Student space

Shared Stories

Who are we and where do we fit on this planet? How does our language (or languages) impact our inner essence?

While at the Siena school for Liberal Arts for a two week intensive Deaf Studies program studying LIS (Italian Sign Language) and Italian deaf culture, we often talked about identity. Being plunked in a medieval city steeped in its own rich identity, juggling four languages (truthfully, I was dropping two of them more than I was juggling them) really causes one to take a moment for introspection. Among the many aspects of my identity, one thing rose to the top of my list: I am a share-er, and traveling is the perfect habitat for share-ers. Facts, experiences, language, history, food, feelings, culture… sharing is the heart-language of the world, and the pulse of the souls that live here.

And so, if you’ll allow me, I would like to share a few things I have learned while in Siena, la città bella.

Siena is unique.

From the first day, I was fascinated with Siena’s doors and door knockers. They are old, detailed…

…and sometimes a little strange. 

I was lucky enough to be in Siena for the Palio, which is the best time to see the contradas on parade (literally). Siena is divided into 17 districts, called contradas. Each contrada has a church, fountain…

…its own colors, coat of arms, motto, and hymn. You are born into your contrada and, soon after, baptized into it, recieving a special silk scarf with the contradas colors and coat of arms.

During the Palio, the entire week, contradas have their flags displayed and special lamps lit in the streets. Parades are a daily occurence, sometimes including the horse that is chosen to race for the contrada. 

There are flags and drums, singing, and authentic medieval costumes. It is like nothing I have ever seen!

When people want to communicate, they can and will.

I had a full blown conversation with two LIS\Italian interpreters about our shared work of interpreting through a mix of LIS, ASL, and my limited Italian.

Our innate drive to connect meaningfully is amazing.

Italian food is just as good as everyone says.

Cappucinos in the morning with fantastic little pastries for which I have no name, macchiatos in the afternoon, fresh mozzerella, figs, apricots, tomatoes, pasta, wild boar, pigeon, mortadella, gelato,and cheese beyond your wildest dreams. Eating meats and cheeses off a wooden board in an old wine cellar is an experience worth having more than once.

History is precious.

I’m not sure if it’s just me or if it’s my generation, but I often don’t take the time to really learn history. Siena is about 2000 years old, and its history is written in the very stones of the city, relived in the contradas and the Palio.

While in Siena, I watched a video of an Italian deaf man, telling stories from his experience witnessing World War II. His father had been saved from going to German work camps because a German officer had pity on a deaf boy losing his father. He ended the video by signing in LIS: I tell these stories so that there will not be another war.

Personally meaningful to me was spending time in the glorious black and white marble cathedral in Siena, called the Duomo. It was completed in the 1300s. Standing under the star studded ceiling, sharing biblical stories and faith through time via architecture and frescos was poignant.

People are the same… but not.

I traveled around the world to stay in a city with customs different and foreign to mine, yet every time I saw a difference, I found something shared.

Every soul experiences joy, sadness, and anger. Every person wants to connect with others. Our languages dance in and out, finding common ground, laughing at missteps.

The same-ness is comforting. The differences are beautiful. The sharing is human.


              Hannah Zimmerman, Deaf Studies program student