Though I arrived in Siena on the 20th of September, I believe that my journey started a year ago, when I decided that I would like to go on Erasmus+ exchange. I was a double-major finishing her Master thesis in law and doubting being able to decide what I would like to do after university. On the one hand, pursuing law seemed sensible, on the other - I still had to graduate from Psychology (and write yet another Master thesis). I started wondering if studying abroad and changing the environment a bit would not be beneficial. I talked to my friends and boyfriend about the possibility of applying for Erasmus+ program. But even though this decision may sound like an easy one, it certainly was not! I was making endless pros and cons lists in my head but still was not sure if I should try. ‘I would have to retake some university courses, I wouldn’t be able to find a job…’ - these thoughts were overbearing at times and made me worried to the point where I was certain that Erasmus was just not the right fit for me.
And when I almost gave up on the idea of exchange abroad, I spoke to my work colleague who told me that she wished she had gone abroad when she had a chance. That she regrets not applying and would love to turn back time and choose otherwise. I believe that is when I have made up my mind for good - I will apply!
A year had passed and here I was, in the city of Siena, with a 5-month worthy insulin supply, big expectations, and a LOT of fear. Though I was excited from the day I got my nomination, I had my baggage packed weeks before the departure and I felt ready to go, there was still hesitation, doubts, and worries. Even though I came to Siena with two other students from my University (one of them, Kuba is even a good friend of mine) I still wasn’t sure if I’ll meet new people and make new friends. I had a place to live and the nicest landlady, Annalisa, but I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to communicate with her since she only spoke Italian. I knew I had the biggest support from my family, friends, and my partner. I just wasn’t sure if I was good enough.
These worries faded away, fortunately, as my stay in Siena has been, by far, one of the most rewarding and entertaining experiences in my life. Oh, and also VERY active, which I owe to living almost 3 kilometers away from the university, with next to no public transportation. Did you know that Siena is situated on 3 hills? I learned that my first week, as my legs have never ever hurt so badly after a simple walk to and from the center of the city. Here, every day is a cardio day.
During my first week, I realized that Siena with its ca 50 000 inhabitants feels way bigger than it actually is and offers so much more than just Piazza del Campo or the Duomo. Firstly, it is situated in the center of Italy and constitutes a great base for traveling; but with its rich history and enormous amount of monuments, museums, concert halls, etc. Siena is a perfect place to live for a student. Just imagine, in one week I visited two museums and listened to a classical music concert - much more than I do in Poznan, my city in Poland, in one month! Oh, and I also went to an Abba night, where a group was covering the most famous Abba songs. Truly unforgettable!
In order to understand Siena, you also need to understand the contradas into which it divides. The old city consists of 17 districts (contradas) that are competing with each other in the famous horse race - Palio. But contradas are so much more than just places marked on the map. The communities celebrate together, party together and generally spend a lot of time together. I will never forget seeing a contrada parade, where one of the districts that won this year’s palio was just marching across the Piazza del Campo while singing and waving their flags.
As I mentioned, Siena is a perfect starting point for traveling and that’s what I’ve been doing! I visited many different cities both in and outside of Tuscany, I even went to vote in Bologna. And though the parts of Italy that I saw were breathtaking and simply stunning, in Siena I feel the most homely and safe. It truly became MY city, so to say.
But let’s jump to the most important part of every exchange program - the people. Of course, it is an optimistic assumption after such a short time I’ve spent here, but I truly believe that some of the amazing students I met here will stay in my life forever. The mix of cultures, hobbies, points of view and so much more that is offered by Erasmus is incomparable to anything I had previously experienced. There are so many of us too - over 400! And I swear, there is nothing better than discussing with people so different and yet so similar in their open-mindedness and kindness. Here, I have to say a huge thank you to the ESN GES Siena, as they organized the best welcome week for us, and without it, I would have not met some of my best friends in Siena.
And of course not everything is going perfectly and there are better and worse days. Sometimes my glucose levels are just terrible and I have to remind myself that I am still learning how to take care of my diabetes (after all, it has only been 3 years since I got it, it is only ⅛ of my life!); at times I miss the presence of my friends and family, especially when I feel sick and tired. The University of Siena, though offering a fair amount of degrees, does not have a psychological course, so here I am studying a mix of political sciences and linguistics. As you can probably imagine, it can sometimes be way more demanding than studying topics that I am familiar with. Finally, operating in a different currency is pretty tricky, especially when everything is so tempting!
I have to say that I had some great expectations for Italy, for Siena, and for my exchange in general, but they have all been exceeded immensely and I couldn’t possibly dream of an opportunity like this. And yet - this is my reality now and I cannot wait to see what will happen next!