions, nor did anyone else in my four-person arrival group. Somehow, despite being directed to a bus, we ended up on a train to Siena. We arrived in a mall outside of the city, where a man overheard our struggle and pointed us up a series of escalators at the top of which we could find a bus into the city.  We took the first half of his advice, but instead of waiting for a bus we started walking towards the city center, bags in tow.  We (and by that I mean members of the group with more reliable spatial skills than myself) studied a map on a shop door, and with one minor backtrack, we arrived where we were meant to be. Don’t get me wrong,
    please read the directions and avoid this sweaty walk is possible,
    but do get lost every once in a while, in the future you may know
    the way when no one else does.

    Nun watching a choir perform out her window in Siena

    2. The most Italian practice I have had outside of class has been in search of my lost (well, forgotten) Italian book. I left it in a café about an hour after it was given to me, and again in the Conad grocery store a few days later.  In both cases an employee returned it to me after a nice customer found it.  Again, I am not endorsing leaving your belongings around Siena, but my stupidity shows the kindness of the people who live here, and while I am a little embarrassed every time I go shopping at Conad, I am more confident in my abilities to communicate effectively in Italian.

    3.This one is short, my roommates and I were on our way home from a restaurant when we decided to try a new way back and stumbled upon possibly the most beautiful overlook in Siena just as the sun set. I won’t tell you where it is, partially because I am still not sure myself, but mostly because if you are ever in Siena, you will have to get lost yourself to find this place.  It may be awhile before I stumble upon that spot again, but I know it was out there, and it is beautiful.

Overlook Somewhere in Siena

If all you get from reading this is that if someone with their head in the clouds as often as mine can survive a week in Siena, anyone can, that’s enough, but I hope it also shows the benefits of finding yourself at the boundaries of your comfort zone.  Of trying something new and having confidence it will be all right.  With a little help from good people, I found Siena, I found my Italian book, and I found my way back “home”.