It’s Not a Goodbye, But a See You Later

Never in my wildest dreams did I picture myself going to a foreign country and using a language to help me form some of the greatest friendships I have ever had. After only 5 weeks, I have met some of the most incredible people here. From native Sienese citizens to friends from Mexico, Germany, France, and the Czech Republic, this experience has opened my eyes to possibility and promise.

One of my best friends from the program, pictured above, is continuing her journey in Florence studying fashion. She has told me all about the program at Polimoda, and I definitely want to apply for next summer so I can speak the Italian language when learning about my future career. She’ll be spending another month in Italy, so we made a promise to each other to call once a week and have a conversation in Italian all about what is going on in our lives. I’m also planning on taking a trip to see her in Mexico next spring. Who knows, maybe I’ll begin my journey learning Spanish soon!

Last night at dinner, our sweet host family surprised Sarah and me with a gift. We opened a small package to find a charm bracelet. The first charm is a giraffe, the sign of our Contrada. The second was a red pepper which indicates good fortune in Italy. Now I can take a piece of Siena with me wherever I go.

My flight leaves at 6:30am tomorrow, and I’m trying to do as much as I can before I leave today. This morning I woke up early to take a walk around the city and appreciate the landscape I’ve come to love so very much. This afternoon I will say goodbye to the program director and the other students at the school during our farewell lunch. My roommate and I plan on spending the evening in Piazza Del Campo looking at the sky and watching it fill with stars. I know I won’t be sleeping tonight. I’m going to miss Siena and everyone I have encountered so much. But I know that it’s not really a “goodbye”. It’s merely a “see you later”.

Ci vediamo a dopo, Italia…

L’ultimo Giorno

It’s hard to believe it, but my last day at school was today. I couldn’t bear to say goodbye to my instructor and my friends. Through this experience, I have met students from Germany, the Czech Republic, England, and even right next door in the United States. Not only did this experience challenge me in my ability to speak the language, but it challenged me to form new relationships with the people I met.

Reflecting back on the past few days makes me realize how fortunate I am to have chosen a program in Siena. The size and welcoming nature of this city truly made me feel so at home. Yesterday as a class, we took a day to go to the local market. Siena’s market is incredibly large, and it’s full of amazing vendors who begin to speak to you about their life story, where they came from, and why they love selling their products. I had the best conversation with a vendor from Napoli who started making dresses when she was just 14 years old. I had a little trouble understanding her at first and she excused herself for speaking in dialect, but I assured her that it was no trouble! Through this conversation, I was able to learn a few of the Napolitano words she used when telling me her story.

After spending a few hours at the market, we took a long walk around the city and toured some of Siena’s landmarks. While we were walking through the Goose Contrada, an elderly man stopped our group because he overheard us having conversation about the history of the city. He invited us into his workshop where he makes every streetlight by hand. The streetlights here have the symbols of the Contradas etched into wood and carefully painted with the Contrada colors. They ranged in size and design, and I couldn’t believe how many there were! He was so proud to show us his hard work, and even sat down to paint a little and show us his technique. If we hadn’t gone on a walk, we would have never been able to share such an incredible experience with a local. But the amazing day did not stop there.

Another woman whose house was about 15 minutes away from the shop ALSO stopped us. She was curious to see if we were a touring group. When our instructor assured her that we knew Italian, she told us that she wanted to let us see the inside of her basement. Her basement was made of the original bricks and stone of the city. Above the basement area was the street I had walked every day to school. I was mesmerized by her compassion and willingness to see such a special place. She and her husband chill wine in the basement and sell it in their retirement for a little extra money. She talked about her happy marriage and gave us the advice to never give up on our dreams and always find the time to travel to knew places.

This is something I will miss terribly about Siena. There is a sense of friendship and trust in this city that I have never seen before. No one is a stranger. It’s a beautiful thing, and I can’t wait to challenge myself to be more open to opportunities like this when I get back to the States.




Florence: Experiencing the Accademia and Uffizi Museums

When I came to Siena, one of my language goals was to learn vocabulary in art history and fashion so I could expand my knowledge of the field I wish to work in. These past two weeks, my culture class had the opportunity to visit both the Accademia and Uffizi museums. I was completely mesmerized and in my element.

My experience at the Accademia was by far the most memorable. One of the first rooms you enter in the building is a display of some of Michelangelo’s most famous statues: the Prisoners and of course the famous “David”. I was able to learn more vocabulary about Renaissance art, humanism, architecture, and painting/drawing techniques during this visit. My class had a discussion before our visit about the significance of the Prisoner statues. They look to be unfinished, but there is a rumor that Michelangelo actually wished for them to look that way. He believed they were not mean to show perfection, but rather a sense of unfinished satisfaction. I also discovered one of my new favorite masterpieces at the Accademia: a statue called “The Dancers”. I grew up dancing and the two female figures bonding over this special art form really drew me in!

At the Uffizi museum, I was able to experience masterpieces from some of the greatest artists in history: Donatello, Leonardo Da Vinci, and Caravaggio. The amount of religious art was a bit overwhelming, but I had an incredible conversation with a native Italian speaker about a painting depicting Adam and Eve. We shared stories about our journey with Catholicism, and after she asked me where in Italy I was from. I felt so accomplished that I was able to convince her with my accent that I was from the country. When I told her I’m actually from the United States, she complimented my speaking skills and told me to continue learning. She said, “Education is something no one can take away from you.” I couldn’t agree more.

The vocabulary journal that I started making is really coming in handy. When a new student arrived in class yesterday, she had a question about the Sienese accent. Here, instead of pronouncing consonants within two vowels, the Sienese people drop that consonant and replace it with an “h” sound. I had taken notes in my vocabulary journal about the name and origin of the meaning of this linguistic phenomenon, called “Gorgia”. My teacher asked me to stand in front of the class and explain it to the other students. It was truly such a proud moment for me when I could explain something so complicated to the class for everyone to understand.


My time here is running short. I only have one more week left, and I can’t believe this experience is ending. I am so fortunate to be here, and I’m going to continue taking advantage of every amazing opportunity that is presented to me while I am in the country.




Roman Holiday

Wow, who knew that there were so many ways to speak Italian?! This week I challenged my speaking skills by visiting Rome. It’s about a 3-hour bus ride from Siena, and let me tell you, the accent is very different. In Siena, I am used to hearing the locals speak with a bit of a hissing sound in their speech. They are more likely to add an “h” to a word, and I’ve gotten pretty used to hearing that sound. However, in Rome, the accent is closer to traditional Italian language. It was actually a little easier to understand the locals as they spoke far more directly here.

On Friday of our long weekend, my roommate and I went to Vatican City. We took a tour of the museum, climbed all 500+ steps of the Basilica, and went inside the church itself. I had dreamed of that day since I was a little girl in Catholic school, and I can’t even explain the feeling of sheer joy and awe that I felt in that space. We also had dinner with a few ND interns and a priest that day. Father Kimes studied in Italy, so we had incredible conversation about the faith and Italy itself in the language. It was truly such a joy to meet him and share experiences together.

During my visit, I saw the Colosseum, Pantheon, Roman Forum, and the Paletine. The whole day spent viewing the ancient side of Rome was by far one of my favorite days of the weekend spent there. It was so exciting to experience all of that culture and history in one place. I was exhausted and sunburnt by the end of the day on Saturday, but it was well worth it.

On Sunday, I fulfilled one of my lifelong dreams: I heard the Pope speak and received his blessing. I had him bless a crucifix I bought in Vatican City, and I hope to pass it down to my children one day. He talked in Italian about an anonymous family that he hoped we would all pray for. He welcomed groups from places like Poland and Belgium, and finally asked for us to pray for him throughout the week. While we were in the square, we saw a dove land nearby and I truly couldn’t believe how amazing this sign from God was.

I am so fortunate to have visited Rome and fulfilled a dream I have had since I was a little girl. I experienced an incredible moment sharing a meal with a priest and conversing in Italian and being able to hear one of my greatest heroes speak in Vatican City.

Until next time,


The Palio – A Sienese Tradition

Being a native of Kentucky, I’m used to horse racing. It is truly something that has been in my blood since I was a little girl, and the Kentucky Derby is a tradition that all of the Bluegrass State takes part in. When I heard that Siena, Italy had a famous horse race, I never fathomed that it could be as spectacular as it was. However, on July 2, I was proved wrong.

The Palio is a 4-day celebration of Sienese Contradas, or districts, ending with a horse race on the 4th day. Each Contrada is named after an animal or object from nature. There are 17 Contrade in all, but only 10 are able to race. My host family’s Contrada, the giraffe, was in the race. Needless to say, my roommate and I were so excited to get there and watch the race unfold before our eyes.

The day of the race was completely chaotic. The Sienese people are unlike any other when it comes to enthusiasm for their district. Each citizen wore a silk scarf given to them at their birth to signify their passion for their district. Drums and singing can be heard all week long, but it is especially strong on the day of the Palio race.

My friends and I arrived in the main square, Piazza del Campo, at 3:30pm. The race and ceremony wouldn’t start until  7:30pm, but we knew that the square would be packed full of people. We were right. The sun was beating down and everyone was sweating through their clothes in 90 degree heat. However, this did not stop anyone from showing enthusiasm and anticipation for what would prove to be the most exciting race I have ever witnessed.

When the horses walk into the Piazza, thousands of people go completely silent. A chill truly went up my spine. It was so incredible to feel the passion and electrifying force that was sent through Il Campo. It took several hours for the race to begin officially because it is completely legal for jockeys to make bargains and deals with money to help each other win the race. Once it began, The Dragon Contrada had won in 2 minutes. I still can’t believe I was able to see this happen! 



This week I truly made it a point to be more engaged in my language class. It was a little hard for me to adjust to this week’s material. I am much younger than the other students in my class, so they are often talking about politics, the mafia, and even slang terms that I don’t quite understand. What I found that truly helps me is to write down words that I hear in conversation and spend an hour at night researching their meaning and recording that in a notebook. I will be able to keep this noteboook and look back at the new vocabulary I have learned to apply it to my conversations.

I have also truly taken advantage of this small city. I’ve gone out to explore the Duomo, a beautiful sitting area with a great view of the Sienese skyline, and made friends with a woman who works at my favorite local pizzeria. The weeks just keep getting better and I wish time would stop!



Under the Tuscan Sun

I cannot believe my first week in Siena has come and gone. I was so anxious to arrive in this beautiful city, and I can’t describe how welcoming my home and the locals have been. Siena is very small compared to what I was imagining. It seems that after only a week of living here, I see the same people at the market, near school, and at night getting dinner. I love this aspect. It’s like I feel as though I have lived here for years!

My first week at school was overwhelming at first, but then I came to the fact that I have mastered the language much better than I believe. I was placed into la classe superiore, which is the highest level attainable. Right now we are discussing Italian film through short readings and listening activities. I love this topic, and it has made studying the language even more fun for me!

I have been proud of the little accomplishments I have made, like calling my driver from the airport to make arrangements and speaking only in Italian. My host family and I have deep conversations at dinner about politics, music, and the nightlife. I have made friends with several locals, and we have arranged to meet for lunch or daily strolls throughout the city. They have been so helpful to me in learning colloquialisms and correcting or complimenting my accent and grammar.

This week I took a trip to the market with my class. We talked to the vendors, ordered food, and I even bought a new straw bag for my trip! I also saw some lovely flowers. I love flower shops and I took the opportunity to learn the names of some of my favorite flowers in Italian!

My class also visited the Santa Maria della Scala Archaeological Museum so we could discuss Etruscan and Roman art. The upstairs balcony overlooks Siena in the most charming way, and I couldn’t help but take a photo.

This week in my studies I am going to focus on using the language outside of class every day in a new way. For example, I am always trying to order new things on the menu at restaurants or chatting with the couple next to me at dinner in Italian. I learn best when I am speaking more, so perhaps this week I will learn something new about my waiter or ask about my professor’s life when they were my age!