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I am studying abroad this term in Siena, Italy, a small, walled city in the heart of Tuscany. I am living with a host family in the center of town about a five-minute walk from school and from the Piazza del Campo, where the annual Palio horse race is held. Although it is winter here, we have had many days of sunshine, but we've also had lots of snow. It's all melted now but it was quite a surprise to wake up to a fresh foot of snow! My host family is wonderful and I have spent a lot of time with them. The young parents, Marta and Marco, are both Senese, born and raised in Siena. They are of the Porcupine and She wolf contrade (two of the 17 historic districts within the walls of Siena). We live in the Porcupine, the largest contrada, in a large apartment on the top floor of a very old building. The kitchen is blue, my room is yellow, and the play room/living room is bright green so it's a perfect house for kids. The oldest is Pietro, 10 years old. The middle child is Alessio, eight years old. And lastly, Bianca, who is five years old. Every day we eat breakfast together at the kitchen table. They eat Choco Blast cereal, which is basically a corn puff, filled with nutella, what a nutritious breakfast! And then they head off to school with their parents. And I leave shortly after and have two or three classes depending on the day. And every Thursday morning I get up early and go to the San Benedetto daycare and teach English to the kids, ranging from one to six years old. It is always so much fun and the kids are absolutely adorable!

Once I am back from school in the evening, I play soccer with Alessio and Pietro in their living room. We do our best not to break anything, but occasionally something accidently shatters or cracks. And Bianca usually wants to play with her numerous stuffed animals so that generally follows soccer. And the dinner bell is rung by Marta, usually around 8 or 8:30 and we all sit at the table together and eat. Her sister, Claudia, and her husband, live in the apartment next door so they often join us for dinner. Claudia is eight weeks pregnant so every day the kids ask her questions about their future cousin. Marta and Claudia's father is a frequent visitor to the house as he is learning English so he uses the family computer occasionally. He is the nicest old man.

So far I have traveled just around Italy. As the main purpose of my study abroad is to perfect my Italian language skills, I have chosen to visit as much of Italy as I can and challenge myself to understand all of the different accents. A few of my favorite cities so far have been Lucca, Montepulciano, Montalto, Pienza, and Florence. And I had the opportunity to see some of my fellow teammates in Rome one weekend, which was amazing! We walked around all day, ate some delicious gelato, and saw some of the wonderful sites in Rome. And most recently, I went with three other girls in my program to Viareggio, a coastal town east of Siena, to celebrate Carnevale. The town hosts an enormous parade five times during the Carnevale season each year, beginning the first week of February and ending on Fat Tuesday. It was incredible and I can't wait to go back!

With only a few weeks left before I return to Dartmouth for spring term, I hope to visit a couple more cities in Italy. Next weekend I may go to Parma where my Dartmouth Italian Professor's family lives and stay with them for a bit! And Alessio has a soccer game next week so we will all go to that together to support him! And here are some pictures from my time in Italy so far!

- Olivia Quaglia