Alumni Spotlight: Casey O'Reily


Casey is a 4th Year Foreign Affairs and Italian double major at the University of Virginia. She loves hiking, puppies, pasta, and all things related to her beloved Wahoos.

Why did you pick this program?

Casey: I picked the CET History of Art and Italian Studies program because I was looking to finish out my major before the start of my last academic year but also in the best possible way, by actually utilizing the language every day and being fully immersed in Italian culture. CET Siena provided everything I was looking for in a smaller city that still had a lively environment and was close to major Italian cities and sites.

What is the most important thing you learned abroad?

Casey: The most important thing I learned abroad, besides the language of course, was the importance of branching out of your comfort zone and immersing yourself in another culture and lifestyle. Coming from an Irish Catholic family that has always lived in the DC Metropolitan area, I had a relatively sheltered lifestyle and was confined to my own little world.

Studying abroad and living on my own in a culture much different than what I was used to was such a life-changing experience for me to have. I gained a lot of confidence in myself and my abilities and my perspective on life and the world changed. Taking yourself out of your comfort zone can be a serious test on your convictions and your priorities, but the result is always worth it!

What do you tell your friends who are thinking about going abroad?

Casey: GO! There is no better way to finish credits while having the most incredible time! Not a day goes by that I don't think of Siena or tell someone a story about my time abroad. Living with my host mom allowed my ability to speak and to think in the language to progress significantly, to the point where some Italians didn't realize that I wasn't even Italian! And of course, you can't forget about the food... If you're considering going abroad, just go! I can promise you will not regret it.

What's your favorite story to tell about your time abroad?

Casey: Every summer in Siena, the city holds a bareback horse race, il Palio, in the central piazza. This race has been going on since the Medieval times and the contradas, the neighborhoods into which the city is divided, are each represented in the race. Contradas are unique to Siena and the bond with one's contrada runs deeper than blood, making the competition and rivalries between them incredibly fierce when the Palio comes around.

The family of my host mom was part of the Drago contrada, or the Dragon, and they had not won the Palio in many years, so when the Palio came around in the beginning of July, the anticipation and excitement was tangible, as they had been allotted a great horse and had a great jockey as well.

The day of the race came and believe it or not, the Drago won! There was so much celebration and joy that the festivities carried on for days. The Palio is already an amazing tradition that the city thrives on and to experience it all within the winning contrada was something I will never forget!

What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?

Casey: Don't be scared to practice your Italian with the locals! They love that students want to learn their language and their culture, so they really enjoy speaking Italian with you, even if you might not be that advanced at it. Siena is also a college town so they're used to having students around of all different backgrounds and cultures.

It is such a warm and welcoming city so don't hesitate to make Italian friends! It will be a much more worthwhile experience if you jump all in and truly get to know the heart of the city. Siena is a place you will never forget. And of course, eat gelato every day. That's just a given.