Study Abroad Report Jen Wise Bocconi University- Milan, Italy Fall Semester ’03 firstname.lastname@example.org Introduction Milan is such a fabulous city, with so much to see and so much to do. It is home to the world’s third-largest cathedral in the world, the fashion capital of the world, two soccer teams, a huge financial center of Europe, and one of the biggest transportation hubs of the continent. I won’t lie to you by saying it’s the most beautiful city in Italy (I’m partial to Florence), but it certainly has character. I had wanted to go to Italy all my life, and when the opportunity presented itself, I couldn’t say no. I’m so glad I went. I had the best four months of my life. Studying abroad expanded my view of the world, and I made friendships to last a lifetime. I have a much stronger understanding and appreciation for my other cultures as well as my own. Studying abroad has so many advantages. I highly encourage you to try it. Academic Experience Bocconi University Bocconi is the most prestigious school in Italy, and it is highly regarded throughout all of Italy. All the Italian kids want to go to Bocconi when they get older, and students at the university are very proud to go there. There are around 11,000 students at the university, and most of the classes are held in two main buildings. -General academic structure The academic structure is completely unorganized and innefficient, as is most of Italy. This may sound bad, but it’s relatively easy to get used to. Grades in Italy are based on a numeric scale ranging from 0 to 30, 30 being the best grade you can achieve. In order to pass, you need an 18. They rarely give homework in Italy, and there’s no busywork. Most likely, your grades will be based solely on one or two exams. -Classes taken/how they compare to courses at Carlson You have to take between 4 and 5 classes during your semester in Milan. I took 4 classes: Enterprise & International Markets, International Financial Markets, Management, and HRIR. They were different in that they meet at different times each day of the week, which I found a bit odd. In terms of the amount of work required, I felt they were easier than most of the classes at Carlson. The classes require a lot of reading, but they weren’t too difficult. Classes are very interactive there, and they rely on heavy class participation. Students strongly express their opinions in class, and feedback is encouraged. Another thing: classes are huge at Bocconi. Most of mine had about 150 students per class. -Advising In terms of advising, you’re mostly on your own. Before you arrive in Milan, SEN (the Student Exchange Network) sets you up with a tutor, which is an Italian student who is available to answer questions about classes or anything else you need. Some students used this resource extensively, while others (like me) didn’t use it at all. The International Relations office is there to answer questions as well. They are a wonderful resource and they are more than willing to help out where they can. Even if you don’t use any of these, you shouldn’t have a problem. At Bocconi, you have a three week trial period to try out classes before officially registering for them, which is something you should take advantage of. In addition, ask Italian students you meet in the dorms or on campus. Overall, Italians are such warm, friendly people. They love to help out, and they are happy to answer questions you have. -Surprises/comparison with academic environment in the U.S. Like I said before, classes are super-unorganized and very loud. Sometimes, class would be moved to another room and no one knew where it was moved to. Or on other occasions, a professor will just decide not to show up for class. It can get a bit frustrated, but you’ve just got to adopt the Italians’ laidback attitude. They don’t let things like that bother them, so I stopped worrying about them as well. Logistics at the partner school: -Orientation/Arrival First of all, Milan has two airports: Malpensa (30 miles from the airport) and Linate (10 miles from the airport). If you fly into Malpensa, I recommend hopping on a bus that will take you to train station (Stazione Centrale). From there, you can take a taxi that won’t cost any more than 20 bucks. You can also choose to take a bus or the metro, but I felt that was too much of a hassle with all my luggage. From there, I recommend going straight to your dorm or residence and then to Bocconi. You just need to go up to the International Relations office (located on the 2nd floor) to check in. Soon after arriving, the IR office will have a big orientation meeting to give you all the details about your semester there. Like I said before, the IR office is amazing, and they really helped me quickly get acquainted with Bocconi and Milan. -Housing During my stay in Milan, I lived in Donna Javotte, one of the university dorms. I highly recommend the dorms, for their convenience and proximity to campus. They are by no means nicely furnished or upscale living, but they are a great way to meet people and interact with lots of people, exchange students and Italians alike. There are three dorms: Donna Javotte, Capitanio, and Pensionato. Donna Javotte and Capitanio are both a 5 minute walk from campus and Pensionato is connected to Bocconi by tunnel. All dorms have laundry facilities and daily housekeeping services. Capitanio and Donna Javotte have kitchen facilities as well and a computer room with two computers with internet access. Pensionato doesn’t have a kitchen, but it has a huge computer lab. The main drawback of the dorms (other than the cost) is a few stupid rules, like no visitors between midnight and 8:00. But other than that, I was very satisfied with my dorm. If you want to live in a dorm, you should send in your housing form as soon as possible to ensure you get the housing you want. Dorms go fast. If you don’t want or get a dorm, you can always find an apartment. It’s like the U, in a way.There are always people looking for roommates. SEN has a list of available apartments, and they are more than willing to help you find something. -Meals If you live in the dorms, you can cook in the kitchen. In Capitanio, each floor has refrigerators and a kitchen on each floor. If you live in Donna Javotte, there is a huge kitchen in the basement, and if you get there early enough, you can get a padlock for your own cupboard and fridge space. Pensionato doesn’t have a kitchen, but the cafeteria is in the basement. There is also a cafeteria in the main building. Their cafeteria food is cheap and quite good. For example, you can get a bowl of pasta or a huge slice of pizza for around $2. My roommate and I were too lazy to cook, so we always ate our meals in the cafeteria. You can also get a meal card, which costs $4 per meal, but includes pasta, meat, a sidedish, and fruit. -Transportation Since Milan is the second largest city in Italy, it have a wonderful public transportation system. It’s called ATM, so if you see that, it’s not a cash machine. Cash machines in Italy are called Bancomats. You have your choice of the metro, trams, and buses, and they can take you virutally anywhere you want to go within the city. It supposedly costs one euro per trip, but most people just reuse old tickets. The only way you can get caught is if some random ticket-checker guys get on the bus and want to see your ticket. You’re taking a bit of a gamble when you do that, but the worst that will happen is they will fine you. Just don’t pay it. I rarely bought new tickets, and never once got caught. If you want be a good citizen, you can buy a transportation pass from the ATM office by the Duomo. Milan is a major transportation hub, so they are also tons of trains going through the city as well as three airports in the surrounding area. Getting around the city or Europe was never a problem. There is one thing to be aware of in Italy. Public transportation frequently goes on strike, but only for a day or a few hours. The strikes are publicly announced, so just pay a bit of attention. Someone in class will probably be talking about them, or you’ll hear an announcement about it on the metro. They only happen every couple of weeks, but they can put a damper in your plans if you need to get somewhere. Just arrange a taxi in advance. -Student activity groups There really aren’t many student activity groups to speak of. I only knew of SEN, the Student Exchange Network. It is a group of Italian students who have all studied abroad before. Their goal is to be a resource to exchange students and help them have the most positive study abroad experience possible. They give all exchange students cards to get in free to certain clubs, and they also plans a few weekend trips. All of the exchange students go to those parties, so it’s a great way to meet new people. Italian Culture Italian culture is both very similar to American culture and very different from our culture. American influences are very evident, ranging from constantly hearing American music in the clubs to MTV to seeing little kids wearing Tommy Hilfiger sweaters with American flags on them. At the same time, Italian culture values different things than Americans. The importance of family and friends, carefreeness, and taking their sweet time are key ingredients to the Italian way of life. Italians are very close with their families, and many talk to their relatives almost every day. Whenever they see one of their friends, they greet them with a kiss on each cheek. Family is central to Italian culture. They are not worriers by nature. They let things roll off their backs, and they are not terribly stressed-out, like so many Americans tend to be. They are frequently late, and you will become quite familiar with the concept of “Italian time,” which means they arrive when they want to, regardless of whether you agreed to meet at a certain time. Italians are very passionate people who talk fast and use their hands to talk just as much as their mouths. I’d heard that Italy was a somewhat inefficient country, but I had no idea how true that really was. I stood in some many lines during my time in Milan. It’s incredible to think about. For instance, just to get a sandwich in the cafeteria, you have to stand in a line to pay for the sandwich first, then take your ticket and stand in another line to wait to get your sandwich. Here’s another example. Once you arrive in Italy, you must go get your “resident’s permit” within eleven days of your arrival. You have to get there really early, since the immigration office is only open during certain hours, and they don’t take appointments. I stood in line for over three hours to get a number, and then sat waiting for over three more. It was crazy. I remember thinking to myself, “This would never happen in America.” But that’s the beauty of it all. It’s a very different place and a different way of life. I appreciated America’s efficiency and organization more than ever before, but I also admired the Italian’s laidback attitude and carefree way of life. One surprise I had is that the Italians (as well as other Europeans) really like to stare….on the metro, at the university, at a restaurant, or anywhere. Even if you look back at them so as to catch them staring at you, they just keep on looking. I don’t think they mean anything by it. It’s just so obvious that we’re American, and I think they are intrigued by us. Don’t let it bother you. I quickly got used to it. It’s just another small thing to adapt to. To learn about Italian culture, I recommend reading about it or taking an Italian language class, through which you will not only learn the language, but a lot of culture as well. Many people recommend the Culture Shock book series, but I did not find the book terribly beneficial. A lot of the information either did not apply to me or I already knew it. I learned a huge amount about the Italian way of life in my Italian classes I took before I left for Italy. Although knowledge of Italian is not necessary to attend Bocconi, I highly recommend it. For the most part, you can get along just fine with no Italian skills at all, as you can take classes in English, many Bocconi students speak beautiful English, and English is widely spoken in all major European cities. Yet you get such a fuller experience if you can at least speak a little bit of Italian. Italian is one of the most beautiful languages in the world. It’s like a song, and it is so much fun to speak. I only took two semesters of Italian, but I at least knew the basics. When you arrive at Bocconi, they also offer a language class, which you should take, for several reasons. First of all, it’s a great opportunity to learn some Italian, a good way to meet people, and you get to arrive in Milan a couple weeks before class starts. Also, if you can speak Italian, you can interact with all the locals to learn about Italian culture. Once you are in Italy, there are several ways to immerse yourself in the Italian culture. Italians are very open people, and they love to talk, so they are always more than willing to talk about almost anything of interest to you. If you make an effort to get to know the Italians, they will welcome you with open arms. In my opinion, a semester at Bocconi offers a unique learning experience. With almost 300 exchange students, you have the opportunity to learn about more than just Italian culture. It’s such a unique experience. For example, within my circle of seven friends, I learned about Australian, Finnish, British, and Canadian culture. I had quite a few American friends, but they were all from different parts of the US, so I even learned some new things about American culture. Also, the IR office puts on lectures about culture and cross-cultural communications to foster a deeper understanding of Italian culture. On top of these, just getting out and about will help you gain insight on their culture. Go see an opera or ballet, go grab a cappuccino at a sidewalk bar, go see an Italian fim, or go shopping. All of these events are truly Italian experiences, and they will make you feel like less of a foreigner and more like a local. Social Life It is extremely easy to make friends at Bocconi. I met them through my roommate, who became a really close friend of mine. You can meet friends through the language class, at orientation meetings, and at regular classes. It is so simple to make friends because everyone is in the same situation. They’re all away from their friends and family in this foreign country where they can’t speak the language. It is amazing how close you can bond with the people you meet. My level of integration with international students was quite high. I had a tight-knit of six international students that I spent the majority of my time with, but I had numerous acquaintances from many countries throughout the world. Even though my closest friends were exhange students, that doesn’t mean it was difficult to make Italian friends. I had a few good Italian friends that I met in class and in the dorms, and I am still in contact with them. No matter how many fun things I did or how many beautiful sights I saw, the relationships I formed during my study abroad experience will be the things I remember most. I miss my friends like crazy, and we are already making plans to meet again in Italy within the next couple of years. In terms of nightlife, Milan’s club scene is one of the hottest in Europe. SEN sponsors a few parties every week. They are hosted at clubs throughout Milan, entrance is free, and you rarely have to wait in line. They are so much fun, and it makes you feel like a VIP since you get in right away. Go to these parties. You get to see amazing clubs full of all the “beautiful people,” and it’s a great way to connect with all the exchange students. For other activities, there are many sights to see in Milan. The biggest attraction is the Duomo, a huge Gothic-style cathedral in the middle of the city. It is said to be the third largest cathedral in the world. Also, da Vinci’s famous painting of The Last Supper is housed in Milan. I also highly recommend going to an opera or ballet at La Scala, the most famous opera house in the world. The International Office also organizes trips to some of these places, so I suggest checking them out. For all of you sports fans, Milan has two soccer teams, Inter and Milan, and soccer is huge in Italy. Regarding weekend activities, your options are endless. Europe is relatively small, so it is easy and quick to get places. All of Europe has an extensive train system, and it is pretty cheap as well. I didn’t get a Eurail pass before coming over, and I don’t recommend getting one. You can buy tickets when you’re in Europe for just as cheap or cheaper. During my time in Italy, I travelled to Switzerland, Germany, Spain, Belgium, the Netherlands, and several cities in Italy. Before I went to Italy, I was worried about how to travel between city to city on weekend trips, but it was so easy. You can buy train tickets right at the station, you can make hostel reservations online, and you can get maps at tourist offices. If you’re planning to travel a far distance, check out airfares online. There are several low-cost carriers in Europe. For example, my friends and I went from Milan to Brussels for $30. Check out RyanAir or EasyJet for good deals. Youth hostels are a good way to save money on accommodation. They usually cost between $15-$20 per night and some include breakfast. I guarantee that you will have no problem finding travel buddies. On any given weekend, people will be going virtually anywhere you want to go. Some are flying to Barcelona for the weekend, some are going to Lake Como on a day trip, some are taking the train to Venice and Verona, and others are taking a bus to Munich. That was a big conversation starter during the semester. “So, what are your plans for the weekend?” Just work it out with your friends, who wants to go where. Since I like to plan, my friends and I sat down and mapped out each weekend to insure that everyone got to the places they most wanted to travel to. That’s another thing I recommend. Choose some of the places you really want to go to, and make sure you get there. Even though you have 4 months there, the time really flies. For example, I wanted to go to Switzerland so bad, and I almost ran out of time. Three days before I came home, I ended up taking the train with my roommate for a daytrip to a little city in Italian Swizterland. I’m so glad I made it, and I would have been forever bummed if I hadn’t gotten to see snow-capped mountains. Another recommendation I have is to travel alone for a least a day or two. I went to Barcelona by myself since all of my friends were in Florence, and I had a great time. It was one of my favorite trips of the whole semester. It was exciting to know that I did it all by myself. I didn’t have to follow anyone’s agenda. I could do just as I wanted. In my hostel, I met some really cool people and spent the weekend sightseeing with them. One small thing I recommend is to get a travel guide. The Let’s Go or Lonely Planet guides are great. They have valuable information, such as hostel recommendations and maps. Every place I stayed on the weekends was found through my travel guides, and I was never once disappointed. A perk of studying at Bocconi is you will most likely get a two-week break during the beginning of November. Those two weeks are reserved for midterms, but most people (like me) only had two midterms, and they were both on the first day. So I had almost two weeks to travel with my mom. My mother and a family friend came over to visit me, and we did a quick tour of Italy. Flights are pretty cheap around that time, so it’s a great opportunity to have friends or relatives come to visit you. My mom only paid $370 round-trip from Minneapolis to Milan. It was great having someone from home come experience life as I did. It was so fun showing my mom around. I loved Italy so much, and I wanted her to love it, too. My mom had some trouble integrating into the culture, but I think that was because she didn’t understand the language at all, and she wasn’t used to being in big cities. But overall, she had a great time, and I was so glad she came. Other Stuff Budgeting It’s hard to say exactly how much money you will need, but excluding tuition, I spent around $5,000. This includes about $500 per month for rent, $250 per month for food, and the rest on travel and shopping. You can do it much cheaper. I spent a lot of money on food, since I didn’t want to cook. Also, I spent a large amount on clothes. Travel can get expensive, but you can do it more cheaply by staying in hostels and cooking for yourself. Trains are relatively cheap. For example, you can go to Venice for $20 one way, Florence for $25, and Rome for around $45. In addition, I bought a cell phone in Italy. It is almost a necessity, as the phones in the dorms don’t always work, and my cell phone was the best way for me to stay in contact with my friends. Also, it’s good in case of emergencies and such. You can buy one that will work when you get back to the States, like I did. They cost about $100, and then you can do prepaid. Text messaging is huge over there, and you will get addicted. Guaranteed. To pay for everything, I always used my VISA check card from TCF. I withdrew money using that card, and I charged my rent on that card. Just so you know, many hostels and hotels will only accept cash, as will many restaurants, so always have some cash on hand. I also brought traveller’s checks with me in case something happened to my cards, but I never ended up using them. Visas Before you go to Italy, you must apply for your visa. You can find the form on the Italian Embassy’s website. The address is http://www.italyemb.org/Visti.htm. A student visa is free. Make sure you apply for “multiple entry” if you plan on doing any travel outside of Italy. I recommend applying at least a month in advance. The sooner, the better, especially since Italians are known for being notoriously slow. Other recommendations. In terms of what to bring, it’s not too big of a deal because anything you forget, you can buy. The weather is pretty comparable to the weather in Minnesota, but it is more temperate in Milan. When I arrived in Milan in September, it was definite shorts weather (although wearing shorts in Italy is a big fashion no-no!). It was sunny with blue skies almost every day in September and October. It rained like crazy and started to get kind of cold in November. Bring an umbrella! Or just buy a cheap one from a street vendor. December was cold, but not like back here. The coldest it got was around 30 degrees, but I was sure glad I had my winter coat. I know this is obvious, but bring comfortable shoes because you will be walking so much. If you have anything you’ll want to plug in, make sure to buy an eletrical converter and adapter. The plugs are different in Italy. They just have 2 circular prongs, and their voltage is higher than ours. Even though there is computer access, the lines are often pretty long in the labs, so if you have a laptop, I highly encourage bringing it. There are several places to connect to the internet at the university, and you can connect in the dorms’ computer labs as well. Laptops also come in handy on the weekends when the university is closed as well as for group projects that you may have to do. Calling home: You can buy cheap phone cards from bars or magazine stands. Buy the Europa brand cards, and you get 180 minutes of time for 5 euros. It’s a great deal. I used them all the time. Conclusion I know this may seem like a very long report, but I hope it was helpful. I just had such a positive study abroad experience, and I hope that you will, too. If you have any questions at all, don’t hesitate to email me. I would love to share my experiences with you, and help you in any way possible. If you’re not sure whether or not you want to study abroad, I would say definitely do it. You won’t regret it. Whenever I tell someone I studied abroad, I often get the response, “Oh that’s so great. I really wish I would have done that.” I have never once met someone who regretting studying abroad. People regret not doing it. I cannot stress enough what an amazing experience it is. I learned so much about myself, other cultures, and the world in general that I could not have done through any other way than studying abroad. Studying abroad isn’t for everyone, but with an open mind and a little patience, you will get achieve great rewards if you decide to spend a semester at Bocconi.