I am so glad that I have chosen to study abroad in Siena. I am having an amazing time here and I would like to share with you a few tips or things that I have noticed, that could be helpful if you are planning to study abroad.
If I could go back in time to when I was packing for Italy, I would pack very differently. The first thing about the Italian wardrobe that I noticed was that Italians do not wear shorts very often. I maybe saw Italians in their stylish shorts for a week, but afterwards all I saw were jeans. Even if it is really warm outside, everyone will be wearing long pants. Once the weather started hovering around 60 degrees Fahrenheit and below, the Italians were dressing as if a snowstorm was headed our way. Italians seem to love their puffy coats and they are very sensitive to the cold in Siena. I suggest you pack clothing that you can layer when it gets colder. Keep in mind that it is illegal in Italy to turn on the heat until the first of November. I really wish I had known that before I left the US. A rain jacket is also a good idea to bring, and buy an umbrella soon after you arrive.
I am very happy that I chose a program with a homestay. Living with a host family lets me experience so much more than if I were on my own. If you will also be participating in a program with a homestay, it is important to try and not have any expectations for the family you will be with. All of the families are great, but it is easier to adjust if you did not previously have an idea in your mind about how the family should be or where they should live. It is very important to spend time with your family and also explore your city. I know it can be tempting to travel on the weekends, but I suggest you stay at home 1 or 2 weekends a month to really immerse yourself in the culture and the community.
Get ready for an adjustment for when and how much you eat. It is true that Italians eat dinner very late. My host family will begin dinner anywhere from 8pm to 9:30pm. Some host families eat earlier than mine, but typically 8pm is the normal time to eat dinner. Dinner usually lasts at least an hour. Families have long conversations at dinner and they continue long after everyone is done eating, then when there is a break in the conversation, they will get the after-dinner coffee going on the stove. Dinner is late and Italians do not really snack during the day, but lunch is also usually eaten later, around 2pm when the children come home from school. Breakfast is also a big adjustment. The typical Italian breakfast is milk or coffee with biscotti, even on the weekends.
How time is treated in Italy is different from in the US. In the north of Italy, people are usually more punctual and scheduled, but in Siena that is not really the case. It is not a negative thing, but it takes time to get used to. Italians enjoy their lives; they are not in any big rush. If you are meeting someone at a certain time, they could come 15 minutes late and it would be normal. Classes do not start on time, but that means they usually do not end on time either. Transportation can be a big mess sometimes when things run late, but you just have to take the news like an Italian and relax. You will also notice that many shops close around lunchtime for a couple of hours and may or may not open back up on time.
There are many adjustments that you will have to make in Italy, but they are all worth it. Italy is amazing and it is like living in a dream every day.