Siena Fall 2017 Study Abroad Handbook


 Program Beginning and Ending Dates: The program officially begins on 6 September and officially ends on the morning of 28 November.

Following the Rules of the Program:  At all times between the official beginning and end dates of the program, all students are responsible to the program directors, and agree to follow the rules of the program. These include cooperating with the directions and requests of Dr. Talbot and Sandy. Before and after the program, students are responsible for their own travel arrangements.

BYU Honor Code:  All students, including those not matriculated at BYU, are required to abide by the BYU Honor Code at all times during the program.

Interaction with Family or Friends :  Family members and friends form home are not allowed to visit during the official term of the program. If family members or friends accompany you to Europe, you must say goodbye to them on 6 September. If they come to see you at the end of the program, they must wait until the morning of 28 November. Please inform all of your friends and family that you will be happy to meet them either before or after the program, but not during.

The Philosophy of the Program

  • Our text is everything Italian – language, landscape, art, food, and all other aspects of culture. We want to learn from everything we see and do, from visiting museums and reading Dante to shopping and eating and sitting in the piazza.
  • We’re not tourists.
  • We root ourselves in Siena. As much as possible, we enter into the life of Siena, and behave like Sienese residents. We will visit Florence frequently, and will regularly travel to neighboring towns. And we will make special excursions to the Alps, Venice, and Rome. But our main purpose is not to travel round Italy, but to concentrate on Siena.
  • We take seriously the academic work, and we also have lots of fun, and we see no contradiction between those two things.

The “Roll With It” Principle:  The thing that saves our lives is the “Roll With It” principle. It means being flexible and a good sport when our plans have to change. Study abroad programs always involve a few changes of plans, and we roll with it.

Sometimes it’s a matter of adaptability. Every now and then we have to change our plans a bit – stay less time at a certain site, or postpone an event, or rearrange the order of things. When that happens, everybody helps out be being flexible.  Other times – especially in Italy, the land of unpredictability – our plans get zapped. For instance, we arrive at a museum where we had booked an entry, only to discover that (for no known reason) the museum has been closed that day, and nobody told us. In which case everybody rolls with it, and we find something else to do.  Still other times it’s a matter of improvisation. We may hear of an opportunity that we didn’t plan, and may try to go for it. Usually, the improvised idea works; sometimes it doesn’t. We roll with it.

Cooperation:  Everybody supports each other. If someone needs help, we help. We share ideas and discoveries. We help each other be on time, keep up with schoolwork, steer clear of danger, and stick to the rules. Everybody brings different talents, which they share freely.

Relations with the Dante Institute:  BYU has a longstanding relationship with the Instituto Dante Alighieri (or DA, as it’s known for short). They are our hosts in Siena: we hold our classes in their building; three of your five courses are taught by DA staff, and the director of the institute, Luca Bonomi, makes possible most of the experiences you will have in Siena. We cherish his friendship.

So all students are expected to show the utmost courtesy in all their dealings with the DA. They should be model students – well-behaved, punctual, hard-working, and friendly. Students should never do anything that would damage our relationship with Luca and the others and the DA.


In Siena:  Siena is a relatively safe city. Once you’ve become accustomed to it, you won’t have to take any extraordinary precautions.

In Major Cities:  In your many visits to Florence, and in your later visits to Venice and especially Rome, you do need to take special steps to be safe. The main threat is not violent but petty crime – getting your pocket picked, or purse snatched, or smartphone stolen. If you look and act like a local, petty thieves will not think you’re worth the risk, and will move on to another target.Here’s what to do:

  • Look like a local, not a tourist. Blend in.
  • Don’t gawk: look like you know what you’re doing and where you’re going.
  • Smartphone out of sight, preferably in front pocket.
  • Wallet out of sight, preferably in front of pocket.
  • Somebody trying to talk to you at ATM? Take your stuff away as soon as you’re able, and walk away.

Remember that the following is often tied to organized crime:

  • Somebody begging for money? Avert your eyes and walk away.
  • Someone selling kitch on the street? Avert your eyes and walk away.
  • Sweet little child begging for money? Walk away.

Violent Crime

Here’s how you avoid it:

  • In Florence, Venice, and especially Rome, always be with at least one other person, and never alone. During our visits, the Talbots may specify that you have to be in a group of at least three.
  • In each of the bigger cities we visit, the Talbots will specify an hour by which everybody has to be back at the hotel. Never be out after those times.
  • In each of the bigger cities, the Talbots will indicate places you should not go, and will ask you to stay in safe areas. The good news is that all the things we want to see are in relatively safe areas, if you follow these guidelines.
  • In the event of a problem, refer to the official BYU Safety and Security documents that have already been forwarded to you by Dr. Talbot via email. If you haven't received them please let him know.


Show huge respect to your Italian parents. Goes without saying, doesn’t it? Shower these guys with love all the time (and shower often). That means not only showing them affection – always good – but also respecting them and living according to their expectations in their home. Keep in mind what “respectful” means in Italian culture. Consider the following:

Be Communicative:  Your Italian parents, especially maybe your Italian mom, see you not as a fee-paying lodger but as a member of the family. They will feel responsible for you. They like to get in your face. So don’t just come and go, ignoring your parents. Let them know when you’re leaving the house, and especially when you’re coming back. If there’s any variation from your regular routine, let your Italian parents know, and when they can expect you home.

About Physical Affection:  Italians “double cheek” the European kiss. ALWAYS start on the left if you don’t want to be embarrassed. Don’t be shocked, ladies, if you are hugged and kissed by your Italian dads, or, gentlemen, by your Italian moms. Hug and kiss right back. That’s part of the culture. Maybe you come from a huggy-and-kissy family, but generally American culture means that most of us are much more reserved than Italians, and we have to make a bit of effort to reciprocate.

Meals, Especially Dinner:  Breakfast and dinner are with your family; lunch is on your own. Dinner is central. This is Italy: dinner is everything. It’s the most important event of the day, and your Italian family expects you to be there, and your Italian mom’s sense of self-worth is connected to the pleasure you take in her cooking.  If our “outside Siena” excursions get us home after mealtime, make sure your parents know.

  • Italian moms control their kitchens. Make sure you respect HER refrigerator, HER dishes, HER cooking processes (and anything else she is sensitive about).
  • Dinner usually means three courses: pasta, then a main dish, then desert, which is usually fruit. You probably won’t find salt and pepper at the table, as this implies the food isn’t tasty enough. If you want salt or pepper, you can ask, but be tactful about it. Italians usually serve one item per plate and don’t “load” up a plate as we do in America.
  • Participate actively. Don’t rush through dinner – it’s an event, and you’re expected to talk. Do everything you can to enjoy whatever food is served, and show your appreciation. Even if it’s something you wouldn’t normally eat, at least try.  Learn about the culture of mealtimes.
  • Use your utensils the European way: fork with tines upside-down in the left hand, knife in the right hand. Let your Italian mother dish the food out, rather than serving yourself as we do in American. When you’re not lifting food to your mouth, keep your elbows on the table (an ancient custom, dating back to the times when people would conceal swords under the table).

About the Fridge:  In Italian households, there’s no free access to the fridge: it’s the mother’s thing, and you go into the fridge only with your mother’s permission. So don’t just help yourself.  You should ask your Italian mom if she will let you use a small section of the fridge for you to keep your perishables in but don’t be surprised if she refuses. Remember that Italian fridges are small, so if you’re allowed to use a portion of it, don’t take up too much space.

Talking and Shouting:  Don’t be shocked by the warmth and volume of an Italian family conversation. Voices escalate; volume rises; everybody talks at once. You may even think they are fighting, when in fact everything is perfectly friendly.

Keeping the Bathroom Clean:  This is a biggie. Turns out Italians are more fastidious about bathroom cleanliness than Americans. We’re happy to have bathrooms cleaned every few days; Italians keep it fully clean all the time. So make it a special effort to leave the bathroom as clean as you found it, every time you use it. Don’t wait till later. Above all, make sure that the toilet bowl is left clean after every single use, and the toilet brush is fully cleaned, too.

Keeping your Room Clean:  Always leave your room tidy each time you leave the house, and deep clean every week.

 About Your Feet:  Two things. First, Italians never put their feet up, not even on the couch at home as we often do. So resist that familiar urge to put your feet up. Second, Italians don’t go barefoot at home. You can do so, but your family may find it odd, and may challenge you. They are often concerned about your health (colds, germs) which they believe comes from uncovered feet.

 About the Washer and the Dryer:  Some families will allow their students to use their washing machines, and some will not, so find out. If they do let you use the washer, they may ask for a small fee. And the dryer? Most Italians don’t have one because electricity is very expensive. Plan on drying your clothes outdoors. If for any reason you needed a laundromat, there are several in Siena.

Heating:  Your Italian parents control the heating. It is usually turned on at a certain date in autumn, about November, and is centrally controlled. Italians conserve energy better than Americans do, so you may find your host family’s house is often cooler than you’re used to. Don’t complain: just put on a sweater and a smile.

Learn from Your Italian Parents:  They are one of the major features of the program. They can teach you more than a textbook can. Let them improve your Italian. Let them teach you all about Italian culture. Let them show you the spirit of their country. Enjoy them, honor them, learn from them.

 ATTENDING CHURCH:  Of course everybody is expected to be there every Sunday. It’s a small branch. The first Sunday, we’ll all walk there together; thereafter, we’ll all find our own way. According to the church website it starts at 9:30, so our plan is to meet at the Piazza Gramsci at 9:00 for the first Sunday. Italian families are aware of this requirement and are flexible about schedules. They are also aware of the BYU Honor Code and should not offer you coffee, tea or wine. If they do, kindly refuse and remind them of the honor code.


Everybody Participates in Every Excursion:  The various excursions we have planned – sometimes in Siena itself, often in other towns in Tuscany, and sometimes farther afield – are not optional, and they’re not vacations. They are part of the academic program, and each has an educational point. They also happen to be really fun, but be alert to the things you need to be learning. We will be using private coaches and will most likely have lunch in the places we visit. If you want to bring “travel snacks” be careful of making any messes and be aware it’s your responsibility to clean up after yourself.

When You’re On Excursions, You’re In Class:  All excursions are part of your 336 European Studies class, and many of them overlap with your 355 English class. Your grade in both classes is connected to your attentive, punctual, and cooperative behavior on excursions.

Be On Time for Excursions:  On most excursion days, everybody meets at the bus station or the train station. Nothing is worse than when our bus is ready to go, or our train is about to leave, and somebody is late. Don’t be that person who holds everybody up: make sure you’re on time - and to spare - for all of our departures.

Let’s Not Be That Busload of Tourists:  The bus pulls into a village. It disgorges a crowded of loudly yapping Hawaii-shirted cargo-shorted camera-bedecked tourists. They seem to have no sense of the spectacle they are causing. They are unaware how loud and intrusive they are. They treat the place they are visiting as if it were an amusement park for their own benefit, rather than someone else’s home. When they do observe their surroundings, it’s to gawk or snap pictures in a way that suggests they have made no effort to learn about the place. They climb over and on local monuments, many that are sacred to the local culture and/or religion.


Strive to Understand and Appreciate:  For guests in somebody else’s country, it’s good to “do no harm”. But in this program, we go far beyond that. We try to understand Italian culture, and to appreciate it as much as possible.

They Don’t Do Things the American Way -- And That’s Good:  Since the US and Italy both belong to the same overall Western culture, the similarities between us far outnumber the differences. Where there are differences, most of them are instantly loveable: the superior gelato, the attention everywhere to artistic and architectural beauty, the outgoing and affectionate manners of Italians themselves. But you’ll encounter some elements of Italian culture that may annoy or disturb you rather than delight you. That’s all right, but then the thing to do, rather than immediately dismissing them as stupid or inferior, is to do the intellectual and moral work of understanding why Italians do things differently.

For instance, we’ve often heard Americans complain about Italy along these lines:

  • Why is everything so much smaller? Fridge? Roads? Heating?
  • Why don’t they tear down their old buildings?
  • Why do people stand so close to each other in buses and waiting in lines? Don’t they have a sense of personal space
  • Why did it take 45 minutes for my restaurant meal to come? Don’t these people believe in efficiency? My waiter practically ignored me.

These are perfectly good questions, but they have good answers: there are good reasons why Italians do things the way they do. So if something about Italian culture bothers you, that’s good – don’t stay bothered, but seek to understand.


Attendance:  Everybody’s expected to attend every class.

Punctuality:  Very important to be on time, especially for the DA courses.

Priority:  All of your classes are important, but if you have to choose, give more attention to the DA courses – Italian, Art History, and Cooking – than to Professor Talbot’s two courses (English and European Studies). The reason is that we want to honor our Italian hosts at the DA by doing as well as we can in the classes they offer.  In order to help with this, Dr. Talbot has arranged for his final projects to be due on 18 December, so when studying for finals while in Siena you will be free to concentrate exclusively on your DA classes.

The whole Siena program is class:  All of our activities – living with an Italian family, going on excursions, going to Church, everything – are part of a course of study. This means that the grades you get will be reflected in part by your behavior at all times during the program. Your cooperation with the Talbots, your supportive interaction with your classmates, your treatment of your DA teachers and staff, the attention you pay on field trips and excursions, your dress, your attitude – all of these are part of the course, and will affect your grade.