Chiara's Exchange in Milan December 23rd, 2017

When we had to choose our semester abroad locations, I had the feeling that the general motive was to get out of Europe. I had a different motive: I wanted to learn Italian. At my exchange university, Bocconi, I was able to do exactly that while studying at one of the world’s best universities for economics and, generally, just having a great time. 

To get the full Italian experience I worked as an Au-Pair in an Italian family in the beautiful mountains of the Emilia Romagna during the summer. It was the perfect combination of improving my Italian, experiencing the real Italian life and travelling on my free days. This way I travelled to most of the big Italian cities from Milan in the North over Bologna and Florence to Naples in the South (just to name a few big ones). Definitely, a highlight of my travelling was hiking from one village to another in Cinque Terre. Even though I had a great time as an Au-Pair, I could not wait to finally move to Milan. 

Milan is a paradise for anybody who loves food. I, at least, loved going out for aperitivo which is meant to be just a snack before dinner but as students we usually interpreted it as dinner. That meant a nice cocktail and a buffet of Italian food for only 7 to 11 Euro. Overall, the food was just amazing! Pizza, pasta, gelato, so simple but so good!

Bocconi is the oldest and most prestigious economics university in Italy - and private. Gucci and Louis Vuitton bags, credit cards as student IDs or random art galleries in the university lived up to the private university stereotype. I took the opportunity of choosing non quantitative courses and went all out: I attended a course in Sociology and another course called Management of International and Supranational Organizations which was basically about the UN and the EU. I also took two economics courses, Experimental Economics and Psychology and Economics (Poverty, Inequality and Income Distribution) and an applied statistics course called Applications for Management. All of my courses were super interesting and the professors were very enthusiastic about what they were teaching! Most professors often included topics from their own research. Something that I was a bit worried about in the beginning was that there were only lectures and no tutorials. In the end, it turned out the be completely fine because most of my professors tried to be as interactive as possible and had the tendency to repeat everything so often that even the person in the last row on Facebook had to understand at least the basics of the lecture. Next to all the courses, Bocconi has a lot of associations, although most of them are academic. At least once a week I could attend discussions, symposiums or other interesting events hosted by the university or an association. 

Now coming to my conquest to learn Italian. Besides speaking Italian for the entire summer during my time as an Au-Pair, I attended the language courses that Bocconi offered – an Italian crash courses before the start of the semester and also a follow up course throughout the semester. As my goal besides having an amazing semester abroad was to improve my Italian, I took every opportunity to speak and practice it. So, I participated in the Bocconi language exchange where I met up once a week with an Italian girl and together we practiced her German and my Italian. I was also very lucky to live with three Italian girls who only spoke Italian to me! I am so proud of them because they never switched to English when I didn’t understand them but kept on repeating or rephrasing what they were saying. That was super useful but at times also challenging. The top of the iceberg regarding my self-imposed Italian commitments was taking the CILS B2 exam at the end of my stay. CILS is basically the Italian equivalent of the Cambridge certificate. For anybody who wants to learn Italian, Bocconi offers many opportunities!

Even though I improved my Italian a lot during the summer, I did not dare to take any courses in Italian. That made it pretty difficult to connect to Italians at university because most of the English courses were also electives and therefore mostly filled with exchange students. The Italian crash course and the international welcome activities formed, however, a great bond between the exchange students. One of my favorite moments was at a Christmas dinner with some friends when we noticed that all of us eleven were from different countries. 

Milan is also a great location to travel around Europe. With three airports and a very busy Flixbus station it doesn’t take long or a lot of money to get where you want to go. Besides my tour of Italy, I got to explore Barcelona, the French Riviera, Vienna and Budapest, where I visited Majd. A friend from my Italian course was from Barcelona and she invited another friend and me to join her when she went back to vote in the referendum about Catalonia’s independence from Spain. Even though we came across some voting stations and saw all the people lining up to vote, we didn’t see any violent confrontations (fortunately!). It was really fascinating to be there and see these historical moments (the peaceful part I mean) first hand and not through the media. 

What I really liked about Milan was that there were always things going on, mostly related to food. I don’t think there was a week when I could not have gone to a food truck festival, sagre (festivals dedicated to a specific type of food: potatoes, pumpkins, ravioli, risotto, etc.) or other food festivals. I can tell you, as a food enthusiast, I had a great time! Besides all the food, Milan also hosts many concerts and luckily during the time I was there, two of my favorite bands – The Kooks and Milky Chance - were performing in Milan. And last but not least, Milan is of course one of the world’s fashion capitals. It was really funny to see the Milanese people go crazy during Fashion Week. 

I don’t think I could have picked a better location for my semester abroad. I got to enjoy amazing food, go to a great university and for me most importantly learn Italian.