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Siena Semester

Siena Semester Overview: Standard Academic and Service-Intensive 

A semester in Siena is the best way to fully immerse yourself in the local culture and understand the true meaning of intercultural study abroad.  During a semester in Siena with SIS Intercultural Study Abroad, students expand their worldview and experience one of Europe’s most unique cultures.  Students can enroll full time (all SIS courses are accredited through Portland State University) for a once-in-a-lifetime immersion experience in a series of semester options. Students take a combination of Italian Language and content courses, as well as participate in service learning. All students live with local host families and enjoy a series of excursions and activities each term.

Semester Track Options

SIS is able to accommodate a wide variety of student needs. For this reason we off a number of semester track options that allow students to choose how to structure their semester. Below is a list of ways you can spend a semester with SIS, but read on for details on the Standard Academic and Service-Intensive Semesters in Siena!

1. Standard Academic 

2. Service Intensive

3. Gap – Learn more!

4. Scientific Track – Learn more!

5. Graduate and Continuing Education Opportunities –Learn more!

6. Multi-destination Internship program: Siena+Brussels  – Learn more!

7. Multi-destination Internship program: Siena+Cameroon – Learn more!

8. Multi-destination program: Siena+ Chiang Mai – Learn more!


Language immersion for everyone!

SIS programs, although language intensive and immersive, are open to students with any Italian language level, whether they be students who have years of Italian under their belt to students who don’t know any Italian other than the word pizza!  Everyone will come away from a semester in Siena with new language and intercultural skills as well as university credit.


After meeting the group on the arrival day at Pisa International Airport (PSA), SIS staff will accompany the group to Siena and introduce them to their host families. Orientation activities take place in the three days that follow. 


During orientation, students get to know the city of Siena, each other, staff and are introduced to various aspects of the upcoming semester. They will start exploring the various intriguing, though sometimes contradictory, characteristics of Italy and Italians today. Orientation days also include a series of group activities, as well as a historical tour of the ancient city. 

Intensive Italian 3-Week Course

The Intensive Course is a 75-hour front-loaded language course that prepares students for daily life in Siena. 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. Everyone coming to SIS, on any semester track with the exception of the Multi-destination Programs, will complete the intensive Italian Course.

Academic and Service-Intensive Semesters in Siena

Following the three-week intensive language course, the semester begins. Students are required to take Italian language and the Intercultural Dialogue and Reflections course, as well as 2-3 content courses depending on the chosen track. For example, in the Standard Academic track a student will typically take Italian language, the Intercultural Dialogue and Reflections course and choose 2-3 academic content courses from our official course list. Students in the Service-intensive track, on the other hand, will still take Italian Language and Intercultural Dialogue and Reflections, but will choose 1-2 academic content courses to allow for additional time during the week for service-learning.

Service is not only a pillar of SIS programs, but an enriching linguistic and cultural experience for students. All students, in any semester track, will participate in service learning throughout their time in Siena. 

Activities and excursions complement the program’s academics, as well as two overnight trips:

  • 3-day trip within Italy – destinations change every term. Past trips have taken students to: Bologna & Modena, Genova, Rome, Venice and Verona.
  • 3-day trip to Brussels, Belgium – with a visit to the European Parliament, meetings with EU NGO’s and other cultural activities.*

*Due to the COVID-19 pandemic the overnight trip to Brussels has been suspended until further notice, alternate activities will be provided.


Upcoming Semester Program Dates

  • Spring 2021: Sunday, Jan. 17th – Sunday, May 2nd
  • Fall 2021:  Sunday, Sept. 5th – Sunday, Dec. 19th

Inquire at for price information!

Semester 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.