Written by Amalie Jessica Frehner
I went to Siena in May 2016 to study Italian for a month at the Università degli Stranieri di Siena. When I arrived in Siena I was enchanted by the old architecture and the colourful flags hanging from the windows, the pleasant bustle of activity, the arched doorways and the colour-coordinated shutters lining the façades of the street walls. I will forever cherish the memory of eating a gelato while strolling down the main street on my first night in Siena.
I went to school from Monday to Friday. My classes went from 9:30 to 1:30, and consisted of two lessons, one on Italian grammar the other on Italian conversation, and were taught by two different professors. Our conversation professor assigned us articles on various topics, which we then read together and ensued to underline the words or expressions that we didn’t understand. When talking about current issues, he asked each person how the situation was dealt with in their own country. The students in my class were from Japan, South Korea, China, Morocco, the Czech Republic, Belgium, France, Catalonia, Argentina, Nicaragua, and Brazil. I was happy to be the only one whose mother tongue was English, so that I would be forced to express myself in Italian. I was impressed by how well everyone in my class spoke Italian. In spite of this, things often got lost in translation during our discussions, resulting in hilarious and absurd misunderstandings. One of my favourite memories of the university was the Notte di Poesia, in which students read poetry from their country in their respective language, and then read the Italian translation. Over thirty countries were represented in the auditorium that night.
One of my favourite things to do in Siena was simply to walk around with my map and my camera, looking and feeling like a tourist. I strove to identify all the different contrade, the respective neighbourhoods to which all native Sienese belong and with which they feel a strong identification. As you might have heard, on the first of July, there is a horse race around the Piazza del Campo, in which each contrada is represented by a horse and rider. The winning contrada has license to celebrate extravagantly in the streets in the following weeks. As I was in Siena in May, the contrade were preparing for the race by decking the streets with their colours, parading around the city, twirling their flags and beating their drums. On one of my walks, I happened upon a group of kids in a park who were solemnly performing a drumroll while others waved flags around. The pride of the city is the Piazza del Campo, the huge open area surrounding an imposing castle, the old city hall. Today, the city hall has been turned into a museum and a lookout. The Piazza del Campo is a lure for tourists, although it is so vast that tourists, students and locals can comfortably share the space.
While I was studying in Siena, I spent my weekends traveling to different cities. I visited a few nearby towns, such as Lucca, Pisa, and Montepulciano, but also ventured out to Bologna, Rome and Naples. Each place was different from the last, and offered its own charms, although I found similarities in the architecture of Tuscan towns. Sometimes I traveled alone, and sometimes I went with others. There are still many places that I haven’t seen. For example, I have heard ravings about San Giminiano and Lecce, and I still want to see Verona, Trieste and Sicily. Even in Siena there are many places that I have yet to visit. I have heard that La Vecchia Latteria serves the best gelato in Siena, but I have yet to taste it for myself.
Learning Italian in Siena is one of the best decisions I have ever made. I found a great balance between the stability of going to school, and after class, the adventure of exploring new places. If you are going to study in Siena in the future, you will probably find your experience completely unique, as there are so many different things to do over there. Regardless, I can guarantee that you will not be able to resist the charm of this medieval city, and there will always be interesting people to meet.