Written by Elena Sinagra (Sarah Lawrence College) Student Correspondent CET Siena, Spring 2018
I remember quite vividly during orientation in the fall, when the get to know you questions were proposed to us and one of them was, “What are you most excited about studying abroad?” Nearly everyone went around the room and said that they were most excited to travel around Europe during the breaks and on the weekends. Jetting off to all sorts of special and incredible destinations has become an integral part of studying abroad, especially in Europe where the travel is easy, and there are countless destinations at our fingertips. For everyone in the program it seems that all the weekends are quickly filled with traveling outside the country. Every Thursday evening we all hug goodbye and wish each other a good trip. On Monday we all exchange stories and pictures from the weekend away.
My study abroad experience has been so enriching and special to me, and this is partly because of the amount of traveling I have been able to do. I have, so far, been lucky enough to travel to Paris, Monaco, Nice, Madrid, Lisbon, Budapest, Vienna, Krakow, Berlin, Amsterdam, London, Leeds, Dublin, Athens, Santorini, and Crete. In each of those places I have been able to broaden my own horizons by experiencing so much art and culture and by interacting with a wide variety of people. Although my travels have given me so much, I have also come to learn that staying in Siena can offer just as much.
Last week, I found myself in Siena for the weekend, along with a few of my classmates. I remember sleeping in and then looking outside my window to see some sunlight piercing through the dark rain clouds over San Domenico. For the month of February and most of March, the weather had been cloudy, cold, and rainy. I rarely left home without my umbrella, so the view of the sun rays was a welcome first sign of spring. After going to one of the apartments, we made pasta for lunch and did some studying together for the upcoming midterms. We practiced our Italian with the Italian roommates and went over grammar. We talked about cultural differences and showed pictures of where we were from to each other. Afterwards, with homework completed and a dwindling desire to continue studying, we decided to go to one of the geletarias, newly opened for spring.
In Siena, during the winter, many of the gelaterias close for the winter while a few, touristy and lesser quality ones stay open. It was an exciting day when I saw that one of my favorite gelaterias, nestled near Piazza del Campo, reopened. We walked through the streets in the drizzling rain, wearing our winter coats for an early welcome to the spring and get gelato. Afterwards, we decided to take our creamy, rich, sweet treat and go for a walk. I suggested venturing out behind the Piazza. During the week, I rarely have the opportunity to go around Siena and I usually just stick to my ten minute walk from home to school. But now since I had the weekend, with no time constraints, we were free to walk aimlessly with and enjoy looking around and I saw parts of Siena that I had never seen before. Although Siena is a very small city and I have been here for over five months, I have grown accustomed to only going to the places I need to and then leaving the country during the weekend. I saw new churches, shops, buildings, views and people. There were pink flowers dangling out of the green shutters of the houses. We came to a ledge and were amazed by a view of the sweeping Tuscan hills that we had never seen before. The average Sienese flooded the small cobblestone streets, all going about a typical Saturday afternoon: picking up bread at the panetteria, walking their dogs, dropping off dry cleaning.
The contrade holds a massively important role in the social life of Siena and on that particular stroll, I was reminded of that fact. Being able to take that afternoon, we went through several different contrade. The colorful flags hung from the buildings and we saw the fountains and churches for Onda, Tartuca, Chiocciola, Pantera and Torre. I remember in August when I first arrived in Siena and how mesmerized I was by the contrade. I was reminded of the incredible community and sense of belonging the citizens of Siena have. It was like I was seeing it all again.
Traveling may further my horizons, but I have learned that staying home also furthers my horizons in a different way. You become accustomed to the place and learn the details of that make it important. Siena has really become my home. I feel an equal amount of loyalty or belonging as I do to my hometown or my university. It was, and continues to be a place that has offered me so much and has helped me grow as an individual. Whenever I travel I am always glad to return to Siena and walk down the familiar cobblestone streets and feel such a profound sense of home.