Unpacking 8 Lessons from Studying Abroad in Siena, Italy

Written by Anjali Mehta (University of Virginia), Student Correspondent for CET Siena, Spring 2024

It’s hard to believe that I am nearing the end of my program. It somehow still feels like we just got here. When I first arrived, I felt like I had a whole world to explore in just three months, and now, with only a few weeks left, I want to hold onto Siena and not let go. 

My time here hasn’t just been about embracing Italian culture; it’s been a profound educational experience too. CET, the program that brought me to Siena, has enriched my stay with unforgettable activities. I’ve had the privilege of seeing Italy through an authentic lens. 

Amidst these adventures, I’ve realized the importance of stepping outside the “bubble” I tend to create for myself. Siena is a mosaic of experiences and opportunities, but it requires initiative to discover its true colors. It’s easy to remain within the familiar, yet true growth and understanding come from branching out and engaging with the community and its traditions.

When I considered what would be the most meaningful post to leave for those who are also considering embarking on an experience like this, I decided that leaving some practical advice and tips would help out the most. 

Without further ado, here are some lessons from studying abroad in Siena. Remember that this is personal advice, and it may or may not apply to you. 

Lesson 1: Don’t pack things that you don’t already use in your daily life. 

For example, I bought dry shampoo for my time abroad because it was on some random packing list that I looked up, even though I had never used dry shampoo before. As you can expect, it has sat unused my entire time here. Keep it simple with the toiletries, and just bring what you think you actually need. 

Lesson 2: Consider packing some things that you wouldn’t mind leaving behind. 

At the end of the semester, the thought of trying to pack all of your items PLUS the new souvenirs you’ve acquired is really daunting. Something to make it easier is to pack older shoes, some old pajama shirts that you don’t mind losing, etc. Some items I was glad to have brought were a laundry bag (a mesh one is most convenient), some shoes to wear around the house, and some common medicines. 

Lesson 3: Wait until you’re home.

Instead of searching for unfulfilling dupes for certain items, just accept that the next time you have them when you get home will be more satisfying. For example, I LOVE Taco Bell hot sauce, specifically the fire sauce. I searched far and wide for a hot sauce like that in Siena, but unfortunately, there is no dupe that hits the spot (and don’t say Tabasco sauce because I’m not listening). After I wasted some time and money, I realized that in a few months, I’ll go to Taco Bell, and it’ll be worth it. 

Lesson 4: When you want to buy something, wait a week and see if you still want it. 

If it’s something bulky, make sure to consider that. This applies to shopping done within your city because obviously, this wouldn’t be the case if you were on a weekend trip. When I first got here, it was winter. Everybody had on such cute coats. I thought I needed more variety in my coats and scarves. Now, the weather has shifted to warmer temperatures, and the bulky (albeit adorable) items I purchased at the beginning are going unworn. It’s not that I don’t love those items and plan to wear them for years to come, but they will make packing to come home slightly more complicated. 

Lesson 5: Send some postcards home. 

As a surprise, I sent postcards to some of my family members, and I can’t tell you how happy they were. Stamps are pretty expensive, but making your family and friends happy is all worth it. 

Lesson 6: Don’t stress about not having weekend travel planned right away.

When I got here, it suddenly felt like we were all supposed to know how to do things we had never done before. Before this point, I hadn’t traveled on my own and had never even booked a flight on my own. I also had never looked into travel accommodations on my own. Allow yourself grace in figuring out these things and don’t feel bad if you are still getting into the groove of it after a few trips. 

Lesson 7: Leave the bulk of your weekend travel at the beginning or middle of the program and spend more time in your city at the end. 

I traveled a lot at the beginning and middle of the program. In March there wasn’t a single weekend that I wasn’t traveling! Although it was such an amazing experience, it did leave me with a slight case of travel fatigue. And I can’t express how glad I am that I only booked myself one trip in April. I spent the first weekend of April in Siena. I had some of my favorite experiences by really branching out and pushing myself to explore Siena in a way that isn’t possible on the weekdays. 

Lesson 8: Try to find a balance.

Even though everything is overwhelming at first, try to pour your energy into making connections and put yourself out there—remember that everyone is in the same situation as you. People who choose to go abroad usually do so for similar reasons—to experience new things and make new friends. Try to balance staying in touch with friends and family from home with your new friends and remember to take time for yourself within all of this. 

As I reflect on my journey, I recognize that Siena has offered me more than just memories; it has provided lessons in culture, friendship, and self-discovery. While the thought of leaving is daunting, I carry with me the warmth of the Italian sun, the flavors of its cuisine, and the joy of its festivals. Siena, with all its beauty and charm, has become a part of who I am, a reminder of the endless beauty that lies in exploring and embracing the world.

Until we meet again, Siena. Grazie (thanks) for everything.

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