I somehow ended up becoming closest with a group of models. I did come to Milan for the fashion, and now I’m in the middle of it! I love them, but sometimes it’s very intimidating to hear them talking about going to a Versace casting the next day, or online shopping and seeing them all over the website! I always look forward to seeing what they’re wearing because I know they see all the trends before the public does. Unfortunately, I’m always in something colorful while they’re always in black! I definitely stick out from Europeans- can you guess which one is me in the photo??
By: Camillo Moreno-Salamanca, Foster Undergraduate
The best stories are those that you can recall detail by detail, despite the fact that it may have occurred months, or years ago. Now, I got back from my study abroad trip about two-and-a-half months ago, but this experience feels like one of those stories.
It also makes for a great excuse for having postponed posting my experience for so long. Last time I wrote on this blog, I gushed about the great things in Italy. At this point in time, the feeling is the same. But now, I believe I can provide an objective and comparative review of my study abroad experience, so that you can benefit fully from all those times I traveled, went out to dinner with friends, learned Italian, consumed wine—and went to class.
I’ll break it down into what I loved, what I didn’t love, and some reflections and mindsets, which I hope are as useful to you, as they were to me. I’ll start with what I loved about Italy:
I’ll start with an universal truth popularized by Julia Roberts in “Eat, Love, and Pray” (Yes, I watched it. But I watched it in Italian to learn the language so I didn’t lose any “bro” points). The food in Italy is amazing. Actually, glorious is a more fitting word. If there is something you need to know about me is that I am by no means a foodie.
To my mother’s chagrin, my diet has revolved around the plainest, no-frill foods you can think of. I call them the
BRiC (Bread, Rice, and Chicken).
However, I gave myself an opportunity to expand my palate and truly embrace everything Italian food had to offer. Well, it was tremendously worth it. While Italian food is relatively simple; in its simplicity lies its beauty and its flavor. Pizza, pasta, gnocchi, risotto—you name the Italian dish, and I probably tried it (with the exception of Sicilian cuisine…too far from Milan). To this day I have flashbacks of the Lasagna alla Bolognese that I had—in Bologna. Or, the time I finally perfected making spaghetti alla carbonara and basked in my accomplishment by emptying the box of barilla and promptly enduring a joyous food coma.
My point is this: The food is fantastic and in enjoying it you will actually learn lots about Italian culture. You will learn that food tastes best when it is genuine, simple, warm, and working in ensemble with other ingredients—much like Italian culture.
The Crisis and the Classes
The second thing I loved were actually a couple of my classes, and what I was lucky enough to witness in Italian history during my time at Bocconi. I’ll start with a warning about the classes: Find out if your class has an oral exam. If it does, I would strongly suggest avoiding it. Typically, I do great in high-pressure/interview situations (What up, Boeing!). However, in oral exams 100% of your grade is riding on what you say, how well you say it, and whether the professor likes you or not. I’ll rather hedge the risk of having one terrible exam by having assignments and projects peppered in, than having it ride all in a 10-minute session.
With that said, there are two classes I recommend, not only because these were the first classes I 4.0’d in college (who says you can’t do well academically in study abroad programs), but because they were pretty fun,
interesting classes. The first class I loved was Public Management. It was a very engaging discussion based class where you learn the management philosophy in the public sector, and how much more complex it is than the private sector. Also, through this class you get to compare how different societies operate in the public sector and you are able to trace how certain flaws in public sector management (like in Italy) can have profound consequences in economic development. My instructors were Valentina Mele and Aleksandra Torbica.
The second class was Management of Fashion and Luxury Companies. Despite the fact that I am naturally interested in fashion, this is a fantastic class that dives deep into the way different brands, markets, and
industries position themselves in the marketplace, how they develop their strategies, and what their best practices are. Plus, you are in freaking Milan! What better place to take a fashion class than in the fashion capital of the
world? For our project, we had to evaluate a brand. We chose Diesel, and had the amazing opportunity to visit their flagship store in Milan. It doesn’t get much cooler than that folks.
Certainly, these are not the only awesome classes Bocconi has to offer, but they were my favorites. On a brief side note, Bocconi also has pretty cool student clubs (they don’t have the support or impact that Foster RSOs have, but they have a radio station, a TV station, sports clubs, and a variety of other cool clubs. Definitely check them out!).
Oh yeah, the big political event that I had to witness. For those of you that were in tune with the world news in the fall of 2011, you knew that the European Union was—well, doing its best Titanic impression. One of the captains of this shipwreck was Italy itself, as it found itself in not as deep of a financial trouble as Greece, but with overleveraged banks, had a high risk of submerging Europe and the world, into another worldwide crisis. At the helm of this crisis, we had Milan’s favorite son, Mr. Silvio Berlusconi. A charming, cynical, astute politician that had been able to dominate Italian politics (and media), for over two decades while presenting itself as the man Italians
couldn’t hate because all Italians have a little Silvio in them. Fortunately, this crisis brought a call to sanity, and a change of guard. Silvio Berlusconi found himself unable to solve the economic crisis in Italy and was forced to
step down. His replacement? None other than Bocconi’s very own president Mr. Mario Monti (otherwise known as Super Mario).
It was very interesting reading the newspapers, talking with Italians, and just feeling the winds of change. Oh, and did I mention two days Mr.Monti assumed power thousands of public school students marched through Milan and vowed to “siege Bocconi” and were stopped a couple of streets away from the University by the police? Well, that happened. See, something you have to know about Bocconi is that your typical Italian isn’t very too fond of Bocconi, as it is a bit elitist. Think of it as the Yale of Italy. While this is not the preferred image by Bocconiani everywhere, and not fully true, there is a sound logic behind that perception, and part of your exchange experience will be understanding that you are going to the best (and probably most hated) university in Italy; more on this later.
The European Lifestyle
Finally, I loved interacting with a variety of people from around the world. This was my absolutely favorite part. From Brazil to Russia, from Taiwan to New Zealand, and of course pretty much every country in Europe; I had the amazing blessing of interacting and becoming friends with people from all different countries. They taught me about life in ways that books or National Geographic documentaries couldn’t quite communicate to you. This is why you travel. From small things like the reason why you look at somebody in the eyes while you toast (to avoid seven years of bad sex; there is your excuse), or the not so small things like the fact that in many European countries healthcare is a right, just allowed me to engage in wonderful discussions and learning experiences. Needless to say, this exchange experience makes you form a certain bond with people that is cemented by the unique experience you are living together; and sure, while now we have Facebook, Skype, and Whatsapp to keep in contact with them, it’s not quite the same. But the fact that you developed these memories with people from different corners of the world really puts in perspective how lucky you truly are. It also makes for a ton of inside jokes that once you are back in the US, don’t seem quite as funny.
Finally, I’ll end my ramble by giving you three quick tips to make sure your study abroad experience is successful:
1) Get out there and learn the language: It frustrates me when I see tourists or even other exchange students not speaking the native language. Especially when some of them took a crash course on Italian. Sure, I had it easier than a lot of people since I already knew Spanish, but I arrived into Italy with a dictionary and a phrasebook. Nothing else. I pushed my boundaries and took baby steps. Whenever I would go my neighborhood pizza store and buy lunch I would do it all in Italian, even if I butchered the words. It took me about 2 weeks to figure out that “mangia qui?” meant “for here”, but once I figured it out, I was pretty proud. So get lost, ask a lot of questions, don’t be so self-conscious, and just know that even if you speak it “funny” people will appreciate and respect the fact that you are trying.
2) Meet people you wouldn’t usually meet: Another thing that frustrated me was seeing students (mostly American students) hang out with other American students, or with Canadian, Australian or English students (Long live the queen!). It’s totally fine to bond with people you have cultural similarities to. In my case, it was pretty easy to bond with the Spaniards and South Americans in my exchange class. However, make sure you are meeting people from backgrounds you wouldn’t experience at home. I met more Swedish, German, Dutch, French, Swiss, and Italian people that I had ever met in my life. Learning about our similarities and differences was the biggest takeaway from this experience. Forging a friendship with them? Priceless.
3) If you are getting homesick, you aren’t busy enough: Yes, you will get homesick in your exchange. It happens. But when it happened to me, I focused on the fact that my family was proud of me for living this experience and that the best way to honor them would be to take advantage of the opportunity and stay busy, always learning, and always enjoying. What good does it do that you miss your family/friends so much and you sit in your room sulking and looking over Facebook photos? None. What will you tell them about your experience? Will you
tell them that you mostly missed them? Is that the type of answer you think they want to hear?
Alas, this is the end of my not-so-short summary of my study abroad experience. Magari mia esperienza sará utile per voi. Buon viaggio, e ricorda: Mangia, vive, impara, e ama.
By: Erica Strathern, Foster Undergraduate
Hello everyone! My name is Erica Strathern and I am a 4th year Foster student studying Accounting. This fall, I am studying at Bocconi University in Milan, Italy. I’ve been in Milan nearly three months, and at the moment, I can’t seem to figure out where all the time has gone. It feels like yesterday that I was just arriving in Milan after traveling nearly 17 hours. I’d like to give you some (belated) impressions and thoughts I have about the study abroad experience and life here in Milan:
Bocconi University is a private University here in Milan and is consistently ranked among the top universities around the world (no pressure, right?). It is much smaller than UW, only about 7,000 undergrads and 3,500 post-grads. I am taking three courses here: Auditing, Leadership, and International Law, and they are all given in English, thank goodness! There are many courses conducted in English to choose from. Some of the most popular among exchange students are organizational behavior, e-marketing, fashion industry management, and law. Registering for my courses was a surprisingly easy process! Registration began at midnight here in Milan, which meant 3pm back in the States, and it took place during July before I had left to go abroad. Not having to wake up at 5:30am was certainly a welcome benefit! I researched on which courses were the best for me and my requirements back at Foster, and I selected one or two courses that I thought would transfer to fulfill Foster requirements, and one elective that I had an interest in, though was not a requirement.
The housing here at Bocconi can be a little tricky. The University offers many different dorm options and exchange students need to submit a €400 deposit by the beginning of June in order to submit your preferences for dorms. However, even if you submit preferences for the dorms within walking distance of the University, it seems that all exchange students are placed in a dorm about 30 minutes by public transportation from the University itself. After receiving an offer for this dorm option, I decided it would be better for me to try and find an apartment or sublet closer to the university. This was quite a stressful process! I sent out hundreds and hundreds of emails to those who had posted sublets on the Bocconi Housing Exchange website, but got very few responses and all said the apartment was already taken! I ended up joining a Facebook group for Bocconi exchange students and found that someone had posted that they were looking for a girl to sublet her apartment. We communicated via email, and I had found myself some living arrangements! The downside to living in Milan is that it is one of the most expensive cities in Europe to live in, but also an amazing center for business and a bustling nightlife. When deciding to study abroad, really listen to the Global Business Center advisors when they tell you that living abroad is pricy, they aren’t lying!
Of course, a major perk of living in Milan is its proximity to amazing places all over Europe. I spent last weekend in Paris, the weekend before in Verona and I have done some traveling all over Italy. Many exchange students travel every weekend, but I thought that would be a bit too much for me, so I have limited my travel to every other weekend or so. Flights to places like London, Munich, Vienna, Rome and so many other amazing places are very cheap and students can find great hostels or inexpensive hotels on a variety of websites.
That’s all for now. I can’t believe I will be heading home in just under a month, it doesn’t seem like it has been three months that I’ve been here! I knew it would go by fast, but I never thought it would go by this fast! If I could give any advice about studying abroad, it would be to really savor each moment and experience, because it will be over in a flash.
Until next time,
By: Camilo Moreno-Salamanca, Foster Undergraduate
As I complete my first month in Milano and start my third week of classes at Universitá Bocconi, I can safely say that it has been an amazing ride. Now I’m about to say what perhaps every student who goes abroad says, but this is definitely one of the best decisions I had made in my life. Sure, I remember that anxiety Andrea talked about just before your board the plane, or the uncertainty I felt as I spent my first night at the Malpensa airport (Tom Hanks made it look easy, but at least I managed to find some nice comfy benches…only until 4am though), but overall it has been quite a journey.
Finding housing was a bit difficult, hence the “me staying at the airport the first night” situation. However, another UW student and friend of mine, Brooke, let me stay in her room the next couple of nights while I searched for apartments. Finally, I settled for a cozy little studio in Viale Bligny (pretty close to Bocconi) and I am pay about 700eu for it. Given that it is a studio, and close to campus, it wasn’t such a bad deal.
The first week is never very pleasant. Besides feeling overwhelmed with a new language, trying to find your way, and doing all the paperwork you need to do, like the Permit of Stay, you tend to have somewhat stressful days. However, once you get those out of the way, the vibrancy of Milano will take over you and will plant a passion for this city that blossoms very quickly (can’t you tell I’m already in love?).
Milanese people are generally nice, they don’t make fun of you for trying to speak Italian, so you should absolutely try everywhere you go. Don’t be that American that thinks everyone speaks English, it makes you look arrogant, and doesn’t get you anywhere as most people in Milano don’t speak English. The language has been a particularly frustrating part for me, not because it’s too difficult for me to learn ( I speak Spanish so I tend to pick it up quicker), but because I wish I had been fluent by the time I came here. While I have had pretty good conversations with other exchange students and other Italians in English/Spanish, I know that I am missing out on some great life-changing conversations because my Italian is not at that level yet. So for future students be warned: The difference between you having an amazing time, and the time of your life is very much dependent on how much Italian you know. Fortunately, I practice daily by either speaking it, listening to conversations (best excuse for eavesdropping), and listening to Italian music, as well as reading their newspaper “Corrielle della sera”. Also, there is a language course offered at Bocconi that exchange students can audit, so that is starting to prove pretty helpful as well.
The cultural activities here are endless. Between museums having free entrance nights, food festivals, and of course Milano Fashion Week (in progress), there is always something to do everyday. Going to the Duomo (the cathedral) is always breathtaking for its architecture as much as for the buzz of activity around it. The Duomo is the heart of Milano, so exploring that area will give you a true feel for the Milanese lifestyle. Close to it is the Scala (one of the world’s most famous Opera Houses), a vast array of museums, small theaters, and restaurants, as well as Via Montenapoleone, where some of the biggest luxury brands in the world have stores there (e.g. Giorgio Armani, Louis Vuitton, Gucci, etc.).
There seems to be a rhythm and routine to Milanese life. In the morning, you either study or work, with a nice long break for lunch and a quick coffee after. Then around 8 you have “Aperitivo” which is basically Happy Hour. While this is an Italian tradition, no town celebrates it more than Milano. There are Aperitivo places everywhere and for 10eu (about $14) you get 1 or 2 drinks and an endless buffet which varies in quality depending where you go. Typically, it will have pizza, foccaccia, some penne pasta, rice, and some prosciutto. Of course, in some of these places you can order restaurant type meals, but expect to pay at least 10eu for a dish (things in Milano are a bit expensive). After Aperitivo, at about 11pm people will head to the nightclubs, where the fun doesn’t stop until 4am. For exchange students there are discounts pretty much everywhere, so it’s very easy to go out. Having said that, take those discounts as a way to save money for other things rather than to abuse it. While the social aspect is very important you are still in school, and it shows maturity to be able to balance both.
Classes here are a bit different that the U.S. To be honest, I found people to be more disrespectful here (coming in 20-30 minutes late, answering calls and whispering on the phone, or having semi-loud conversations between people as the teacher lectures). However, I found the teachers to be pretty knowledgeable and encouraging of student participation. Since the courses are in English, I have an easy time participating and understanding, but I grow quite impatient when the instructor repeats concepts over and over again. At the same time, I have come to understand that this is very helpful for students who haven’t mastered English as well as I have, so I have come to accept it. If I was taking the courses in Italian, I would definitely appreciate the teacher repeating concepts, so it’s a fair trade.
As I venture more into Italy and other parts of Europe I hope to give a greater perspective of Italian and European culture. Now I’m going to go back to living “La Dolce Vita”.
My name is Alex, and I’m a Junior concentrating in Finance. Currently, I am studying at Bocconi University in Milano, Italia, and I must say studying abroad is somewhat of a dream. From the moment I stepped off the plane I have had experiences and adventures that will last me a lifetime. One of my main goals/reasons for studying abroad, aside from getting an education, was to explore my host country as well as surrounding ones in Europe. Let me just say this, Milano is by far the best city to find cheap flights to other countries. Far more superior than any other country, in my opinion. I’ve traveled all over Italy, as well as Belgium, Spain, Sweden, Britain, Scotland, Ireland just to name a few. The greatest thing is most of my flights and train traveling is consistently under 20 euros round trip! Ridiculous! Next on my list of places to visit will be Germany to meet up with another fellow UW student in Berlin.
All jokes aside, Bocconi is a great university, and I’m really learning a lot about European viewpoints of society, as well as meeting a lot of great people. Classes are in English, which helps a lot, but it’s really interesting doing case studies that are centralized around the European economy. Moreover, because I am based in Milano, the financial capital of Italy, I am given the great opportunity to be surrounded by an economically stimulated society that only helps and strengthens my international experience.
Anyway, to wrap things up, Milano is a great place to study business. It has great food, great sports (AC Milan), great culture (The Last Supper, The Duomo), great people, and a great transportation hub. However,if you do plan on coming to Italy, one thing to know is be prepared for a true language barrier. Most Italians speak poor English if any at all. Luckily, because Milano is such a major business center a large population of people are able to speak English fairly decently; however, other places you may not be as fortunate, but that’s what being in a foreign country is all about!
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.
I have one more month left at the Universita Bocconi in Milano, Italia. When I look at all the things I have learned from my travel experiences and from the school, I can honestly say that I have never been more challenged in my life. My greatest fear before I arrived in Milan was taking a taxi cab by myself. I didn’t know how to read a map and I have never used trains, metros, and airplanes on my own.
The challenges I faced and continue to face have forever changed who I am. I have grown so much from this experience that there is nothing I would change or would replace my time here with. I have constantly pushed myself beyond my fears and limits I had before I came to Bocconi. Even now, I still push myself further and further, and I amaze myself at my capabilities.
I arrived at 11 pm in Milan, and five hours later I flew to Barcelona. I traveled to Barcelona with two people who I met on facebook. I fell in love with the architect Gaudi and attended my first football match at the FC Barcelona stadium. At the hostel, we met three guys from Norway and at 1 in the morning on our last night, all six of us took a five hour bus ride to Valencia, Espana to throw tomatoes at thousands of people at La Tomatina. At this event, I met a girl from Australia and we have continued to keep in touch.
After Spain, I flew to Berlin where I learned the incredible history of the Berlin Wall. I attended a Protestant Church service in German which is not too common since Catholicism is more widespread. I also stood on the very ground where Hitler committed suicide and had a sad day as I visited a concentration camp where hundreds of thousands of lives were lost. I will always remember the stones on the tombs left by present day Jewish families, and flags representing the different nations that were affected by World War II.
After Berlin, I celebrated a friend’s birthday in Venezia, Italia where I attended the 66th Annual Venice Film Festival. Here I almost touched Nicholas Cage but got Eva Mendez’s autograph. I also got to watch an interesting assortment of international films, and I was fortunate enough to sneak into the press area and listen in on the press conference.
At Firenze, Italia, my friends and I had drinks on the top of Michelangelo’s Hill after looking at David.
My friend Vance and I, visited our friend Annemarie in Poland. We met her through the Foster Global Business Case Competition since Vance and I were ambassadors; we told Annemarie we would love to visit her. Who would have thought that we would actually have the chance to?
On my way home from Poland, I had a seven hour layover in Prague. I hopped on a bus and went to the center of town. I didn’t have a map, and with my luggage in tow, Vance and I headed for a hill that had a castle on top. We probably saw at least half of the old town Prague that day and the castle on top of the hill was an actual castle; the Prague Castle.
One of the best things about being on an exchange is the people you get to meet. I have met a great group of friends, and all 10 of us took a trip down to Rome together. I made a wish at the Trevi Fountain, walked around the Coliseum, and also did too many museums I could count. We went to Vatican City, and here I was able to see the Sistine Chapel and enter into St. Peter’s and attend a mass.
I also went to Budapest. I didn’t realize I had gone on Uprising Memorial Day (October 23rd). Here I witnessed thousands of people gather to parliament for a protest.
In Vienna, Austria, I fell in love with the Swan Lake and saw an incredible opera: Lady Macbeth. The Swan Lake performance was unique: it was the 200th performance at the Vienna Opera House and instead of having three leads, the company brought in eight of the top performers in the world. I also went during Austrian day and got to meet the president of the national council in Austria’s parliament.
Paris was beautiful, absolutely breathtaking. No words can ever do justice on this magnificent city. The Notre Dame, Sacre Coeur, Eiffel Tower, and of course the delicious pastries lining the cobblestone streets. This a city I have to constantly visit in my life for the people, the food, the energy, are so beautiful that it is something I crave now that I have experience Paris.
My last journey ended in Greece where I watched another UW student, Kathy Wilson, finish the original Athens Marathon. Greece, along with Paris, is indescribable. However, there is nothing like touching pillars that have been around for thousands of years or standing on the very ground the initiated democracy. In addition, I will never forget the anguish followed with joy that shined the faces of those who completed the marathon; I nearly cried when I saw a man in his 80’s finish the race, his face was beautiful and filled with self triumph of his accomplishment.
In order to have gotten to these amazing places, I took busses at 3 in the morning to take a 6 am flight. I took trains in the afternoon and walked for hours trying to find a hostel. I learned how to read a map since getting lost was too time consuming.
I am about to graduate, and I feel as though I am ending my time at Foster the best way possible. I have visited 10 countries and over 19 cities in the past three months. The people I have met are incredible and have attributed to my new ways of thinking and looking at the world. Bocconi is a great university, and this subject deserves its own blog as well. I strongly recommend doing this exchange program, it will open your eyes and you will have the most amazing time you have ever had in your life.
It’s unrealistic to expect that a study-abroad experience will go without a problem. Yet I expected studying in Italy to go exactly like that- without a single problem. For the most part, it has. However, things like missing American holidays, getting sick, and coordination of two lives do lead to unnecessary frustration.
American Holidays- I wasn’t too broken-hearted about missing Labor Day. Or Columbus Day. Or Halloween. Or even Veterans Day. However, when it came to Thanksgiving, I was determined not to miss it. Thanksgiving is such a family-oriented holiday, I got a little mopey just thinking about it. Luckily, my fellow Americans here in Milan pulled through for me. My friend Mike had his mom visiting the week of Thanksgiving, and she graciously agreed to cook a real Thanksgiving dinner for us- complete with turkey. As Mike didn’t have a stove, I ended up hosting six other American students (and Mike’s mom) for Thanksgiving.
Mike’s mom saved the day. She brought pumpkin pie all the way from the States (Milan doesn’t have a lot of traditional Thanksgiving food). She cooked turkey, sweet potatoes, gravy, and a whole host of other Thanksgiving food. Instead of spending an American holiday Italian style, I ended up celebrating with six of my closest American friends here who have truly become like my second family in this study abroad experience.
Getting Sick: shortly after Thanksgiving, I got sick. At first, I thought it was a cold. But then it got worse- I could barely breathe, my voice completely disappeared, and my head felt ready to explode. Feeling terrible, I went to Bocconi’s International Student Desk (ISD) to ask for advice. They were amazing. With one look at pathetic me, someone whisked me off to go visit an Italian doctor.
In Italy, you can get most medications at a pharmacy, where the pharmacist has the capability of prescribing medications. You can actually get a lot of strictly controlled medications in the US just by talking to a pharmacist free of charge. However, in my case, I was taken to the doctor for a more refined diagnosis. The ISD was afraid I had pneumonia. Thankfully, I only had bronchitis. I was sent home with a variety of antibiotics, cold medications, inhalers, and a stronger version of Sudafed. I was under strict orders to rest, drink plenty of fluids, and to make not developing pneumonia my new number one priority in life.
Getting sick abroad isn’t a whole lot of fun- not that it is back in the States either. After two days in bed, I was ready to die from the loneliness of it. My roommate, afraid I was contagious, was avoiding me like I had the plague. My friends, also fearing for their own health, did the same. I can’t say that I blame them- but it was really lonely there for a while. Especially because I couldn’t talk for several days because of inflammation in my throat, which meant not even phone conversations. I’m now well on my way to recovery- just a few more days of taking antibiotics and then I should be fine.
The third difficulty of being abroad that I mentioned was coordinating two separate lives. I live my Milan life right now- I have Milan friends, Milan classes to worry about, a Milan home (and all the associated worries/tasks), and all the associated things that go with being an Italian (Italian holidays, customs, etc). Then there’s my Seattle life. Trying to keep up with my Seattle friends, my actual family, and what’s going on back home is hard, especially with the nine hour time difference. On top of that, I have to coordinate things for leaving Italy and moving back to Seattle.
While abroad, I’ve found a place to live back in Seattle, missed my younger sister’s bridal shower, gotten an internship offer, filled out masters applications, struggled with the financial aid office, and registered for classes(and re-registered multiple times). I sometimes feel like I’m being pulled in two- and being forced to choose between two worlds. Then I take a deep breath, tell myself I can do this, and move forward. I think mastering the international juggling act is one of my biggest accomplishments while abroad. I can do this, I can do anything. Everybody has been really great and really tried to make this process easier (special thanks to Sharmon in the advising office- you have been fantastic!).
Please don’t get me wrong- I LOVE studying abroad. I wouldn’t trade this opportunity for anything. The things I have learned, the people I’ve met, the experiences I’ve had- they all more than make up for the minor difficulties I’ve described. Life back home was a difficult balancing act, getting sick was no fun, and holidays were just as difficult to coordinate there. I would highly recommend studying abroad to anyone- just know you have to be motivated, and it’s easier if you have people to lean on.
A lot changes when you study abroad. For me, one of the most stressful things was to find housing in Milan. Based on previous students’ experience, I knew I did not want to live in the foreign students’ dorm. This meant turning to the internet to find housing in a country where I barely knew anything about the language. With a lot of searching and more luck, I eventually found a girl heading to the U.S. who needed a sub-letter for her room for fall semester. This sounded perfect to me. We exchanged a flurry of emails over the summer, and then I headed over to Milan in August to officially begin the living-abroad experience.
I love my room. I love my Milanese apartment. It was remodeled two years ago, and the inside looks like an IKEA showroom (for good reason: the contractor refurbished the place with purchases from IKEA). Downstairs are the kitchen, bathroom, and lounge area, while the bedrooms are upstairs. Best of all though, I can live with my roommate.
I was really apprehensive about having an Italian roommate. I feared the worst. I don’t speak Italian well, and she doesn’t speak English- so how would we communicate? What if she threw loud parties every night? What if, what if, what if dominated a lot of my thoughts about my roommate before I met her. I never really thought about what she would be thinking before meeting me.
The day that my roommate moved in (I had been in Milan for three weeks by then, taking a language class), she showed up on the doorstep with her entire family- mom, dad, brothers, cousins, etc. The entire family even stayed the night in our tiny apartment (in all fairness, the cousin lived next door, so the extended family stayed over there). As nervous as I was about meeting my roommate, it turns out she was far more nervous to meet me, an American student from the UW.
Since that time, her family has gone home, and we’ve really gotten to know each other. True, communication can be an issue, but we can generally work it out. We have more language dictionaries floating around our apartment than the amount of languages we speak. If there are any problems, we’ve mastered the art of facing them head-on, rather than silently fuming about them. Mainly, our problems have been cultural and not really clashes of personality. I’ve really enjoyed living with her, and learning about Italians more. After all, I came to Italy to learn what it meant to be Italian and to learn what life was like in a different culture.
Still, with all my willingness to learn, it is extremely nice to have my own room. When life gets too overwhelming or too stressful, when I miss the UW or can’t figure out what I’m doing next quarter, I can retreat to my room, and enjoy that rare feeling in Italy of being alone.
I don’t know that I would call myself a runner. I can run, but I often don’t. Instead, I jog. Daily. During the past year at the UW, while balancing work and classes, this meant getting up at 5:00 am. I managed- and it’s become a daily ritual since (though not the super-early part). Every (almost) morning that I have been abroad, I have gotten up to go jogging.
The feelings I get from these experiences are indescribable. I have felt the wind and the rain coming off the North Sea as I’ve made my way over the cliffs around Scarborough. I’ve watched the sun rise over Venetian canals, pounding over eerily empty bridges at the near-dawn hour. In Budapest, I have yelled with Hungarian runners from the tallest hill in the city, celebrating our morning uphill run and our victory over the steep slope (that’s my translation of what we were yelling… everyone else was speaking Magyar, but still, the camaraderie was there). The Sonian Forest of Belgium was magical in the way that story tales are magical- for the first time since I was six, I believed in fairy tales again.
In Italy, especially in Milan, running doesn’t seem to be popular. In fact, most Italians think it’s strange. Still, some of my best Italian experiences have been while running. I’ve run with the Hash House Harriers, a group of ex-pats who refuse anything to do with competition. I struggled to fourth place with my classmates and professors through the Bocconi Run, an 8K race put on by the university (much like the Dawg Dash back home). My running community is amazing- and I don’t mean just the runners. The tabacchi shop near my house has an early-morning breakfast crowd, always ready to cheer me to my finish and often, to buy me a cup of espresso after. I have been offered more rides home by well-meaning Italians (who fear I am only running from necessity) than I can count. In their generosity, when they realize I truly mean to continue jogging, I am often given a water bottle (or in one notable case, a beer) to help me on my way. At first strange, I have come to realize this generosity is just part of being Italian. I’ve learned to accept it, and return it when I can.
In a way, I feel like I’m back at home when I jog. It doesn’t matter that I often don’t speak the right language- all that’s needed are nods of acknowledgment, easily given smiles, and the ability to high-five anyone and everyone. The rules of running (or in my case, jogging) don’t change from country to country. The feeling of camaraderie is always there, the belonging. Some are more willing to accept me as a foreigner, some encourage me to run with them (as they insisted in Germany), but for the most part, these are passing relationships that start my day off right by reminding me that though I am far from home, I am never far from a friendly community that exists everywhere.
Next Sunday, I’ll be running my fifth marathon- though my first abroad. In Athens, it’ll trace the original route of Pheidippides, who ran from Marathon to Athens to declare the Greek victory in battle, and then died. I’m hoping to avoid the death part. Understandably, I’m nervous, but I know that I’ll be racing in a running community. Even though they speak Greek, the language of running won’t change that much.