Jaimie Cashen is a Junior majoring in International Relations with a minor in Italian. She participated in the University of Utah summer language program in Siena, Italy, in 2010.
During this past summer, I studied in Siena, Italy. Approaching the end of my Italian minor, i figured it was the right time to do my study abroad. Siena is an incredibly beautiful medieval town in the Tuscan region about an hour south of Florence. The location is perfect because it is in the center of Italy, other popular cities are easily accessible. During my summer, i traveled to Pisa, Lucca, Assisi, San Gimignano, Bologna, Ferrara, Cinque Terre, Rome, Florence, Sicily, and a few other smaller towns. I was lucky to have the opportunity to stay with a host mom who lived in the center of the city just a 2 minute walk from Piazza del Campo. Piazza del Campo is the main attraction in Siena, we spent almost every afternoon eating Gelato, people watching, and just hanging out there. Our host mom would cook dinner for us each night and it would be ready promptly at 7:30! She fed us some of the best food i have ever eaten. She would also help us a lot with our italian and correct us when we made a mistake. After dinner most nights we would get ready to go out and meet other students from the program as well as the italians that we had become friends with.
Every morning, me and my three roommates would leave our apartment around 8:30 to make it to school which started at 9:00. Our classes were very small and consisted of about 10 students each. Most of the teachers didn't speak English so the classes were all taught in Italian. This was actually a really good thing because it totally immerses you in the language and forces you to practice speaking and comprehending.
Twice a year in Siena, the Palio is held. This is an ancient tradition that is very specific to Siena and people come from all over the world to see it. In the city of Siena, each neighborhood is also known as a Contrada. Each Contrada has a horse that will participate in a race around the Piazza del Campo at the end of the week. Thousands of people gather in the center of the Campo to witness the event. The Contradas each have a mascot and are very proud of it! Whichever Contrada's horse wins the race is entitled to bragging rights and other prizes. Luckily, I was in Siena at the time of the Palio and had the opportunity to participate in the festivities. It was such a cool thing to see and a once in a lifetime opportunity.
On most weekends, we would plan to take a 3 day trip to a new city. Going on weekend trips where my favorite part about the study abroad. My favorite place that i visited was Cinque Terre. Cinque Terre is made up of 5 small cities that are basically nestled into the side of a mountain. We hadn't really planned things very well for this trip which actually made it more exciting! We arrived in Riomaggiore (one of the 5 towns) really late and were lucky to find a place to stay after walking around for an hour. The next morning we woke up early to hike the Via dell'Amore. This is the hike that connects the 5 towns. It takes about 5 hours to complete and isn't easy but it is SO worth it. After we completed the hike, we climbed down to some rocks and went for the best swim of our lives. Before we left, we rented kayaks and drifted in the ocean about a mile away from the shore for a couple of hours. It was the most relaxing and beautiful day, i didn't it to end.
I think the best part of about being in Siena this summer was the opportunity i had to be in a foreign place, away from family, for an extended period of time. The girls that i roomed with were all so different from each other but we all became good friends and had some really great times together! I was also able to do an internship working in a kids summer camp for a few weeks. I would say this is where my italian improved the most. The kids don't really care that you don't speak Italian so they will talk your ear off! And it is so cute when they correct your italian. Their little voices are so sweet and it's really cool to hear them speak. They also taught me a lot about the culture which was really helpful as well.