5 reasons why you should study abroad in Siena, Italy (part 1)

5 reasons why you should study abroad in Siena, Italy (part 1)

If you are fortunate while attending college or university, there are usually many extraordinary opportunities of earning college class credit abroad. The abundance of destinations all over the world vary from continent and program of studies. Some of the popular destinations tend to be England, France, Spain, China, and Italy for the usual reasons: they have such beautiful landscapes, cosmopolitan cities, and historical or cultural significance. I myself choose Italy the summer after my sophomore year, yes for some of those cliche reasons, but also because of my family ancestry on my father’s side (my last name is Mastrario) as well as my field of study. As a history major with a focus on British and Italian relations during the Risorgimento, it felt quite right to choose Italy. Plus, it didn’t hurt that Italy was gorgeous and had great food. In the summer of 2011, I took my first commercial flight all the way across the ocean and ended up in the small city of Siena, Italy.

2 parts medieval walled city, 1 part Renaissance charm, and 1 part fairy dust and you have Siena. I was just enchanted.

bella Siena

SamiM Adventures study abroad in Siena, Italy Basilica of San Domenico
Class lecture with the best prof I had in college right outside Basilica of San Domenico.


It was perhaps the most magical seasons of my life and definitely gave me the wanderlust for international travel. It was such an ideal experience and I wanted to delve a little deeper and give you 10 reasons why you should study abroad in Siena, Italy.

The Contrade

SamiM Adventures study abroad in Siena, Italy Palio Contrade ParadeOne of Siena’s most distinguishing characteristics is the 17 contrade. Imagine a large close-knit family living in a neighborhood supporting each other and embracing the same rivalries. Each of these contradas have their own government entities, museum archives, and their own representing symbols, colors, and flags. Although I stayed in Leocorno (Unicorn) for the duration of my trip, I supported the Civetta contrada because they were the owl contrada. Each contrada has parades leading up to the race. You could literally be walking down a street and all of the sudden you hear drums and Italian singing and you know a parade is near with their tights and flag twirlers. It is supposedly a right of passage to be in the parade groups. Check out the Leocorno parade view from my apartment window!

The Palio

Perhaps one of the biggest draws to the medieval Tuscan town, the no-rules Palio horse race occurs twice a year in the summer; once on July 2 and the other is August 16. I was lucky enough to go to the July race in 2011 when I was studying abroad for the summer in Siena. For every SamiM Adventures study abroad in Siena, Italy Palio Contrade Paraderace, 10 of the 17 contrades neighborhoods are represented by a jockey that rides his horse around the Piazza del Campo in a fast-paced, heart-stopping 3 laps that lasts about a minute or two. The winning neighborhood secures bragging rights and superiority until the next race. Y’all – this is a huge deal to the Sienese people. The parades that they have leading up to the races, the horse lottery, the jockey selections, it is all serious business. I wanted to share with you why the Palio horse race in Siena, Italy should be on your bucket list!

To read more about the Palio and why I think it should be on your bucket list, check out this post:

The Piazza del Campo

A gorgeous shell-shaped space in the center of the walled-city happens to also be where the Palio takes place. You would find it hard to believe this hot-spot for tourists and locals alike is transformed into a horse track if you saw it! I remember when I arrived in 2011, there was dirt all around the perimeter in preparation for the race.

There are a ton of restaurants around but I recommend you avoid those because they are not worth the money – pretty much a tourist trap! Instead, meander among the many hidden streets and try out a local mom-and-pop place! Pizza and Cafes are cheap and so good! 

MANY a night was spent sitting in the Campo with some of my classmates drinking bottles of wine and just having the best time.

SamiM Adventures study abroad in Siena, Italy Piazza del Campo

SamiM Adventures study abroad in Siena, Italy Piazza del Campo palio

To survive your first sit-down meal at an Italian restaurant when studying abroad, it’s good to know that bread and water is not free (like in the U.S.) and the service tip is usually included in the bill.

The delicious gelato

This is kinda self-explanatory! I mean, just look at those piles of delicious, creamy goodness. I got gelato so much it was almost an every-day occurrence. Luckily the city is very hilly and I got a little cardio in while walking to and from school.

SamiM Adventures study abroad in Siena, Italy Piazza del Campo gelato

The language and cooking school – Dante Alighieri

Perhaps the best part about my month abroad was the amazing school I got to learn Italian language and cook some authentic Italian dishes. Dante Alighieri had that perfect atmosphere and everyone was so gracious!

[pp_gallery id=”556″]They were the ones who got us into the Palio contrada dinner and it was so worth being able to mingle among the locals!

SamiM Adventures study abroad in Siena, Italy Contrade Dinner Oca

SamiM Adventures study abroad in Siena, Italy Contrade Dinner Oca


Siena is a medieval Tuscan city that sparkles like no other! Imagine living in Tuscany, learning the Italian language, the history, tasting the fresh and scrumptious food all while experiencing the Italian thrill of the Palio.



is a dream that keeps returning for the

rest of your life

Anna Akhmatova


Have you ever studied abroad?
Did you love your experience like I did?
Ever been to Siena?
Let me know what your favorite part of immersing yourself in a culture!



PS: Part 2 is located here!

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Why Siena, Italy should be on your bucket list

Sami Mastrario

A small town, plus-sized Southern girl that loves to travel to cool places, eat unadventurous food, and take pretty pictures.

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