Written by Daniel De Paola
This past summer I decided to take my fourth year Italian credits in Siena, Italy. I arrived in Italy on June 28th, and returned to Canada on August 31st. All in all, I spent roughly 2 months in Italy, deciding to backpack around the peninsula after my course finished at the end of July. Upon arriving in Rome, getting to Siena was easier than I expected. There are trains and buses, both of which I took many throughout my trip, and I really couldn’t say which I preferred more – it simply depends on the amount of money you want to spend, and the amount of time you have available. A friend of mine was able to give me the contact information of a landlord in Siena and so finding accommodations was rather painless, and the flat I stayed in was really awesome. I had a roommate from Japan that only knew Japanese and Italian, which forced us to have conversations in Italian (which for me was the whole idea behind going to Italy). I had a balcony off of my bedroom that overlooked a church courtyard, which was as picturesque as it sounds.
The most fun I had in Siena was definitely watching the historical Palio horse race. Held twice a year for over 5 centuries, it is the single most fascinating thing I have ever seen during my trips abroad to Italy. I arrived in Siena 4 days prior to the race and so the town was buzzing with pre-Palio festivities. Each neighbourhood (contrada) provides a horse for the race, and the members of the neighbourhood (contradioli) don various coloured scarves to represent their neighbourhoods. I just happened to be living in the winning neighbourhood, the She-Wolf zone (La Contrada della Lupa), and they had not won a Palio in nearly 30 years. When their horse, Preziosa Penelope, won the race there were street parties, rallies, festivals, concerts, and parades nightly for an entire month straight. That is not an exaggeration – an entire month straight. I didn’t sleep a wink for quite some time, but after a certain point I learned to just go outside, enjoy myself, and bask in their victory like it was my own. If you’re ever planning to go to Siena, be sure to go when the Palio is on.
Another amazing thing about staying in Siena is its proximity to a bunch of other awesome cities and towns. On the weekends my friends and I would take off on buses or trains and go to Rome, Florence, Pisa, San Gimignano, etc. and so despite the fact that Siena itself is a beautiful medieval walled-city on a hill, there is also a wealth of beauty that lies just beyond and
is fairly accessible. As I said, I finished my course and then began a month long backpacking trip. If you were so inclined to be a bit more adventurous and spontaneous as I was, you would find quickly that there are fairly-priced hostels and budget accommodations all across the country in places from Milan to Palermo. Depending on the amount of time you have in the country, it is definitely something worth looking into.
Regarding the course at the University for Foreigners in Siena, I enjoyed it thoroughly. The professors were world-class, and were extremely helpful. It was such a privilege to be learning the Italian language, as well as culture, in an Italian classroom setting. The course was quite easy seeing as I already had a great deal of practice with Italian grammar from prior courses I had taken at Western. There is a written and oral entrance exam, by which the professors are able to place you in a class that is suited to your individual level. Otherwise, the classes are very informal and conversational. I cannot say enough good about my experience as a student in Siena. As well, because it is a school for foreigners, I met many different people from all around
the world, including England, Scotland, Turkey, Portugal, Iran, Japan, China, Russia, Poland, Spain, Costa Rica, Australia, New Zealand, etc. many of whom I still regularly speak to. The friendships you make when travelling abroad are some of the best friendships you can possibly make.
Overall, I had the experience of a lifetime during my study abroad in Siena and I miss it every single day that goes by. I don’t know what it is exactly, but Italy has a certain way of doing that to you.