Over the summer of 2018, I was provided the opportunity to live and engage in the community of Siena, a city in the Tuscan region of Italy. My program lasted a total of eight weeks. All classes and experiences were taught and completed in the Italian language.
What I found rather transformative about this program was how the people can really impact the overall experience. I had completed a program last summer in Spain, yet I found that my experience in Italy was infinity better and more satisfying than the previous one. The more obvious transformation was my acquisition of the Italian language. Learning more about the language in such an embracing community was such an enriching experience, because almost every Italian was thrilled to help you use the language “in the wild.”
The most notable relationship that contributed greatly to my STEP project experience was with my Italian host family. I was paired up very well with a family that was extremely interactive and interested to learn more about my culture as well as making an effort to use any language but English in the house. This family was perfect for me since I speak both Italian and Spanish since all of the family members were fluent in both languages. It was through them that I was able to learn more about the Italian language (my host mom is a teacher) and was able to apply what I was learning in class in discussions at home.
Another aspect of my program that distinguished it from other programs were the classes I took while attending school. In addition to an Italian language class, I studied Italian linguistics and the history of Italian emigration and immigration. Honestly speaking, I do not think the information presented in the latter class would have been as relevant if I had taken it anywhere but in Italy. It was an incredible experience to learn about the current immigration situation in a context where it was very relevant. In fact, the university where I took classes offered Italian classes to refugees that lived in the city.
In a more general overview, I think the city of Siena is what allows this program to flourish. The city itself boasts a rich culture, especially in the summer with its annual Palio horse race. It was fascinating to watch the city change and see the true colors of the Sienese people as they represented one of the 17 neighborhoods in the city. The city is large enough to always find something to do yet small enough to get acquainted with in just 2 months time. It is incredibly safe since there are not as many tourists as the nearby city of Florence.
Completing this type of program has contributed so much in terms of my knowledge about Italy as a country and has helped raise my awareness about more prominent issues throughout the world, especially that of immigration. Since one of my degrees specializes in languages, I am honored to have been able to spend eight weeks fully immersed in the Italian culture and to be able to engage with the community in multiple aspects, not just those brought to light by the directors of the program. I have made connections in Italy that I know I will be helpful in the future. I was able to make musical connections that will help in my career in the future, and I cannot wait to visit Siena to see the people I have met and come to know during the duration of my STEP project.