A question I got asked a lot before I left for Italy was:
"Do you speak Italian?"
"Are the classes taught in Italian?"
I took these questions well at first, I mean it was kind of confusing, but did people really think I would be able to take university level classes in a language I didn't know? Most of the time at Penn State I don't know what they heck the professor is saying, and at least they were speaking English. So to answer the question: If you go to IES Abroad Siena, the classes are taught in English (unless you are taking an Italian course, because duh, they're going to speak Italian to you." As for the classes themselves, the 12x12x12 programs classes were the reason I came to Siena, Italy. My courses consisted of Management: A study of farm to table management and wineries, Italian: Let's be honest I needed (and wanted) to be able to speak some Italian during my short time here, Economics of the E.U and it's agricultural policies, and History of the wine production in the Tuscany region. As a food and drink lover, someone who worked in a Farm to Table café back home, and a fan of history, this was a dream course load. So if like any of those things, and study business, this is the place for you.
The courses themselves were obviously going to be interesting to me, but I wasn't sure on how difficult they would be. I've heard some of my friends who studied abroad say that they classes were very easy and light in work so that you could go explore the culture, and that there was the true value and learning experience. I've also heard others say that the classes they took abroad were so difficult, very intense, and many people spent so much time studying and trying to keep their head above water, that they missed out on a lot of experiences.
I can't speak for other IES Abroad programs, but the ones in Siena fit that first category. Not to say that the classes are a joke and you don't have to do anything for them, but the general vibe was go out and explore. Experience the things we say in the classroom, and it's hard to do that if you are stuck inside trying to understand management concepts, or trying to memorize that (Insert generic Italian name) developed a new process to combat evaporation of wine, and thus ward off oxidation of the wine. (If you don't know this, oxidation is bad for wine.)
I appreciated this, and I think it's what should be true of all study abroad programs. I think students should be challenged, but the point of studying abroad is to learn skills that you can't learn in the classroom. From trying to navigate public transportation in a language you don't understand, to learning patience with people who don't understand you and cultural difference that you have to just accept.
Man sometimes these things can get so serious.