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Gap Students


Expand your horizons and earn optional college credit studying abroad with this semester gap opportunity with SIS Intercultural Study Abroad. During the SIS Gap semester, students will have the opportunity to enjoy life in Siena with a local Sienese host family, learn the Italian Language, and get to know themselves and this fascinating city through service-learning in the community. Unlike other SIS programs, this program was specifically designed for the gap year experience, allowing students to spend a bit less time in the classroom and more time out in the community or participating in cultural activities. 


After meeting the group on the arrival day at the Florence International Airport (FLR), SIS staff will accompany the group to Siena where host families meet the students. Orientation activities take place in the three days that follow. During Orientation, students get to know the city of Siena, other students of the various SIS programs as well as staff and are introduced to various aspects of the coming semester. They will start exploring the intriguing, though sometimes contradictory, characteristics of Italy and Italians today.


The Orientation days also include a series of group activities, a welcome reception with host families, faculty and staff as well as a group historical tour of the ancient city.

Intensive Italian 3-Week Course

Then the Intensive Italian Language Course begins. These first three weeks of the semester are dedicated to learning Italian, exploring the territory, visiting service sites and getting to know the host families.

Gap Semester

Following the three-week course, the gap semester officially begins. The Gap semester is specifically designed to give the student enough support and structure to navigate their months abroad, but also enough independence to explore and learn through their service activities. In fact, the only courses Gap Semester students are required to take are Italian language (both the Intensive 3 week course, and the semester course) as well as our Intercultural Dialogue, Democracy and Global Citizenship course, which guides the students in Intercultural Reflection linked to their service activities. However, for those inclined to spend more time with the other SIS students in the classroom and take home some additional college credit,  there is also the option of taking another SIS content course from among those offered during the semester. Classes are held together with students participating in the standard SIS semester program.

Service-learning in the community will play an important role in the Gap semester experience. Here, think about what kinds of activities you might like to do while getting to know other volunteers and community members. Students will have a series of introductory meetings with our service-learning coordinator and then decide on which service-sites best suit their interests and schedule. They’ll be accompanied to the service site(s) the first time by a staff member and will discuss their service experience often with their Intercultural Dialogue and reflections instructor.    

There will also be plenty of activities and excursions throughout the semester, together with students in the other SIS programs, as well as certain activities reserved just for Gap students.  The group will take one 3-day weekend trip to a selected off-the-beaten-path destination within Italy. Past trips have been to visit Genova and the Cinque Terre, explore culinary wonders in Emilia-Romagna or to Pompeii and the Amalfi Coast to the south. There is also typically a 3 day trip to Brussels, Belgium and a series of shorter day-trips and afternoon activities.

Program Dates

  • Fall 2023:  Sunday, Sept. 3rd – Sunday, Dec. 17th
  • Spring 2024: Sunday, Jan. 14th – Saturday, May 4th

Course Descriptions

SIS Intercultural Study Abroad courses are divided in to five basic course categories. Please note that actual course offerings vary each semester based on student demand enrollment numbers.

All students are required to take Italian Language, the Intercultural Dialogue and Reflections course and 2-3 content courses depending on their chosen semester track.

Please feel free to inquire about course availability. All of our courses are accredited by Portland State University (PSU).



Service Opportunities

Service-Learning is an integral part of the intercultural  study abroad experience in Siena.  Participants in all SIS programs are encouraged to perform service in the community through SIS’ sister association Nuova Associazione Culturale Ulisse. This service can range from 1-5 hours a week and opportunities are in a variety of different service sites. Students might set tables at the city soup kitchen, visit with the elderly at a nursing home, teach English to local elementary school children or volunteer on the city ambulance. Volunteering in the community is an unparalleled way to improve language skills, get involved in the local social fabric and make a genuine contribution to the host community.



Activities and Excursions

Hands On Lessons

With SIS Intercultural Study Abroad, learning is not limited to the classroom. Whenever possible, we integrate field excursions and museum visits to enhance comprehension and provide students with a multifaceted experience. For example, Art History courses naturally include visits to museums, churches and sites of artistic relevance in Siena, Florence and other towns in the region so that students can see first-hand the masterpieces discussed in class. Cultural Anthropology students may attend traditional local festivals and visit museums dedicated to aspects of Tuscan folk culture; students studying Italian Costume will have the opportunity to visit museums dedicated to textiles, costumes and individual Italian designers in the Florence/Prato area, while students studying the History of Italian Cuisine might visit a local cheese making farm and attend a hands-on cooking lesson, and the list goes on…


Group Excursions

Two 3-day trips

Each study abroad semester in Siena, Italy includes a 3-day group excursion to a chosen location in Italy as well as another 3-day trip to Brussels, Belgium.  The excursion within Italy follows the Intensive Italian Course and includes some relaxation time as well as visits to culturally significant sites.  Instead, the trip to Brussels focuses on the EU Parliament, as students learn about the complex organization of Europe, and discover European diversity.  

More excursions

Students will also attend several half-day and full-day excursions that are designed to give students a wide-ranging and meaningful experience of Tuscany (and other regions of Italy) of the sort tourists rarely have.  Visits might include farms that produce wine, olive oil and pecorino cheese; relaxing in one of the region’s many natural hot springs; or experiencing traditional Tuscan festivals such as Carnevale in Foiano della Chiana. Each term also includes a visit to Florence (including museum visit and Opera show), as well as other half day and full day excursion. (Excursions vary from semester to semester and may be subject to change due to COVID-19; please contact us for current details.)

Solo Travel

At least one 3-day weekend and other free weekends give students the chance to travel and explore Italy on their own, putting their knowledge of Italian to good use! While a multitude of interesting destinations lie within just a few hours of Siena, from centers of art history to hill towns and Mediterranean beaches — a long break allows students to travel farther away. Popular destinations include the Cinque Terre on the Ligurian coast; the Dolomite mountains for skiing or hiking; the coast of Campania from where you can visit the lively city of Naples, the fantastic ruins of Pompeii and Herculaneum and the holiday spots of the Amalfi coast and Capri; as well as Italy’s two major islands, Sardinia and Sicily. Whether students choose another destination in Italy or one abroad, the break allows them to meet fellow international travelers, sample different foods and exercise their intercultural skills.