Taylor Landes - 2013 Program Participant

What inspired you to go abroad?

It's almost a clichè at this point, but there has always been something about international travel that has always drawn me to it. I am fascinated with other cultures and languages. Going abroad gave me the unique opportunity to fully immerse myself in Italian culture and gave me a solid foundation in mastering the language that would later become one of my minors in college.

A view of Siena, Italy
The view from my apartment window

Why did you choose Siena Italian Studies?

I did a lot of research of programs with the study abroad program advisor for the Italian department at Ohio State University. When looking at programs, I was looking for full-immersion in a culturally rich city and/or town. Siena Italian Studies (SIS) had amazing reviews from past students, and the program seemed to have everything on my checklist. I filled out my application the same day I learned about SIS because I was so excited about it!

What was your favorite part about Siena?

A better question would be what was not my favorite part about Siena. To sum up my experience, if I had the opportunity to move to Siena, I would. The people are warm, the city is steeped in history (the entirety of the city of Siena is part of the UNESCO), the city feels like a small town, and the surrounding area of Tuscany is what dreams are made of. And the food? Better than you could ever imagine.

Palio victory celebration in Siena, Italy
Palio victory celebration in the Onda Contrada, the contrada I lived in during my time abroad

What made your experience studying abroad unique? 

A few of my friends had also gone on other study abroad programs throughout Europe, and when we all were back, I quickly noticed that the SIS program I participated in was the only 100 percent full-immersion program. Another difference I noticed is that it seemed like the on-site coordinators of SIS had a much more hands-on guidance with us than with other programs I had heard of; that was especially useful when we were all moving to a country that we did not necessarily speak the language well or at all.

How did local staff support you throughout your program?

The staff of SIS were exceptional. They were hands-on with every aspect of our transition from the moment we stepped foot off the plane. We never went through any part of orientation on our own and any government business was handled with the staff by our sides. The teaching staff was helpful, patient, and very enthusiastic.

What's one thing you wish you would have done differently?

Honestly, there's nothing I would have done differently other than buy an apartment right before leaving!

Describe a typical day in the life of your program. 

Typically I woke up to breakfast made by my host-mom (Italian breakfasts are much more simple than American breakfasts) and then had Italian class from about 8:30 to 9:30 a.m. After that, schedules varied based on which classes you were taking. The last class was offered at 2 p.m. During breaks in between classes, I would grab a cappuccino at the bar (Italian cafes) next to school or explore around the city.

After school, I would head to the SIS student center where I would work on homework. Before heading back for dinner I would explore the city again and grab a glass of wine at any of the local spots. Dinner was always 7:30 p.m. for my host mom and me, which she would make every day. We often watched the news during dinner and would discuss whatever events were happening in the world at the time.

A view of Tuscany from Assisi, Italy
A view of Tuscany from Assisi

What did you enjoy doing in your free time?

My favorite activity was exploring the city of Siena or exploring Tuscany. Florence was only an hour long bus ride away, and I took advantage of that often. Part of the SIS program is doing community service in the city, so once a week I would teach English to third and fifth graders and volunteer in the city soup kitchen. I would also try to converse with as many of the locals as possible to practice my Italian.

What was your accommodation like? What did you like best about it?

I lived with a host mom, although many students lived with host families. My host mom lived in a two bedroom apartment that was just a two minute walk from the Piazza del Campo. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner were all made by my host-mom (thankfully Siena is hilly and you walk everywhere!). It was clean and safe, and I quickly felt at home thanks to her hospitality and kindness.

What is one thing every participant should know before participating in your program? 

Be patient with yourself and push yourself out of your comfort zone. Siena is a very unique city in that it has a lot of tourist traffic, but holds fast in its ways and culture. Explore it and get to know the residents.

Don't fall into the comfort trap of speaking English with your fellow program participants; try to push yourself to speak the language as much as possible, because Siena is the place to master Italian.
Piazza del Campo in Siena, Italy
Piazza del Campo in Siena

Now that you're home, how has studying abroad impacted your life?

I'm more confident, self-assured, and I approach varying situations with ease now. Quick adaptation comes much easier to me thanks to pushing myself out of my comfort zone and studying in a city I didn't speak the language well or know much about the culture.

Would you recommend Siena Italian Studies to others? Why?

Absolutely yes! I tell everyone I know who that if they have the opportunity to go abroad, especially live abroad, that they should take it. It literally expands your world in ways that are not even feasible until you experience it. For anyone interested in the Italian language or experiencing Italy first hand, SIS is absolutely the program for you. From the city to the staff to the people, you cannot go wrong with Siena Italian Studies.