Guest Post: Top 5 Reasons to Study Abroad in Siena

Not Just Another "Dolce Vita"

It’s pretty impossible for anyone to have a less-than-awesome study abroad experience in Italy. The food alone is reason enough to pick Italia as your abroad destination of choice — after all, this is the birthplace of pizza and spaghetti that we’re talking about here! And Siena is, by far, one of the coolest cities in the whole country. There are tons of reasons to study abroad in Siena – somehow, I’ve managed to narrow it down to five. Check ‘em out (and try to refrain from drooling over your keyboard!):


1. The aforementioned food. I could really go on and on about the merits of authentic Italian cuisine. Once you take your first bite of pappardelle alla lepre (it’s pasta; that’s all you need to know!), there’s just no turning back. And Italian food in the Tuscany region? It’s simply the best in the world. Best of all, Siena is located smack dab in the middle of Tuscany, where the highest-quality olive oil runs as freely as the Tiber River. Be prepared to try the freshest and most mouth-watering bruschettas and antipastos that you’ve ever had in your life.

Tuscan Pici

Tuscan Pici

2. Gelato. Okay, so this could technically go in the food category, but the truth is that Italian gelato is so good that it deserves a category of its own. Gelato is just the Italian version of ice cream, but it somehow surpasses the deliciousness of any ice cream you’ve ever had (this is probably because of the butterfat content, I admit). You’ll wander the cobblestone streets of Siena, gelato dripping from your chin — and you won’t even care, because it’ll be the happiest you’ve ever been.

3. The Palio di Siena. This medieval-era horse race is one of the biggest and most historic events in all of Italy — and it happens twice a year in Siena! Basically, it involves ten jockeys racing bareback around the city’s main piazza, but the scale of it is roughly akin to the Macy’s Day Parade. If you’re lucky enough to study abroad during the Palio festivities, get ready to witness one of the coolest cultural events you’ve ever seen.


4. The Tuscan countryside. We’ve all seen the requisite pictures of Tuscan olive groves and green countryside. But, the truth is that until you’ve seen those rolling hills and gorgeous vineyards for yourself, you really won’t understand. Experiencing the Tuscan countryside should be on everyone’s bucket list — the sheer beauty of it is just that amazing. Get ready to experience some of the loveliest villages and mountainous views that you’ve ever seen when you decide to study in Siena.


5. It’s not as touristy as other major Italian cities. Though it’s close to some of the bigger tourist hot spots in Italy, Siena itself just isn’t as touristy in comparison. This makes for an excellent cultural opportunity for students — in Siena, you’ll get a much more authentic feel for Italian life than you would if you studied abroad in Rome, or even Florence. You’ll also get more of a chance to be fully immersed in the Italian language — meaning, you’ll be speaking Italiano in no time (which, trust me, will make you feel like something of a linguistic rock star!).


About the Author: Justine Harrington is an admissions advisor for SPI Study Abroad, a provider of language immersion and global leadership programs for high school students. She studied abroad in the south of France – it was no Siena, but it wasn’t too shabby. Justine adores languages and travel, dreams of adopting at least five dogs, and has never met a bowl of pasta that didn’t instantly become her best friend.


Italy Envy: What I Miss About Living In Italia

Today marks un anno (one year) since I moved home to Canada from Italy. It’s been a day of reflection for me as the many things I miss about living in Italy have crossed my mind at one point or another.

They are (in no specific order):

1. Speaking Italian all day, every day. (Brings a smile to my face every time.)

1a. Speaking Italian with a Siennese accent all day, every day. (Sounding like a local=even bigger smile.)

2. Flavourful, wholesome Italian food at each meal. (It cut down on my junk food cravings big time.)

Tuscan Pici

3. Living in the most beautiful city – Siena. (I’ll never get tired of looking at the Palazzo Pubblico. Ever.)


4. Spending time in the piazza. (Need I say more?)

5. Aperitivo at my favourite hangout. (And Sunday lunch there, and dinner there, and midnight snacks there…)

6. Walking (almost) everywhere I go. (Helped me stay in shape after all that pasta and wine.)

7. Learning something new – a word, a custom, an historical tidbit – each day.

Art Gallery

8. The sense of independence, pride and accomplishment I felt at being so at home in my second language and country.

9. My colleagues at my crazy job. (Mi avete salvato la vita!)

10. That “closer to life” feeling I’ve written about before.

Now that the sappy part is over, here are a few things I do not miss about living in Italy:

1. The lack of a clothes dryer. (Sheets and clothing dried in the Tuscan sun? Inviting. Towels dried in the Tuscan sun? Stiff as a board. Also, drying time in colder temperatures? DAYS. Also, risking your life by hanging out your window to get to the clothesline? Not ideal.)

Hanging clothes out to dry.

2. The 110 stairs I had to climb to get to my apartment. (Made me think twice about running back up to get something I’d forgotten. Unfortunately also made people think twice about coming to visit me.)

110 Steps To The Top

3. The general lack of availability of foods that are not Italian. (By the end of my stay in Siena however, an Indian place had opened up right across the street from my apartment. There were only 110 stairs and a cobblestone street separating me from curry!)

4.  The fact that my family and most of my friends-the two most important groups of people in my life-were half a world away. (But it was great when some of them came to visit!)

But in spite of all that… Italia, mi manchi!

Dolcetto o Scherzetto? Halloween, Italian Style

La Maestra Maldestra


Halloween (L’halloween, my Italian friends called it, pronounced lahl-oh-ween) is not a very Italian festa (holiday) at all, but that has not stopped gli italiani (the Italians) from jumping on the Jack-o-Lantern bandwagon in the last few years and celebrating in style. The famous phrase, “trick or treat?” has even been translated to “dolcetto o scherzetto? in Italian to help the holiday along.

Last year, I spent Halloween in Italy. If you’re a regular reader/follower/subscriber to this blog, you’ll know that during my time living in Siena, I hung out a lot at one particular little osteria and got to be good friends with all the staff there. As Halloween approached, they approached me and asked for ideas for the Festa dell’Halloween (Halloween party) they wanted to throw at the osteria.

I suggested that they order proper orange pumpkins from their fruit and veg supplier (there was nary an orange pumpkin to be found in Siena’s supermercati, just very un-festive yellow ones) and I buzzed around town looking for some goulish decorations to spruce the place up a bit. I helped get the Halloween posters printed so that the fantasma (ghost) came out just right, and spent time trying to get the wording right in both English and Italian for the ads we put up. “Gradita la prezenza in maschera“, for those of you who speak Italian, is how we translated “costumes welcome.

On Halloween afternoon, the boys closed the place early to set up for the big festa. After they assured me that they could certainly carve two pumpkins (something they’d never done before) without loosing any fingers or blood in the process, I left them alone to put the finishing touches on the party preparations and worried about how the pumpkins would look when I got back. When I swung back by later, I was greeted by these two lovely “Giacomo-Lanterns (the Italian version of Jack-o-Lanterns, apparently) which drew crowds to the festa all night:

I like to think they were the only two carved pumpkins in all of Siena last year! The festa was a huge success (went on till 4 a.m., they tell me) and all night people could be seen taking pictures with our unique pumpkins. Please note the Italian touches of vino rosso (red wine) and castagne (chestnuts) alongside our Giacomo Lanterns!

Happy Halloween to all!