I’ve always wanted to study in Italy because I have family from there. I also thought it was important to choose a city that wasn't too big or filled with too many tourists and one that allowed me to really immerse myself in the culture. Since Siena was so much smaller, I had to speak the language more and really learn how to respect the people in the community.
Alexandra is a senior at Pennsylvania State University majoring in both Broadcast Journalism and Women's Studies with a minor in International Studies. Alex loves to listen to music, hike with friends, and spend time with family.
Why did you choose this program?
What did your program provider (or university) assist you with, and what did you have to organize on your own?
Penn State did a great job at making sure the whole visa process was easier on us. They had a person come to the university and collect all of our files so we wouldn't have to deal with the embassy ourselves. My program assisted me with any other questions I had for the visa and planning process. I had to gather all my paperwork on my own and just make sure I was on top of things, but IES did a really great job at reminding us of deadlines and providing us with checklists.
What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?
As a Penn State student, I think we get wrapped up in the college life and don't want to miss out on opportunities there (football games in fall and THON in the spring), so many of us choose not to study abroad.
Yes, I did miss being with my friends from home but I never regretted studying away from them.
Studying abroad is a once in a lifetime chance that not many people are able to do. I think it's important to do it if you can.
I can always go to a football game or return to Penn State for THON weekend, but I have no idea when I will be able to not only go to another country but to also live in it long term too!
What does an average day/week look like as a participant of this program?
My program in Siena was about 30 American students separated into two programs for business and studying Tuscany. I was in the Study of Tuscany with about 10 students where we learned mostly about art and history of both Siena and the entire country of Italy.
I took about five classes that semester; each day, I would have about 2-8 hours in the facility. Some days, the professors would lecture to us; other days, we would walk around Siena and learn more about the rich history of it. We rarely had Friday classes which was nice because my friends and I got to take extended trips to other cities and countries.
Some nights, IES would host movie or cooking nights which was a great way to hang out with fellow IES students as well as other Italian students who studied in the local University. Personally, I stayed with a host mother so I spent every night eating dinner with her family and watching the local Italian news with her. It was simple but I enjoyed every moment of it.
Going into your experience abroad, what was your biggest fear, and how did you overcome it? How did your views on the issue change?
I had so many fears while going into my trip, and I don't think I was fully able to overcome those until I arrived in Italy. I had the little fears like forgetting items or saying the wrong thing in Italian, but my biggest fear was just feeling alone or out of place.
Every student feels that way, whether it's for the first hour, first day, or first week. However long it takes you to get over that hump, it's important to note that you will get through it. The only way you can do it is by forcing yourself to be incredibly active within your community, with friends, and with your family (if staying with one).
Would you recommend a homestay?
If there is an option for students to do a homestay, I highly recommend they do it. There were so many students in my program who chose to live in apartments instead of with a family, and they regretted that sort of cultural immersion. Doing a homestay allowed me to learn the language, eat authentic food, and build relationships with another family for a lifetime of memories.