Visit Reports
Visit Reports

Jun 27, 2006, 16:20

Siena, Italy
David Denman, Director
Carla Fabian, Resident Director

Visited by Loi Eberle, on April 9, 2006]

Even upon exiting the Autostrada to head towards Siena, Italy, I could relate to how American adolescents must feel when they arrive in a foreign country; not being sure where to go and unable to read the signs that tell them. Even more challenging is asking directions in a foreign language. After spending time with the Siena Sojourn cultural emersion program and their staff, it became clear to me how beautifully it fosters the acquisition of knowledge and the skills required to function in settings such as the one I was encountering in that moment.

As my partner Bob navigated the Siena traffic, I attempted to translate the signs while Carla Fabian, Siena Sojourn Resident Director, graciously gave us directions over the cell phone. Since she lived inside the walled, pedestrian-only historic section of Siena, she did not have a car and was not completely familiar with the traffic patterns outside the walls. However, she did know where we could park our rental car and find one of the "escalators" that would take us to the "gate" into the walled city. We rode the escalator up five flights of stairs and finally arrived at the entrance where Carla was waiting for us. Once inside, the ancient buildings were a stark contrast to the thriving urban center at the bottom of the escalator!

Carla walked with us to her apartment, which also houses the headquarters of the Siena Sojourn program. Since we had to walk over many blocks of cobblestones, it was fortunate that I had sturdy wheels on my suitcase. It was an exciting journey - a history lesson of real-world examples of Gothic and Pre-Renaissance architecture. While we walked, Carla pointed out buildings built during the height of the Gothic era. She showed us a great cathedral that had begun a planned expansion in the 1300's, but due to the Black Plague, it was never completed. Eventually, the ancient city built more cathedrals and plazas. The delightful smells from restaurants and brightly colored garments hanging in front of stores tempted us, but Carla kept us on course. Finally, we arrived at a massive, beautifully carved door that opened to the hallway of her apartment, and the Siena Sojourn headquarters. We walked up the marble stairs and once inside, we were amazed at the restored original painting on the ceiling - an art form we learned that appears in a number of private apartments in this city.

That evening we ate handmade pasta at a local restaurant operated by a family that often served the Siena Sojourn students. After dinner, we returned to the apartment and shared desert with two travel guides who were also visiting the apartment that evening.

In the morning, we walked for about 10 minutes over to the language institute, were the Siena Sojourn students were studying Italian. During the break between classes, they walked to a nearby café where they drank coffee and ate Italian pastries before returning to class. I spoke with a few of the students who really enjoyed having this opportunity to experience the Italian culture and learn more about it's language, art and music without having to be in a formal "study abroad" program.

In addition to the four hours of language classes the Siena Sojourn students take each day, they can also choose elective classes in a variety of subjects including music, dance, yoga, art or literature. On weekends, they tour the surrounding area with Carla, sometimes going to the Cinque Tierra area of the nearby Mediterranean coast, or to cities such as Rome or Florence.

The three-month Siena Sojourn experience combines language and cultural immersion during the day, with Italian family life in the evening. The students live with host families chosen and approved by David Denman, Program Director and Carla Fabian, Resident Director.

Siena Sojourn is a wonderful gap-year experience for the right student or as a sabbatical opportunity for an adult. Since students have more independence and opportunity in this environment, David and Carla are very careful about whom they select for enrollment. Carla meets with the students every day, and she is a wonderful mentor who provides great guidance to students. She helps them learn how to develop life skills, self-reliance, confidence and good judgment in order to make the most out of this experience. However, students who need therapeutic support would be inappropriate in this environment.

If David and Carla determine an applicant is appropriate for consideration based on their application and history, then they interview the applicant to make sure that he or she is truly motivated to experience the challenges of interacting with a new language and culture. They will consider a successful graduate from a therapeutic program, but the applicant must be clear about their intention to keep their behavior, including experimenting with alcohol, totally under control, since the European culture allows young adults more freedom in this regard. David and Carla are very clear about sending students home if they begin to engage in inappropriate behavior.

For students who have enough insight and maturity to function in this type of environment, the Siena Sojourn program is a wonderful opportunity to learn, grow and discover new interests that might excite them for the rest of their lives.

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