I really cannot sum up in words what a great experience exchange in Milano was. I have created one of the most significant memories of my life through these past four months. I had the opportunity to travel across Europe, meet interesting and odd people, and adapt and immerse myself into the Italian culture. The earlier part of these last few months, I was fortunate enough to travel all around Spain, France, Hungary, and Sweden. Each country had their own charm and crazy stories.
In Spain, I was traveling from Barcelona up to Pamplona to visit some fellow UW students studying abroad up there. Upon my arrival to Pamplona, I found myself at a train station which my friend had no idea as to where I was. At that point, I had to ask around and with my best Spanish I was able to hitchhike from the train station to my friend’s apartment in Pamplona. “Perdon senor, mis amigos estudian en La Universidad de Navarra. Puedo usar tu telefono y necesito a ride to mis amigos (I said this while performing hand motions of driving a car and pointing to the address of my friend’s apartment).” Even though my Spanglish was horrible, it was sufficient enough to be able to get a ride with a very nice older couple who lived a few blocks away from where my friend lived. On the way to my friend’s apartment, the older gentleman who was in the passenger seat whispered to me that it was his wife’s birthday and signaled over to his wife who was driving. At that point, we proceeded to sing her Feliz Cumpleanos in the car, and I gave my best rendition of the song. The randomness in Spain did not stop at the point though. Once I got to my friend’s apartment, I settled in, and we went out to meet his friends. That night I met a girl from Britain who was half Filipino and half British. Since I am also Filipino, we had a lot to talk about so we exchanged contact information. Later that night I found out that she was just visiting Pamplona, and was actually doing exchange in Madrid, which was my very next stop in my travels. So while I was in Madrid, we had the chance to meet up and she introduced me to all her exchange friends there. When I went out and met her friends that night in Madrid, I was fortunate to meet a French guy from Paris. We got to talking for a while, and I told him that my next stop after Madrid was France. At that point, he connected me with some of his friends that were in Paris so that they could show me around when I got there! Random events, openness, and this type of hospitality and friendship is what exchange was all about for me. My ability to put my guard down and to allow myself to meet, get to know, and build relationships with other students across the world is what made my experience amazing.
After Spain, I visited my German roommate from Milan in Lille, France where he was visiting his girlfriend for the mid-semester break. This small French town that might be overlooked by many tourists was one of my favorite cities in Europe. After that I was able to stay with my German roommate’s girlfriend’s best friend in Paris, as she had an apartment right in the center. After Paris, I took a plane to Budapest, Hungary and toured the city, ate great food, and relaxed in their wonderful open air bathhouses. After Budapest, my final trip out of Italy was to Stockholm, Sweden where I stayed in a boat, met up with a fellow UW student coming from Pamplona, and met two really nice random Italians from Milan who we ended up getting some drinks with and keeping in contact with up until now.
After I fulfilled my travel fix, I spent the latter part of the last two months developing friendships with the local Italians that I had met through classes at Bocconi. Most notably, I was able to get really close to 4 Italian Bocconi students that were in my group for a marketing research project. Even though we had a large communication barrier due to the fact that their English wasn’t that good, and my Italian is sad, we were still able to put together an amazing presentation. We found ways via sign language, pictures, and simple sentences, to communicate, work, and delegate out tasks. They were much more than just my fellow market research group members though, they were some of my closest friends in Milan. Often times we went out after working on our project and they taught me some Italian, introduced me to other Italians, and showed me to places where all the locals eat and hang out. We got so close that they are actually coming to visit Seattle in the summer now, and I can’t wait to show them around. I also became good friends with a post-graduate from Bocconi who is from Naples. I met him through my German roommate who had become friends with him through a previous exchange program in Shanghai. He invited us many times to his apartment and cooked typical Italian food and showed us how to make it. My all-time favorite is the pasta Carbonara he made for us. One other friendship I was able to make was with a local Milanese girl who I met during my international business class. I simply complimented her presentation after class one day, we got to talking, and I found out that she had done exchange in high school in Salem, OR and had been to Seattle a couple times. After that, we would occasionally go out to dinner, and she would explain to me various things about the differences between the North and South of Italy, Italy’s business community, and political system. Hanging out with the local Italians, learning from them, and just immersing myself in their culture were one of the most cherished experiences in my 4 month journey.
If I could give just one piece of advice to anyone going on exchange, I would tell them to simply be open. Expect the unexpected, be cautious but get out of your comfort zone, and most importantly, build as many relationships as possible! Simply being a positive, optimistic, and generally nice and caring person will take you far in exchange and in life in general. I am so fortunate to be able to have friends across the globe. I can go to Portugal, Brazil, Mexico, Germany, The Netherlands, France, Spain, Romania, etc., and not only have a person who can show me around, but a person that can also offer me a home to stay in. It’s cliché to say that studying abroad broadens your perspectives, but I think it’s a cliché for a reason, because that is exactly what studying abroad does, and I encourage everyone to do it if possible.