Here's the lowdown!

Julia Szeto
September 23, 2015

It’s been over two weeks in Siena already, and I know 100% more Italian than I did when I arrived. The days have been filled with orientation activities and most recently, a weekend trip to Florence! It hasn’t all been rainbows and unicorns, though. My stay here so far has definitely been challenging, so I’ll touch on that during this post.

I enjoy numbering, so I’m going to do that this time, for sake of organization. Read on!

  1. Siena is beautiful. I’ve grown to cherish walking fifteen minutes to the IES Center every morning, when tour groups haven’t taken over the sidewalks. It’s tourist high season still, and quite understandably so. Siena is a town frozen in time. If you squint up at the she-wolves lining City Hall and ignore intruding selfie sticks, you can almost make out life in the 1300s.   
  2. Sound carries. As charming as Siena is, the shape of the city and the stones and bricks that make up the buildings provide the perfect environment for echoes on echoes. I’m currently sitting in my bed writing and my windows are closed, but I can hear the outdoor concert in the Piazza del Campo as clearly as if I were sitting in the front row. On other nights, the streets don’t seem to come alive until after I’ve burrowed into my sheets. I’ve unintentionally eavesdropped on far too many conversations that could be happening right below my window or several streets away…it’s hard to tell. Last week one of the other girls on my program woke up to an operatic aria, and the other day we came across a boy drumming in a courtyard. The sound of his drums had us thinking that an entire band of drummers were practicing across town.
  3. Nightlife starts after bedtime. Specifically my bedtime. The schedule of life here is significantly different from the States. It goes something like this: espresso in the morning. Maybe a cappuccino, but don’t order one after 11 am. Lunch break at 1. Wait no – military time – so 13:00. Lunch must be revered. Lunch ends at 1500. Aperitivo and a spritz (orange alcoholic drink) at 19:00 with friends. Chat. Dinner at 20:30, maybe. Dinner is revered. Leave ristorante at 22:00. At this point, I am in bed, drained from the day, and the locals are just getting started. I’m beginning to think I was born middle-aged.   
  4.  Grocery shopping is thrilling. Everything I’ve ever craved is all the grocery stores have here, namely salami, cheese, Nutella, and wine. (Tip: Nutella is sold here in little glass jars that make great glasses after. Not that anyone needs more reasons to eat copious amounts of Nutella.)
  5. I underestimated my ability to adjust. For some reason, I thought that adjusting to life here would be easy as pie. It hasn’t been. Although I wasn’t hit with homesickness, a combination of all the differences of daily life in Siena versus Portland bowled me over. Sorting garbage and recycling into three different colored bags, getting used to not having a dryer, walking everywhere, and not being able to communicate with the majority of the locals here shocked me more than I expected. Add in a little anxiety and loneliness, and things get more difficult.
  6. Loneliness is a real thing. This was another feeling that I didn’t anticipate. The IES Siena program this semester is comprised of a total of eight people, including me, and we’re all girls. Eight is a small enough number to hang out all together, but a big enough number to feel distant from everyone even after spending time together. I know myself as someone who gets along best with others one-on-one, and spending time with so many other people – and girls, nonetheless – was challenging for me in a way that I have never experienced before. The first two weeks were incredibly difficult. Loneliness is a vast feeling that can swallow you up. However, it passes. It does. I am nearing the end of my third week here and I feel much more comfortable. It took awhile, but I feel much closer to the girls on my program, and I have to admit that time is key.

It is true that my time here so far hasn’t been perfect. I didn’t fall in love with Siena right when I stepped off the bus, and I didn’t immediately click with everyone I met. Studying abroad hasn’t been rainbows and unicorns yet (why rule it out? I hear Venice is unreal), but I’ve found that every additional day I spend in Siena gives me more to love.

Two days ago, my apartment mates and I cooked dinner, and cracking open a bottle of wine with friends at the end of a long day of classes was a great feeling. Yesterday, I was able to converse with a shopkeeper entirely in Italian. Today, my first class on the history of Siena took us to the hidden fountains from the Etruscan age (before Christ), and I left class feeling like I won the housing lottery. The stories the water tunnels of Siena tell are unbelievable. I can’t wait for the rest of the semester.

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Julia Szeto

<p>I am a junior at Bates College, where I study English, Creative Writing, and Chemistry. Though I left the beautiful forests of Portland, Oregon for snowier seasons in Maine, I&#39;ve discovered that there are valuable stories to be heard and told in ever corner, or coast, of the world. I am interested in people and the words they have to say, and I am thrilled to be in a city as rich with history as Siena. I hope to explore new perspectives of culture and life in Siena through words and photographs. Outside of story-telling, I am a varsity coxswain on the Bates rowing team, and I enjoy hiking, trail running, singing loudly in the car, and getting hopelessly lost in a good book.</p>

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