With an independent spirit, a love for European languages, culture and travel and a passport tucked in my back pocket, I have discovered the valuable experience of participating in a language and culture program abroad. Over the last 15 years and after much research, I had the opportunity to enroll at language schools in the beautiful cities of Siena in the Toscana region and Verona in the Veneto region.
Dante Aligheri Society of Siena
I enrolled in my first study abroad program when I was in my mid 20s. I left a career job to spend four months traveling in Europe, partly alone and partly meeting up with friends and family. For one month of the trip I enrolled in the distinguished Dante Aligheri Society in Siena. The program included daily morning language classes and afternoon cultural excursions. While I had the option to rent an apartment on my own or with classmates, I opted for a homestay with an Italian family – a good choice as it allowed me the experience of living with an Italian family and practice of the language.
Siena is a wonderful, awesome city full of history – really, strangely frozen in time. An ideal place to study Italian language, history and art, the excursions to Siena’s old churches and private buildings normally not open to the public were worth the program cost alone. I was there during the Palio horse race, and the family I was staying with gave me an unforgettable private tour of their contrada’s museum with items dating back many centuries.
I also won’t forget the must-do-at-least-once-in-a-lifetime experience of seeing the Palio race while standing inside the piazza (worth the hours required to wait if you want a prime spot) or witnessing horses inside Catholic churches being blessed by priests before the race started as locals poured into the streets . But don’t expect to immediately begin mixing with the locals. Siena locals or Sienese, to me, are quite reserved and I felt a distinct separation between students and residents.
Lingua It, Verona
Fast forward from Siena about ten years and I find myself, in my 30s, living in Northern Italy not far from Verona, the beautiful city setting for Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet (the original “balcony” tucked in an alley is still a favorite of tourists).
By luck, I learn of the fabulous Lingua it Italian language school in Verona. There I took individual and group lessons on a weekly basis. Opened up by my Italian friend and his friends, the school has expanded from a wide range of language courses to guided tours and courses on art history, literature and cinema, cooking and more. Located in the historic center, Lingua it’s personable and passionate staff and my fellow students became an extended family for me. In fact, the group of friends I met through this school eventually threw me a baby shower before my little girl was born. With the Roman Arena (we saw Aida there under the stars), symphonies at the local concert hall (Mozart once played there) to the numerous beautiful piazzas and gardens and nearby wineries, Verona has become one of my favorite cities in Italy.
Have you studied a language abroad? If so, where? Do you have a favorite program to share?
Click here to learn more about the Dante Aligheri Society in Siena.
Click here to learn more about Lingua It in Verona.
Palio race picture credit: aboutsiena.com