più bella!

Siena, a small medieval city in the center of Tuscany, is "the cradle of the Italian language" and the heartland of the Italian of Dante. Service-learning in Siena offers an ideal opportunity for you to learn Italian through a full immersion in Italian life. And did we mention it's absolutely beautiful!?!?

Students will spend a summer in Siena, engaging in intensive Italian language study at the beginning, intermediate, or advanced level; living in a homestay with an Italian family; serving 12–18 hours a week in an Italian community organization or school; taking a course in socio-anthropology, and going on guided excursions. All of these activities blend into a unique and innovative language-teaching method, FICCS (Full Immersion Culture, Content, and Service). The program is designed to give students a rich and varied experience of modern Italian society and social issues.

Located about one hour from Florence and three hours from Rome, this small but vivacious city provides a perfect home base for exploring the rest of Italy. Its two large universities keep things lively during the academic year with many cultural events, theaters, and concerts. During the summer, things heat up with the world renowned Palio, a horse race dating back to 1656, that takes place in the central square. The town itself is the classroom, as students navigate and gain familiarity with the local fruit and vegetable market, bakery, and gelateria, and absorb the Italian voices drifting in their window from the street. The countryside surrounding the city is home to producers of the famous Chianti and Brunello wines as well as some of the most sought after olive oil in the world. The province, with its rolling hills and cypress trees, is rich with hill towns, hot springs and Etruscan ruins waiting to be explored.

I worked in a kindergarten, hospital and with an ambulance service in Siena. It was so cool to be able to have contact with Italy in such a real way. I got to see students, teachers, doctors, nurses, etc. and what their roles are in Italian society. One of the coolest, yet most challenging aspects was the language barrier. I was forced to try to speak and understand Italian constantly. I was also able to learn about the people in a different way which was somehting I think I would not have be able to expereince if I had not been doing service. I have changed a great deal from my experience. I was stretched in some really uncomfortable ways but was able to overcome that and I think I really gained a greater sense of self-confidence. Working in the hospital and ambulance service really helped solidify my career goals and I am excited to go back to my home university and pursue those goals. I am can't wait to find a way to service my community at home and learn even more!" -Brianna


You will live in a homestay with a local host family. The homestay is an integral part of both the program, giving you the opportunity to make life-long friends, reinforce the language skills acquired during daily lessons, and experience modern Italian culture from "the inside." Host families are carefully selected, experienced with hosting students, and view the experience as a form of cultural exchange. Most meals are included.

Program Director: Ms. Lavinia Bracci


The program welcomes students of any nation who have a high school diploma or equivalent credential. TOEFL equivalent 550. All levels of  Italian language skill. Academic studies are taught in Italian at the beginning, intermediate, and advanced levels.



The Italy program is based at Siena Italian Studies, and courses are taught by their faculty, who have developed an innovative approach to teaching language and culture, FICCS (Full Immersion Culture, Content, and Service). You will engage in a 3-week intensive course in Italian, then continue your Italian studies and take a course in Socio-Anthropology for the rest of the semester, usually for a total of 6 - 12 credits for summer. A transcript is issued by the Academic Partner, College of Mount St Vincent, upon successful completion of the program. Unless otherwise noted, courses are at the 300 level except for any foreign language course that will vary.

NOTE: For students whose home institution requires a U.S. transcript, academic credit will be awarded upon completion of the semester on an official transcript from College of Mount St Vincent. Semester hours will be translated into quarter hours.

Course offerings

Summer Italian Language

Students are placed in one of five language levels and study Italian 2 hours a day, 5 days a week. Classes include activities linked to experiences in the city, student presentations, discussions, videos, quizzes, and writing assignments, as well as the study of specific aspects of Italian grammar. The intermediate and advanced levels provide a complete study of grammatical and communicative structures using materials that are varied in both content and type.

Students are placed in the most appropriate of our five language levels and study Italian 2 hours a day, 5 days a week. During the week, students can expect activities linked to experiences in the city, student presentations and discussions, videos, quizzes, and writing assignments, as well as the study of specific aspects of Italian grammar. The intermediate and advanced levels provide a complete study of grammatical and communicative structures using materials that are varied in both content and type.

The language is always presented in its context, so as to avoid falling into the typical classroom trap of detachment from reality. Two or three teachers alternate in the classes, giving students the greatest possible linguistic and methodological variety. Throughout the semester, students will take part in activities that require them to apply what they’ve learned in the classroom. Some of these activities include chatting with their Italian-language partners, conducting surveys in the university’s cafeteria, or participating in the semester’s caccia al tesoro, or treasure hunt.

Contact Hours: 45
Recommended U.S. Credits: 3

Service in Contemporary Italian Society

An in depth look at contemporary Italian Society and the role that service-learning plays within this context. This course will give students the information and understanding that they need in order to carry out service-learning projects. It will also give a detailed overview of the history of healthcare and volunteerism in Siena. In addition, since Italy has changed from a country of emigration to immigration, it will also cover how this has effected the society and as a result which services are necessary and offered to the general public. Taught in Italian and English.

Contact Hours: 45
Recommended U.S. Credits: 3

Italian Beach


Service-learning in Italy provides the opportunity to experience social service in a country whose complicated political, economic, and social realities rarely permit the foreigner to become an active part of society. You will serve 15-20 hours per week in an established Italian school or social agency, choosing to focus on one of three social service areas: education, healthcare, or immigrant and refugee assistance.


You may be focused on one of the many aspects of the education field. Whether teaching in an elementary school classroom, helping underprivileged children with their homework, or teaching English to adults in the evenings, you will be able to share your knowledge and skills while providing a beneficial service to the community.

Students serving in education will have constant contact with an instructor specialized not only in teaching languages, but also in pedagogical and educational processes. You will be followed throughout the experience by educational experts in order to provide the broadest possible panorama of the following topics: the means and ends of the educational process, the Italian educational system in this delicate moment of severe reform and transition, the behavior and role of the teacher, the new methods of language learning with regards to media use, and the relationship between disability and education. With the glotto-didactic experts, you will explore a variety of techniques and approaches to language instruction and will be guided through the fascinating mechanisms of the human mind that regulate the learning of language. This project gives students the unique opportunity to have a double function as student and teacher, learning while teaching in the field.


Studying first from a theoretical point of view, you will examine the recent developments of Italian healthcare services, both social and medical. This project encompasses various aspects of the Italian healthcare system and is made possible by the collaboration with several non-profit organizations in Siena. You will work alongside experts and will acquire in-depth knowledge of some of the key organizations within the Italian healthcare system.

Immigrant and Refugee Assistance

You may participate in one of the many social service projects initiated by various volunteer associations, addressing the needs of immigrants, refugees, and other underserved persons. The Associations' current activities include city food bank, clothing drive, soup kitchen, community projects for children, and literacy projects. There are many Eastern European and African immigrants that have settled in the Siena area.

Volunteer Service Examples

Following are examples of agencies where students have served in the past or may be able to serve. Other service placements may be available. Your placement will be determined by community and agency needs, as well as your interests, goals, and skills.

Association for Disabled Children

The Associazione Centro Ippico "Della Pergola" ASD is an organization that provides various forms of physical therapy to children and adults with disabilities. Students work at the organization’s newly constructed stables and helping with riding therapy, “ippoterapia”. Responsibilities will vary, as "Della Pergola" is a very hands-on organization. Students with previous riding experience may be asked to work solely with preparing the horses, while others will do any number of odd jobs on the grounds. The therapy sessions are individual, so there is always a need for volunteers to sit and talk with the people who are waiting to go in. In addition, students may be asked to help with the maintenance and structural improvements to the center as well as administrative support.

Population Served: Children with disabilities
Areas of Service: Disabilities / Children & Youth / Administration / Construction

Adults with Disabilities

Il Laboratoria Center is a day center that is run entirely by volunteers. It provides assistance and organizes activities for Siena's disabled community. Students can serve with local volunteers in organizing and participating in activities that range from art and music excursions to recreational visits to the public pool and site seeing visits to nearby towns.

Population Served: Adults with disabilities
Areas of Service: Disabilities

Community Development Organization

Founded in 1995, Il Muretto was created with the primary objective of providing opportunities for social, political, and economic growth for the inhabitants of the neighborhood known as Le Piagge. This area, located in the immediate periphery of Florence, was built in the early 1980s with the goal to “welcome”—or, more accurately, contain—the so-called rejects of society: ex-cons, drug addicts, and immigrants that year after year “invade” the Italian cities and countryside. It was constructed, like many similar urban peripheries, completely lacking infrastructures such as parks, community areas, and places for socialization. After just a few years, on the nearby banks of the Arno River, where Florence becomes countryside, the Rom community settled with no authorization. The area quickly became known as the “Florentine Bronx.”

The Association’s current activities in Le Piagge include community projects for children, recycling projects with every type of object and clothing with the goal to educate the zone to not waste, the Il Fermaglio printing house that seeks to integrate socially rejected young people through work experiences, literacy projects for Chinese and Rom children living in the neighborhood, and several workshops and evening courses for adults.

Population Served: Marginalized and disenfranchised people in Le Piagge, near Florence
Areas of Service: Community development / Job training / Education

Cooperative Agency

La Proposta runs, in the medieval gardens, “L'Orto De' Pecci”, a restaurant which employs recovering drug addicts, ex-convicts, and individuals with special needs. There are two different sectors where students can serve. Students are able to assist in cooking food for restaurant employees, preparing the dining area for customers, and cleaning the kitchen. Students also have the opportunity to work in the gardens, both in restoration and in the cultivation of vegetables. The garden has lately become very popular.

Population Served: Persons in need
Areas of Service: Food services / distribution / Environment

Diabetes Association

An association located at the hospital in Siena that provides care to diabetics. Students assist doctors and nurses in attending to patients and also provide administrative support.

Population Served: People with Diabetes
Areas of Service: Administration / Healthcare

Elderly Residence

Students can work at a local elderly residence providing service to those who are no longer able to entirely care for themselves. The facility is located in the center of Siena and employs both professional caregivers as well as volunteers from the community. Activities in which students participate include excursions, games/ entertainment, serving meals, and simply providing company to those who are in need of human contact.

Population Served: Elderly people
Areas of Service: Elderly / Recreation / Companionship

The Bancarella Alimentare

A program sponsored by the Misericordia for those in need. Here students volunteer to help run a local food bank twice a week funded by the Misericordia. Students work alongside Italian volunteers in the distribution of non-perishable food items.

Population Served: Persons in need (primarily immigrants)
Areas of Service: Food services / distribution / immigrant / refugee issues & aid

Immigrant Aid Organization

An organization in Siena dedicated to helping immigrants find work, learn Italian, find healthcare, and other needs. Students can volunteer in the office offering administrative support as well as work directly with immigrants in need. Activities include Internet research, translations, accompanying people to offices, coordinating interviews, setting up appointments, etc. This organization also operates the Poggibonsi farm/soup kitchen/residence where students can serve.

Population Served: Immigrants
Areas of Service: immigrant / refugee issues & aid / Social services / Healthcare / Administration / Research

Immigrant Assistance Organization

Located just a short walk south of the Piazza del Campo, La Caritas is a Roman Catholic organization dedicated to helping those in need. Though all are welcome to their services, their soup kitchen and used clothing distribution center primarily serve Siena’s immigrant population. Everyone from immigrants from Romania to refugees from Sudan enjoy the warm meals at the church’s daily lunch as well as the services provided by their clothing bank, which distributes local donations varying from books to bed dressings, as well as providing free shower supplies and access to their shower facility.

On a weekly basis, a combined total of over 300 immigrants make use of the resources provided by both the soup kitchen and clothing distribution center. The 90 religious sisters who live on the premises, as well as volunteers ranging from college students to Siena natives, help prepare and serve the daily meals as well as collect, organize, and distribute clothing. La Caritas also functions as a dormitory for women, children, and elderly in need of care and lodging.

Population Served: Primarily immigrants in the city of Siena
Areas of Service: Food services/distribution / Immigrant/refugee issues & aid

Organic Farm and Rural Retreat for the Urban Poor

Since 1995, Il Muretto has leased a rural casale, or hamlet, in the Mugello hills north of Florence with 17 hectares of land and a working farm. The Villore Project seeks to offer a year-round alternative for the inhabitants of Le Piagge and for all those searching for an escape from the city’s hectic daily rhythms and difficulties, from hosting homeless single mothers and immigrants rejected by society, to offering refuge to groups of children from Le Piagge. Volunteers at Villore may assist in the remodeling and construction work on portions of the houses, or volunteer on the farm, which practices exclusively organic and sustainable agriculture. Farm volunteers take part in daily chores, from feeding goats to clearing brush and pruning olive trees, as well as in the production of preserves, honey, and other products produced on-site.

During this service-learning experience, students will be welcomed into a unique community. An integral aspect of this project is that the students will become residents themselves, from weekends to entire weeks, not only working but living with other volunteers and those in need. Through group dinners at the main house and planning other projects and social activities with new friends, students will be exposed to realities hidden even from most Italians.

Population Served: Marginalized and disenfranchised people in Le Piagge, near Florence
Areas of Service: Construction / Sustainable / Organic Farming

Public Schools in Siena

One of the areas in need is the public school system of Siena. Due to recent severe reforms resulting in significant budget cuts and a reduction of educational resources, there is an increasing demand for skilled and enthusiastic volunteer figures within the school system. Through this experience, students have an opportunity to utilize their skills and energy to make a positive impact on the Sienese public school system. Students who decide to work in an elementary school classroom will be paired with an elementary school teacher who will offer suggestions and advice on how to operate within the classroom. Another possibility within the elementary school (given the appropriate circumstances) is to take on the role of intercultural mediator for foreign children. We view this project as an opportunity to enter into one of the most significant facets of Italian society, therefore gaining a more profound understanding of society as a whole.

Population Served: Public school children

After-School Program  for Children and Families in Need

The "Camaleonde" organization provides assistance to elementary and middle schools and to families by organizing after-school activities as well as tutoring services for children and families in need.  Students can participate as active tutors and/or participants in after-school activities.

Population Served: Public elementary and middle school children
Areas of Service: Education/ESL (English as a second language)/teaching and tutoring

Siena Research Department of Virology and Molecular Biology

These are University laboratories that test viruses. (There are no dangers to those who volunteer in the laboratory.) Due to lack of funding, many laboratories are short-staffed. Students can help tag experiments, run test machines, sterilize equipment and generally assist the professionals.

Population Served: University of Siena Research Department
Areas of Service: Research

Volunteer Medical Assistance Association

The Arciconfraternità della Misericordia di Siena is an association dating back to the Middle Ages that is dedicated to volunteer medical assistance and community service. Students who work with this organization can choose to focus their energies on a variety of medical realities. They will work alongside medical volunteers in an ambulance providing assistance in transporting patients to and from the hospital, and will be trained in the various levels of emergency medical assistance through courses offered by the Misericordia: basic and advanced levels of emergency medical assistance and a specialized course for on-call residential service. Working with the Misericordia, students will get to know personally medical and paramedical personnel of every level and be offered a detailed picture of the Italian healthcare system. In the interests of cultural exchange, students will also be encouraged to organize English language workshops for fellow volunteers, as English is very useful in a popular tourist destination such as Siena. Please note that this placement has a minimum of a two-month stay.

Population Served: People in need of emergency care, emergency medical personnel
Areas of Service: Healthcare / ESL/EMT (Emergency Medical Technician)

Medical Outpatient Clinic

Those interested in the field of medicine can shadow doctors at the Rugani Day Clinic as they visit patients and perform minor operations.  Doctors will be able to shed light on the Italian healthcare system and students are exposed to it's intricacies first-hand. Since no hands-on volunteering is authorized this is a placement best combined with another medical service organization such as Arciconfraternità della Misericordia (see below).

Population Served: General population in need of medical care
Areas of Service: Healthcare


Things to do

Travel is considered to be an essential element of the study abroad experience. Through their explorations of Italy, students gain a unique awareness of the country, its culture and its resources, and are more fully able to apply their classroom learning to the Italian reality.

Possible excursions may include:

  • 2-Day Excursion to Tuscan Coast
  • Wine and Cheese Tastings
  • Visit to nearby hill towns
  • Day-Trip to Florence
  • Museum and Gallery Visits

IPSL students in Siena may also work with program staff  to arrange for independent travel to other regions of Italy and Europe.

As with all travel, weather and other travel hindrances can affect the exact destinations of excursions. In such cases, IPSL program staff make every effort to find suitable replacement itineraries. Landscape