When I first arrived in Milan I felt as though all my Italian language skills had left me. I arrived at the place where I would be staying for the first five days after a brutal journey of 21 hours. Lack of sleep had left me exhausted and after greeting the family with whom I would stay, I retired to my room where I slept for over 12 hours.
The first few days were a blur for me as I adjusted to the time zone; eight hours behind the time of the Sunshine Coast. During this time I familiarised myself with the surrounding area. I practised speaking italian with those whom I stayed and visited cafes for breakfast most mornings so I could practise using simpler phrases. It was difficult to adjust to the timezone and often woke at odd times during the night.
It was during this time that I was contacted by an Italian friend, whom I had met earlier in the year whilst he was on exchange at USC, and he offered that I stay with him and his family prior to living at the IULM residence. I gladly accepted his offer and stayed with his family for a week.
During the day I would spend time with his mother or father; going shopping, going for a bike ride at Parco Nord or just going around town. My friend’s parents even assisted me with completing my permit of stay for which I am very grateful. During the nights I would go out with my friend and meet up with his friends. We would sit and talk somewhere or go to a pub and sometimes to the local clubs. It was difficult to communicate and understand and I was constantly asking that they repeat or speak slower.
On the first of September I arrived at the residence. I was given a tour of the residence before being shown to my room. After all the introductory stuff had been finished I was left to myself. At first I was disappointed with the size of my room. It was small, containing two beds, two desks, a bathroom and a balcony. Although I was disappointed I accepted that this would be where I will be living for the following 4-5 months. The room now feels to me like my own and I enjoy having a roommate.
The residence has a capacity of 150 students, two students per room, spread throughout four floors. There are two kitchens, each containing a table and a few chairs, a fridge and freezer, a sink and a stove top. The kitchens are the social gathering places around meal times and are often full of people. I have found the best way to get a spot to cook is to arrive early or go between meal times.
I met my roommate from the first day I arrived. We quickly became good friends and not long after I was going out every second or third night with him and his friends. During the next three weeks, up until he left for an internship in France, my Italian language skills improved greatly and swiftly.
On the 15th of September my Italian intensive class began. I was a little nervous at first as we all sat through the introductory lesson presented by the exchange program at IULM, Erasmus, and by the student network group, ESN. It was during the first and second classes that I met a Brazilian boy and a Spanish girl. The three of us quickly became close friends and have remained so the entire semester.
For all of the Erasmus/exchange students, ESN organises nights out, activities and daytrips to places all around Milan. It was at one of these nights that myself and my newly acquired friends met a bunch of Spanish students and a couple of Turkish girls.
I must at this point mention that amongst us, we have spoken mostly in English, though I do not think this has diminished my Italian skills as we were often out and about town amongst other students, or we were discussing Italian and how one would say something or another. I found myself teaching the Italian that I knew to those to spoke little or none at all, thus helping cement my knowledge of the language.
When I wasn’t out with my friends who were also in exchange, I was with students at the residence speaking lots of Italian and socialising.
Once the semester had begun, and I had chosen my classes I quickly realised how difficult it was to take classes entirely in Italian, however over the semester I learnt not to translate every word (which would cause me to miss what was said) and instead listen and try to grasp the context of what was being said. This realisation has aided be in understanding Italian in all situations.
Of all the great experiences however, there were a few bad ones. One night returning late on a bus, I had my phone stolen from my pocket. Luckily for me I had insurance and was able to claim some money back. An overall problem also was that the WiFi is very poor at the university, (only the two cafes have WiFi) and unless you own a computer, you will not have internet access within the room. Thankfully my roommate had a router which I was able to use. Unfortunately another bad experience was that on a trip to Oktoberfest, our bus broke down due to an inexperienced driver and the bus company refused to send a replacement bus. That night we spent nine hours stuck at the rest stop half way up the Alps.
Overall my experience here has been wonderful. The people are very friendly and welcoming. My language skills have improved greatly and I am able to have conversations entirely in Italian, generally without asking too much for the person to repeat. My experience with the professors has been good as they are aware of the difficulty of studying in a foreign language. I have had some free time in which I’ve used to visit other cities. Italy is a beautiful country, rich with culture and history. If I could, I would without much hesitation prolong my stay here.