Post Program Reflections: Siena


  • My time in Siena was an incredible experience I will never forget. I learned so much about Italian culture, Italian language, and myself. The most important thing I learned about the language learning process was how important it is to continue to challenge yourself. “Learning” a new language isn’t hard, in fact, a lot of people take language classes in college to help boost their Resume or get an easy A. By this definition of “learning” I mean passing a language class and memorizing vocabulary and grammar rules. However, “learning” a language and actually speaking a language are two entirely different worlds. It’s easy to remember rules and identify grammar when you see it but to have to use those rules in practice is a lot harder. So this summer I sought to challenge myself. I spoke every chance I got in class, I read Italian books, and now I am currently seeking to continue to challenge myself so that I may maintain my language skills.
  • I completely and wholly recommend anyone interested in learning a new language to pursue the SLA grant. SLA is such a unique study abroad experience because (more often than not) you are traveling completely alone and experiencing a new country all by yourself. This pushes you to get out of your comfort zone and make new friends, have conversations with new people in a new language. I encountered a lot of American students in Siena who were studying abroad with a large group from their university and they were always together. In 6 months they still didn’t know a word of Italian, and this really broke my heart. Yes, it’s fun to travel with friends! But traveling with friends makes you comfortable with speaking English in a country in which you have an opportunity to learn something new!
  • The challenging part comes after my SLA experience. I now have to find ways in which I can continue to use the skills I learned abroad so that I don’t forget everything I learned. I plan on reading books in Italian, watching Italian movies, listening to Italian music and podcasts, and speak to whomever I can when I get the chance! I look forward to finding ways in which I can pursue Italian in my career and future. It is a beautiful country, culture and language and I look forward to returning in the near future.

Siena Week 5

Here we are week 5! My last week in Italy. I have been dreading this since I first arrived. I am determined to make the most of the time I have left. I feel like time has gone by so fast. My language skills have improved so much since my first week here. I am afraid to go back to America and lose all the skills I achieved here.

A quick recap of my last week: Monday night I went to a Kareoke bar with high hopes I would be able to whoo the crowd with my incredible voice singing in Italian. Unfortunately, Italians really enjoy singing English songs. So the night consisted of patiently waiting for an Italian song to break up the series of American “oldies but goodies” like “Pour Some Sugar On Me” and “All-star”.

Tuesday was an ordinary day for me. This week in class was a little difficult for me because I definitely felt ready to move on to the next language level, but obviously for the last week there’s no sense in switching, and so I patiently sat through classes that were somewhat under-stimulating.

Wednesday night I accompanied my friend/host Azzurra to her friend’s birthday dinner. It was an intimate gathering of about 12 close friends and family and it was just so much fun. I understood nearly everything they were talking about and found it very easy to keep track with the flow of conversation. I no longer felt shy! I was also conversing and keeping pace with the conversation of native Italian speakers (who naturally speak very fast mind you).

Thursday I finally managed to make it to a beach in the Tuscan region, Castiglione Della Peschaia. The water was absolutely astonishing and reminded just how much I love the Ocean. Thank god I live in California. After returning from the beach I met some friends in the city and had a fun evening walking the streets with the warm summer breeze.


Friday was my last day at school and very emotional to say the least. I wrote my favorite professor a card thanking him for everything he taught me, and he returned the favor and gave me his email address to remain in contact. After school Siena’s contrada’s had an event to choose the horses that would be running in “Il Palio” on Monday. It was so interesting to see the “patriotism” everyone had for their Contradas. Friday evening they had a “prova” a practice Palio in which thousands of people still showed up to watch. It was amazing I can’t imagine what the real Palio would be like. Sadly I’m leaving Saturday so I won’t be able to see the real Palio. But I have a pretty good idea thanks to the “prova”. Friday night I went out with all my closest friends and tried my hardest not to cry.


My time in Italy really came and went.

For my final community interaction task I decided to talk about accents and dialects rather than slang. Italy is a unique country because it was fully united until 1861, so although Italy has a rich ancient history dating back to the Roman Empire, it is a relatively new country with regards to unification. In this respect there exists many different dialects and accents the survive despite Italian becoming the official language. I listened to several different Italian dialects and I could very clearly understand it wasn’t Italian. The accents were a lot harder to discern. To me the different accents really just sounded like different tones of voice. Similarly, I showed some Italians the different accents found throughout America and they had a hard time discerning the difference. It was especially difficult for people who have no experience with the English language.

Siena Week 4

At the end of week 4 I can truly feel the change in my language conversational skills. When I attempted to watch Italian shows before I had a really hard time understanding and following the conversation but last night I was watching a newscast about the World Cup and I understood the entire conversation COMPLETELY! It was so great.

I feel really comfortable speaking in Italian now and it almost feels like second nature. Speaking English is almost challenging because my brain is so accustomed to rephrasing and translating my thoughts. It’s such a beautiful experience to be able to speak another language!

I went out to lunch this week in a pretty touristy part of town and the waiter proceeded to speak to us in English because he assumed I was a tourist and I responded “Ma che dici? Non parlo l’inglese io sono Italiana!”

This weekend I went to Firenze again but this time during the day and it was beautiful in such a different way! The city was large but it was fairly easy to walk almost all of it on foot. It was beautiful, I think Firenze is my favorite city I have seen thus far. I would like to come back to Italy and experience a few weeks in Firenze. After that I came back to Siena for a long/fun night of exploration. Because of Il Palio starting in a week there are many pre-Palio fesitivies, including contrada parties. I was able to meet a few native Italians and spoke to them on a casual level which was both fun and educational.

This week I also tried a traditional plate of Siena: Panzanella. This plate is a salad normally served with tomatoes, cucumber, onions, pepper, and topped panzanella, which is a soft seasoned bread. The salad was both delicious and filling thanks to the large quantities of bread. Siena, and the Tuscan region, are known for plates in which bread is a large part of the meal’s composition. This is due to the fact that Tuscany was a poverty stricken region soon after World War 2 and bread being somewhat cheap, it became a staple item in the Tuscan diet, along with hunting meats, such as wild boar.

Siena Week 3- Feelings about the US (?)

I personally haven’t noticed a great difference in my language skills between week 2 and week 3 but everyone around me confirms that I have made major improvements. During class I am no longer nervous to speak out or voice my opinion during conversation. I love the program I am enrolled in because it really forces you to step out of your comfort zone. In class we converse about real issues that are interesting and thought provoking and sometimes a little difficult to talk about or translate clearly. Common topics include: politics, religion, and sexuality. These exercises have been so vital to my language learning process because no matter how hard you try there is no simple way to explain why you think “religion should or should not be taught in school”. It really forces you to articulate yourself. Sometimes it’s frustrating because I don’t know how to accurately translate my feelings but it’s also fun because it challenges me to rethink my message and phrase it in a way that I can explain. It’s been a really eye-opening experience because not only am I rephrasing my opinion grammatically but in a way I’m also challenging myself to view that topic from a different perspective.

This week I was able to expand my knowledge of the Italian film industry at school. We watched “Bevenuti al Sud” and it was the cutest movie I’d ever seen. It was interesting to see the exaggerated stereotypes of Southern Italy. I’ve been to Sicily a few times and I never thought it was that much different from the rest of Italy, but man was I wrong. Then again, as far as I’ve seen, each region of Italy seems to be entirely different. From different foods typical to that region, to different dialects and accents. I can’t register different dialects or accents yet. I just assume when someone is speaking and I don’t understand what they are saying it’s because I wasn’t paying attention or am unfamiliar with the specific vocabulary but in reality that person is speaking in a dialect which is comparable to entirely different language in itself.


I purchased and began reading my first Italian book and I am excited to say I have only 10 pages left to go! The book is for “young adults” but I am so happy because aside from a few words here and there that I need to translate, I understand the storyline. I am planning to purchase another one soon! I would love to stock up on Italian books to bring to America.

Outside of the class room I did some more exploring around the city and surrounding areas. I discovered Siena’s botanical gardens and I had planned to do some work there, but sadly it started to rain soon and my stay was cut short. Either way it was remarkable. The garden stretched over the side of a large hill and had everything from tropical to desert plants. My favorite part was a small little pond at the bottom of the hill filled with water lilies and little frogs.

Saturday I visited Pisa for the first time and it was incredible! The tower was miraculous as well as “Il Duomo”. It was beautiful in an inexplicable way. I was just so lucky this weekend because Pisa was celebrating one of its Patron Saints with the “Luminara di San Ranieri”. Around 11pm all the lights surrounding the Arno River were turned off and the city was illuminated by thousands of candles that surrounded windows and doors of the buildings and edifices along the river. It was spectacular. Around 11:30pm the fire work show on the river began and it was truly a once in a life time experience.

For my community interaction task last week, I decided to ask native Italians their feelings about the United States of America. The general consensus seemed to be the following. Everyone I consulted with agreed America is a country they would very much like to visit. The United States is home to all environments from hot, cold, mountainous, beaches, lakes, deserts, big cities and more. There is something for everyone in the United States. America is unique because there is a great sense of patriotism that is not custom to other countries. Americans are usually proud of where they come from and hold a very strong national identity. Italians think it is beautiful how richly diverse America is. There is no foundational tradition or no real “American Culture” more so the “America Culture” is a melting pot of all cultures. One thing that seemed to be a big problem for most people I spoke with was the air of hypocrisy of Americans. Americans pride themselves on the idea of freedom yet the Country was founded on manipulation of people and forced labor. They are very keen on American news and see that racism is STILL a large issue that America is dealing with. No country is perfect and everyone I spoke with is very aware of that and so despite America’s flaws they still really enjoy the America tradition and would someday like to experience it themselves.

Siena Week 2-Community Interaction: Il Palio

If you have spent any time traveling through the Tuscan region of Italy it is probably very likely that you have head of Siena’s great summer holiday “Il Palio”.

I briefly learned about “Il Palio” before I knew I was going to study Italian in Siena for the summer, and what I had learned about it was very vague and unmemorable. Either way, two days into my study abroad trip I had already encountered several people who briefly mentioned this holiday and so I was interested in finding out more.

I asked two ordinary people the significance of “Il Palio” and compared their responses to one I received from the tourist information office. You’d be surprised by how beautifully unique all the answers were!

I’ll start with the information I received at the tourist information office so that you all have a brief understanding of the history of this holiday.

Il Palio is a horse race that occurs twice a year during the summer, July 2ndand August 16th. There are ten horses and riders that participate and represent 10 of the 17 “contrade” of Siena. A “contrada” can best be described as a city region/ward. The two dates mentioned above have religious connections: July 2ndin honor of Madonna of Provenzano, and August 16thin honor of the Assumption of Mary. The historical origins of “Il Palio” began as sports competitions between the contrade that took place in the city’s central piazza. The first modern Palio took place in 1633.

The race consists of 10 of the 17 contrade so not all 17 participate at the same time. However, the 7 that did not participate in that month of the previous year are automatically included, the other 3 are chosen at random.

Now let’s go over the community responses I received about “Il Palio”.

The first interview I conducted was with a young lady who lives in Siena currently but grew up in a city a few miles away.

She explained that “Il Palio” is a very unique holiday that the people of Siena are very passionate about. It is a very important event for the Contrade of Siena, and people often spend weeks preceding “Il Palio” celebrating and preparing for the event. One moment she’ll never forget about “Il Palio” is leading up to the race when the announcer is introducing the competitors and the entire crowd falls dead silent. Thousands of people, still, silent and unified for a few moments in recognition of the sanctity of this beautiful holiday.

Lastly, she described the details of the race itself. She explained that the temporary “track” around Piazza Del Campo is not like a normal horse track. It is much smaller and the turns are much tighter, making it common for riders to fall off their horses. However, even if a rider loses his horse, if the horse still manages to come in first place without the rider, that contrada still wins the title for the year. “Palio” is also common place for corruption, which only increases the air of competition around the race.

The second person I spoke with was a young man who lives in Firenze but visits Siena often.

He explained that “Il Palio” is a truly beautiful experience. Not being from Siena he didn’t know much about the historical origins of the holiday, but he still loves to attend “Il Palio” every year. He said “The Palio is an event that beautifully unifies all the spectators, tourists and Italians, whether they are Sienase are not.”

He also went on to describe the details of the race to me. He explained that the race is a very short event, a small track that the riders complete three times, which is usually finished in about 90 seconds. And despite the fact that this event lasts only 90 seconds there is so much anticipation and excitement leading up to the race that makes every second worth it. He said that the most interesting thing about the race (to him) is the importance of tradition. Since the beginning of time there has been in a rule in place that the race cannot start until all the horses are in a straight line at the starting point. This can take 3 minutes to 3 hours. If the horses are off by even an inch the race cannot begin. It is VERY important that they all start from the same spot.

I’ve also began noticing the changes in preparation for “Il Palio”. Every week each contrada holds different events and parities to rally the spirit of their fans. On my way home from school this week I noticed the fence that has been erected in Piazza Del Campo marking out the course of the track.

After all my research on “Il Palio” I’m looking forward to seeing the event in person as well. Sadly, I made my plan tickets before I knew the importance of this holiday in Siena and the first race (July 2nd) is three days after I am scheduled to depart from Italy L. Oh well, that just means I’ll have to be back next year to see it in person.

A recap for my language learning process: At the end of my second week here I feel a lot more comfortable navigating the city by myself. Siena can be a labyrinth to navigate sometimes, but I have finally identified major landmarks and can navigate the city with ease.


Along with being able to navigate successfully, I feel a lot more comfortable and confident when conversing with natives even if my Italian isn’t perfect. Most of the time people are very happy to see a foreigner learning the language, and are often surprised by how well I speak! Other times, some people aren’t as willing and respond in English much to my dissatisfaction. But for the most part anytime I enter a restaurant or café I am speaking Italian.

This week I made some friends at Dante Aligheri. They are all very unique and interesting. My class consists mostly of people older than me by 10-20 years and yet it is beautiful to see that friendship can be found in any age/culture. I really enjoy conversing with my friends from school whose primary language is not English, because this way Italian is clearest form of communication.

I did some sight-seeing of cities and areas around Siena, and visited the hot springs (Le Terme), San Gimignano and Chianti Castellina. The hot springs were so wonderfully relaxing and I was able to see another aspect of “la vita Toscana”. The people who live and work in the country side are very different from those I interact with in Siena. The following day I visited San Gimignano and Chianti Castellina. They were both very tiny but entirely beautiful. I also had the chance to visit the town my host, Azzurra, grew up in (Chiusdino). These towns are so tiny (less than 1000 people) but its so beautiful to see how rich the culture and community is.







I am so eager to learn and converse! I am determined to make the most of my last 3 weeks here.

Siena, Italy: Week 1

After 24+ hours of traveling from San Diego California, to Los Angeles California, to Stockholm Sweden, I finally made it to Rome Italy. Once in Rome, I had to figure out how to navigate the airport train system to get to Roma Termini (the Grand Central Station of Rome). Roma Termini is in every way like every video you’ve seen of Grand Central Station, with the crazy hustle and bustle of thousands of people, just with added warnings to be aware of pick-pockets. No big deal right…

Once I arrived at Roma Termini I made my way to Siena. Ever so kindly, my sweet host Azzurra met me half way in Grosseto, and drove me the second half of the way Siena. This experience alone, traveling and navigating the public transportation system entirely by myself, in a language I can barely converse in, was so beautifully eye-opening. It was fun, scary, and a little stressful but I DID IT! Already my trip was beginning to be a life-changing event.

Once I was “home” with Azzurra I was acquainted with my room and a beautiful plate of pasta and tiramisu Azzurra prepared for me and took a very much needed nap. After recharging a bit Azzurra showed me around town and how to get to school in the mornings.

The rest of the week was phenomenal! I started class on the following Monday and since my first day here I feel like I have learned so much. My Italian classes at Notre Dame were essential to learning the grammatical side of the Italian language, but I can already feel the difference that conversation has made on my language learning experience. For example, there is a Russian man in my language learning class who is about 45 years old and has been in Siena for about 2 months and speaks Italian as if he were born and raised here (mind you he had no knowledge of the language prior to his studies at Dante Alighieri in Siena). However, when we played a grammar game that had to do with choosing the correct preposition for a given phrase, he was very inconsistent while I on the other hand (thanks to my brilliant professors at Notre Dame) had no trouble identifying which preposition was needed for each phrase (okay not every phrase but hey no one is perfect). Language learning for 5+ hours a day and Italian conversation for like 13 hours a day was at-first extremely exhausting. My brain wasn’t used to this much Italian in one day especially when every interaction must have all of your intense focus and concentration to understand and articulate correctly. However, with repetition, patience and my knowledge of Italian grammar rules, I feel like in just a few short weeks I too can sound like “una vera italiana”.

Aside from language learning I was able to do a little bit of sight-seeing. Siena in itself is a beautiful city to explore, and within the museums are even more treasures to be discovered (at a price of course). Saturday night Azzurra took me to an awesome restaurant in Firenze for dinner and we did some sight-seeing at night, which was incredible, and I most certainly want to return to explore during the day.

Lastly the FOOD is amazing. I have probably gone up two pant sizes in just a week from all the tasty food Italians love to eat. Oh well, I can worry about my health later. Haha. That’s all for now. I’ll be back with more enlightening experiences soon.