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”.