When I signed up to go abroad, I genuinely had no idea what to expect. In general, I feel like I always have a pretty good idea of what the next month of my life will look like. Usually, that month looks exactly the same as the current month. Granted there are always some big changes, such as when I went off to college and…well that was pretty much it. I have lived in the same house, in the same town my entire life. I don’t have any sort of contempt for my hometown or anything, but I do feel as though I have never pushed my boundaries to this extent. But the month of winter break, before I went abroad, I had none of that. CET had given us the location of the center and of our house, but other than that I truly knew nothing. I didn’t know if I would be living in a shoebox, I didn’t know what our classrooms would look like—truly absolutely nothing.
Being from Northern Virginia and deciding to go to college at UVA wasn’t a huge change in terms of how far I was from home, but it was a massive change in the person that I became. College allowed me to gain so much independence, and I discovered hobbies and traits that I don’t think I would’ve unlocked had I remained in the same environment for college. I had a similar mindset with my decision to go abroad, I wondered what else I would discover about myself.
One week into this program, and I can tell you, I still don’t know.
This first week has been a cacophony of meeting new people, trying to find a routine, and finding a cultural balance between what I am used to and what I want to experience. I wander the aisles of the grocery stores, longing for familiar brands while also wishing I could taste everything in the store and develop new favorites. I’m still working on figuring out who I want to be here, but I am learning to love the process that it is taking.
This is a picture of the view that I have while walking around the streets of Siena. It truly is such a beautiful medieval town.
I have always been a huge proponent of walkable cities. I got my first taste of walkable cities living in Charlottesville, a very walkable town. Now, I am in the epitome of a walkable town, and it is absolutely amazing. Nothing here is further than 15 minutes away from walking, and driving or getting around on a scooter is usually more inconvenient than just walking! I can feel myself getting healthier already with the amount of steps I am hitting everyday. I am also already getting a lay of the land and remembering the destinations of certain shops and which way to go to get to class—I think soon I might even start recognizing people!
The immersion opportunities given to us by CET are absolutely amazing as well. I am beyond blessed to have a local roommate living with me and showing me the ropes of Siena. She has been so kind and told us about all of the best places to go. CET also planned a number of amazing events when we first got here, and I am beyond grateful that they created a platform for us to bond with the other members of our program. In our first days, they took us to a farm with alpacas, sheeps, and more. Then, we went on a tour of an olive oil vineyard. Here are some pictures of me and my friends on the tour!
CET took us to an alpaca farm in the Tuscan countryside! We learned about wool production and got to meet a variety of different animals.
The food in Italy has been delicious, and I’ve found it very easy to find food as a vegetarian. Italians are very aware of vegetarianism and veganism, but I have learned that it’s important to emphasize it to them. I had an experience where I went to the restaurant and asked the waiter if a dish I was eating had meat and he told me no, but I later learned that it did have chicken. When I asked him about it later, he told me that it needs to be communicated more like an allergy for waiters to understand the gravity of the dietary restriction more.
Despite that unfortunate encounter, I have had wonderful experiences with food, and all of the ingredients used here taste so fresh. Grocery stores and eating out are also much cheaper than I am used to in America. I have been lucky to have such a supportive group of roommates; this week we have grocery shopped and cooked at home together some nights to save money, and that experience in itself has been so much fun.
For the longest time, my sole aspiration was to arrive in Siena and fulfill my lifelong dream of studying abroad. Sometimes, I feel like I live my life waiting for the next new and exciting thing. For the past year, that idea of what to look forward to was studying abroad in Siena, and somehow, even though Siena is better than my wildest expectations, I’ve started to ask myself about the next best thing. I start to think about what other trips to do over the weekend and how to ensure that I have friends that I can go places with.
Siena is split into 17 contradas (districts), and we had the opportunity to take a tour of the Nicchio (shell) contrada museum and church! It was so great learning about the cultural roots of Siena. I also took a historical tour of Siena, and these are some of the aqueducts from hundreds of years ago. Siena is so well preserved and several sites in town are official UNESCO world heritage sites.
I’m grateful that I have the self-awareness to notice that I am falling into this trap. I recently have been able to shift my mindset back to understanding and appreciating the beauty of where I am right now. As an American, I am so used to rushing from one place to the next. But here, in Italy, people walk slowly on the street. They spend a few minutes talking to their barista when they order rather than rushing out of the door. They window shop and sometimes stop at the stores they see as they walk. I’m starting to understand the allure of this slower pace of life and learning to love taking my own time. It’s easy to forget the reason I am here, but my conscious shift towards making sure I am always fully present will make me remember.