While I was abroad, I learned many things about myself and the Italian culture. Before this trip, I had been to Italy 3 times, mostly to see my family that lives in Lucca and Padova. This was the first time that I stayed for a long period of time and stayed with people that I did not know. I also was forced into speaking the language, instead of talking to my relatives in English. I liked this the most, because I was able to be more comfortable in speaking the language. I could see the change from when I first started classes to when I finished my classes. I do not have to think so much about how I formulate my sentences or which words to say. If I didn’t know, I was able to describe the item that I was trying to say. I’m the type of person that usually gets along with everyone. When I met my roommate, I was very openminded. You never know what kind of person is going to be living with you, but no matter if you like them or not, you have to figure out a way to get along with them, because you live together. This is something that I learned before the trip and during the trip. My freshman year in college, I had a pretty bad roommate, but I had to learn to deal with her and I figured it out. The same thing happened in Italy. It’s not that she was a bad roommate, but she was different. I learned that there are all different types of people in this world and not everyone has the same views as I do. You can figure this out in America, but I think it becomes even more obvious when you live in a completely different culture.
Something else that I loved about my experience was being truly involved in the culture. I did some volunteer service with Siena University students and also at a kids camp in Siena. Being able to speak with native Sienese improved my speaking skills and allowed me to interact with other Italians. Working with the kids was pretty funny, they would laugh when we made mistakes, but try and correct us. I did not feel that intimidated while speaking with them as I did with my host family at first. To me it was harder to speak to them, because they knew so much of the language and how things were pronounced and structured. Kids don’t really judge you for miss-speaking because they can’t really speak perfectly themselves. I think the way to really get the most out of your experience is to put yourself out there and make mistakes, because nobody makes fun of you or judges you. In fact, my host family helped me out a lot and my Italian got better because of it. Do not be afraid to speak!
My absolute favorite part of my trip was being able to travel outside of Siena. Every chance I got, I went to another small city or Florence, or visit my family. I think the most important part of traveling for students is to travel while they are already traveling. Get outside of the city that you are staying in. Try not to worry about money too much, the experience you get from small trips will always be priceless. Some of my friends tried different tours in Venice or Lake Como. I went to Montalcino to try the Brunello wine. Traveling in Italy was so easy and cheap, it is really hard not to go any other place. You see different variations on the Italian culture in every city that you travel to. Each city has a very different background than the next, which is something that I’ve always found fascinating about Italy. Even the way they speak the language is different.
I cherished every moment while I was studying abroad and know that I have made lifelong friends both from America and Italy. I know that this is definitely not the last time that I will be visiting Siena or Italy. I would love to come back and visit the school and my host family again.
Theresa is a student at Norther Illinois University studying at Siena Italian Studies in Italy during the Summer 2014 term.