Three Things I Learned Last Semester to Improve This Semester

Written by Elena Sinagra (Sarah Lawrence College) Student Correspondent CET Siena, Spring 2018

The Colosseum

The Colosseum in Rome during a month long stay to practice my Italian.

These last couple of days have gone by quickly as I have transitioned back to Siena.  I’ve been busy with unpacking and filling out residence forms, introductions to new students and teachers and over all getting back into the groove.  I was away from Siena for two Months, but it seemed to stay right where I left it.  Coming back, I felt a bit like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, a tornado filled winter break filled with traveling in Eastern and Central Europe and spending a month in Rome to take a language class. Then the wind stopped and I fell right back to Siena which seemed to be frozen in time.  Although, now I am very happy to be back, I had some misgivings in the few days preceding my return date. I had felt so comfortable in Rome and my situation there: The musical accent, the warm people and the sense of independence and maturity I got living in an apartment with other European students. I had some anxieties that whether a second semester in Siena would give me the same caliber of experience.

However, once I started rolling my heavy suitcase down the cobblestone streets, passed Piazza Del Campo and around the Duomo, my anxieties melted away. Coming back to my homestay family, I was flooded with familial smells that sparked my memory of just arriving in Italy back in August. I was able to pick up right where I left off, going to my usual cafes for lunch and being welcomed by a surprised but happy look as the owners exclaimed “Sei tornato?!” “You have returned?!”. With all the familiar smells and sights and people rushing back at me after so much time away, I am reminded of when I first arrived in Siena and that sense of adventure and wonderment I felt. There is a new group of students and they are all talking about places they would like to travel to and different parts of Siena worth exploring.  I am so excited to be able to be here for another semester and am looking forward to all the new experiences waiting to happen. However, I am aware that this semester will fly by.  Before we know it, it will be May and I will be finished with this year abroad, that took so much planning and investment.  With this is my mind, there are a few things that I have learned from last semester that If I could do over again I would, and since I can, these are the things I hope to do more and I hope my peers also do!

1. Be careful about getting into a rut

Even in Italy, it is possible to get into a rut. It was easy to begin to treat the days like a chore; To just finish one job after the other with the end goal of finishing the day in mind. I view this as the most important thing not to fall under while being abroad.  It for one, prevents you from fully experiencing Italy and it also works to speed the time up when you do not fill it with new experiences.  This semester, I will work on being conscious and present at all moments.  To notice the surroundings and to not lose that zest for new experiences.

2. Practice Italian

I sometimes refrain from speaking Italian with my host family or other Italians throughout the day out of fear that I would mess something up or that they would not understand me.  If I needed to say something I would often plan it out in my head before hand. I would never let the words flow or trust myself enough to speak freely. However, in doing so I never was able to switch my brain into Italian mode, but was just spitting out words or phrases that were pre-memorized.  This semester, I will work on speaking more freely and not refraining from engaging more during class and in everyday interactions.

3. Have a good attitude

Last semester,  people sometimes were consumed by small inconveniences and scuffles.  In Italy, there is less of a culture centered around services and convenience.  There are strikes, public transportation is often delayed, and stores close at inconvenient times.  It was common for people to get caught up in this and forgot that we were in ITALY. Now, I have learned that there is no point in getting frustrated or annoyed, it is just a waste of time. Instead, face an inconvenience or annoyance with an attitude of excitement and adventure, as an opportunity to do something new.  Whatever the inconvenience is, if you have the right attitude, it will only enhance your experience of being abroad.

This semester’s group.