Cue the Culture Shock

This week has been somewhat of a turning point for my time in Milan. October has arrived, and so has the colder weather, the final flock of mosquito’s and the homesickness that was bound to hit sooner or later (time for a bit of a rant) .

I’ve now lived in Italy for around 5 weeks and despite the time absolutely flying, the novelty of it has worn off a little. Back at my university in the UK, in the prep leading to the transition to study abroad, we were warned about this very moment. After the initial high comes a monumental low and there really is no escaping it. Everyone has shit days, sure, but  my new-found lack of patience with Italian culture is becoming very very annoying. I’m very much hoping this is temporary!

Being British, there are certain habits that I just can’t seem to get out of, even more that I can’t get into and aspects of Italian life that i just don’t understand in the slightest. So:

  • Queuing. Doesn’t seem to exist here. A concept that I’m finding very difficult to deal with.
  • Manners. Also don’t appear to exist.. although i think this may just be Milan. Saying please and thank you or holding the door for someone may be the norm back home but it’s very much not the case here.
  • Cups of tea. Try ordering one in a coffee shop. Go on, i dare yahhh… (very rare to come across.. just FYI).
  • 8.45am lectures. Lecturers are never on time, like, ever. They usually wander in to teach the class somewhere around 9.10… Except that one morning you have a little extra sleep and turn up at 9, only to be greeted with a look of disgust. Can’t win.
  • Opening hours. Lunch breaks between lectures are pretty common, and a very handy time to get all your admin done. However, no prizes for guessing what time the admin building closes…
  • The WHOLE Italian culture is just bizarre. This twitter feed seems to sum me up perfectly, and here it’s the COMPLETE opposite

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I’d consider myself a pretty patient person (try playing volleyball enthusiastically for two hours with 8 year olds at a summer camp where EVERY ball hits the net – no volley at all), but this is just something else.

October seems to be the month where everything starts getting a bit more real. Fresher’s weeks/fortnights are finished, deadlines and midterm exams are looming and the weather is getting a little bit shit. (Weather chat – typical Brit). Despite all the little things that get on my nerves from time to time, I know that the year abroad experience is a once in a lifetime experience and I know the skills and experience I’ll get from it will be so beneficial when i go back home next summer…

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I also know i’m not the only one getting frustrated and missing home. A lot of friends on their year abroad are also feeling the stress, and to be honest, i’m kind of glad. There really is nothing like a good whine on Skype to vent frustrations, and the past few days I’ve accepted that this is the way it is, and to just sit down, shut up and get on with it :’)

By the end of the year i’m sure i’ll have the patience of a saint and the determination to get through every frustrating situation under the sun. #win.

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Any tips on embracing a new culture would be very much appreciated. Really, anything at all!

A Little Visit to Cinque Terre

Okay, this is probably my new favourite place (topping my bed on a Monday morning and Bath at Christmas time). The whole area is on the west coast of Italy, and includes 5 little towns (Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore) from which you can hike along the coast.

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We caught the train from Riomaggiore to Monterosso al Mare on the first day of the weekend trip and hiked down too Vernazza. Never before have i walked up so many steps and today my legs are definitely feeling it! The route itself was only around 3 and a half kilometers but with the majority being vertical, it took around an hour and a half to get to the next town. Slowed down massively by stopping every 5 minutes for photos – the views were just something else! Once we arrived in Vernazza we found a cafe to have a rest. This is where i discovered what can only be described as heaven on a plate… the nutella bagel.

The view of Monterosso from the trail

The view of Monterosso from the trail

Having refueled on sweets and chocolate, we decided to skip Corniglia because it looked a bit shit on the guide we were given. We then headed to Manarola, which in my opinion is the prettiest of the 5 towns. After exploring the streets we settled on the rocks in the harbor to have a swim around in the sea. Not being able to move from this spot just because of the view, we stuck around until sunset and took some artsy photos to be all cliche n’ that.

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One thing we ha10707944_10152734102173536_1148721191_nd noticed (after waiting around for about an hour for a train) is that the public transport – comparable with Milan – is a bit rubbish. The train we ended up getting arrived back in Riomaggiore around 9.20pm, with our bus back to the hostel arriving at 9.30 – at the other end of the town which also happened to be at the top of a hill. A run to the bus was not what was needed but my legs are nice and toned now!

This weekend has been a real eye-opener to life outside Milan, and sort of restored the idea i had of Italy before coming here. The locals are SO nice and friendly, which really does give the place a cosy feel to match the aesthetic cuteness. The slow pace of Cinque Terre is one of the most appealing things about it, and i definitely will be going back there before the end of my year abroad! Undoubtedly a 10/10!

A few things I would suggest to get the most out of this amazing place…

1. Go off the beaten track. Explore all the alleys in the towns – there are so many little hidden gems!

2. Don’t miss your bus/train. They aren’t frequent at all. The amount of time we wasted at the train stations was a bit ridiculous.

3. Read up on the towns. If you know people that have already visited then that’s a massive advantage. Friends that has been here previously recommended boat hire, the best place to watch the sunset and the routes to take to see the most beautiful views (although it was all beautiful so that’s not as big of a deal!)

Now on to Rome and Naples!

Said Trip to Amsterdam!

So after the EF staff all going our separate ways, we managed to find some time we all had free, and had a little get-together – which felt quite bizarre without the usual heard of students in-tow. We typically ended up in a tequila bar in London at 4pm (as you do) which is where the whole Amsterdam story begins. Having decided that we deserved a holiday, and having found a journey for £29, it would have been rude not to really.

We left Victoria Coach Station around 10pm and arrived the next day in Amsterdam just before lunch. I wasn’t expecting this journey to be pleasant but I can say with some confidence that it was the longest 11 hours i’ve ever experienced. Although Eurolines coaches did have a lot of room, it was almost impossible to sleep and next time I will definitely come better equipped with a pillow, blanket, eye mask, ear plugs, maybe a duvet and an airbed too…

Stepping off the coach and navigating our way to the apartment took a fair while as dodging trams and cyclists was a lot more difficult than we had anticipated, but nevertheless as soon as we arrived we had a well-earned drink (free beer in the flat, absolute win) before planning the rest of the trip.

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View from the room: absolutely beaut.

Our agenda included a bike ride, a sex show and a trip on a ferry to a shipping container, which was interesting to say the least. The good thing about bike riding around Holland is that it’s cheap (because there are bikes absolutely everywhere to rent), it’s easy (because there’s actually proper infrastructure for bike-riders – they even have their own set of traffic lights!) and it’s completely flat, meaning we cycled a lot further than initially planned (mainly as a result of some poor map reading – yes, my fault again). The 3 hour route that was initially planned took around 7 hours before we gave up and got the tram. Thankfully, the public transport system was ‘ite.

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Windmill selfie…

That evening I met one of the friends i had made at EF over the summer (as mentioned in earlier posts) as she lives in Rotterdam – so joined us for a night out. The club we ended up in was in the red light district – but was actually pretty secluded. The combination of chart music with live saxophone and violin playing over the top was pretty creative, and the stoned locals were going absolutely mental for it.

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On the final night of our stay we hopped on a ferry to a unique little bar called ‘Pllek’ which i think may well be my favourite place in Holland. This also happens to be the shipping container i was talking about. The atmosphere here is ridiculously relaxing, and there’s even a fire pit outside by the river where you can sit and have your drink. Inside is pretty rustic and edgy, and despite it obviously being just a metal frame, it looks cosy too. Not entirely sure how they did it – absolute genius though. Highly recommended.

After having a chilled couple of hours in Pllek, we headed back to the red light district. As much as i’d rather not relive the experience, the show we ended up in was definitely a once in a lifetime situation (unless you’re a local – and by the look of things there were a few regulars sat in the front row). Anyway, Amsterdam on the whole was a nice way to end the summer and prepared me for all the tram-dodging that is now a daily occurrence here in Milan. The only thing missing was a trip to the IAMSTERDAM place like a proper tourist… maybe next time.

Pre-Milan. Working with EF

So a summer job of mine this year has been working with EF Education First – teaching English as a foreign language and leading activities with groups of students ranging from 8 to 17 years old. Despite the hours being ridiculously long, it’s honestly the most fun and rewarding job i’ve ever had! (Added perks of travelling around the UK as well).

The job for me started in Winchester as an activity leader. 3 days after the initial ‘Local Leader’ training I packed up my car and began the journey – only getting lost twice (if you’ve read my earlier posts you’ll know that map reading is definitely not my forte). I was assigned to welcome a group of Italian students as my managers assumed that because i was going to Milan for my year abroad, i’d have mastered the basics and could communicate reasonably. This was very much not the case.

By far my favourite activity during my time in Winchester was an evening games night, which escalated pretty quickly into a full-on chocolate fight after my activities manager and I covered the face of one of our students with the contents of one of the chocolate fountains. This did however turn on us pretty quickly…

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After two weeks in Winchester my contract had finished and Canterbury was next on the list – queue the 4 hour drive! My job in Canterbury included teaching as well as activity leading, so the staff were working from 8am til 10/11pm every day… which definitely did wear you down, but getting involved with the activities and making class fun meant that it didn’t seem like work in the slightest. I found the teaching to be extremely rewarding – so much so that after i graduate i’m considering a PGCE and a career in the classroom!

Canterbury itself is such a beautiful city, and a lot of time was spent in the town centre while the students ‘explored all the cultural areas, museums and ruins’ (went shopping). We managed to find a little independent coffee shop called ‘Brunch’ and essentially took over the top floor for the month that we worked there. Definitely contributed a LOT towards their profits. Basically an off-site staff room with a guitar supplied to calm us all after stressful days…

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As well as the standard day in the classroom, we also got to go on some pretty decent trips. These included London, Brighton, South Sea, Dover and Oxford which gave the students a chance to explore the South West a little more (and do some more shopping).

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You’re probably wondering – if you’re thinking of applying to work for EF – whether we managed to squeeze in a social life after spending around 15 hours a day on shift… the answer would be yes. Yes we did. The nights out with the staff have got to be the most entertaining events I’ve witnessed in a long time. Mix tiredness, lack of energy, excess caffeine and a need to escape a school environment with a good amount of alcohol and the result is quite spectacular.

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The group of people i had the privilege of working with this summer are some of the most hilarious and laid-back people I’ve ever met – which definitely made the experience as fun as it was, and i could not have asked for a better group! So at the end of a long summer, with long hours, occasionally stroppy students, the stress of showing a group of 25 around London and 6 day weeks, we treated ourselves to a little group holiday in Amsterdam!

The First Month in Milan

So I’ve been living in Milan for a month now, and i feel as though i’m getting used to the Italian way of life (lounging around, pushing all important work to the bottom of my to-do list and instead heading out for many many apiritivo’s – so far it’s going swimmingly). Having grasped basic Italian has definitely helped as well.

‘Non parlo Italiano’ seems to convince the street-sellers you don’t understand what they’re saying, despite telling them you don’t speak Italian… in Italian.

Since my last post I’ve been to the Grand Prix in Monza, moved out of the beautiful hostel i was living in, mastered the metro (ish), experienced Fashion Week (absolutely mental), joined the Bocconi basketball team (coach doesn’t speak English), tried some sushi (not keen) and most importantly.. passed the Italian course! (still not convinced it was worth 200 euros though…). Monza was such a fun day and despite having absolutely no interest in F1, i’d recommend a Grand Prix to anyone – the atmosphere was incredible! Italians are pretty passionate about cars, and after booing their own Ferrari drivers for being somewhat disappointing, they were all still running about on the track after the race going absolutely mental. I’m definitely feeling more settled and way more relaxed about nobody here seeming to have a care in the world, which initially freaked me out massively. I’ve never met so many people who just don’t give a fuck but as with everything else, it just takes a bit of adjusting!

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The past few weeks have absolutely flown by and it definitely doesn’t feel like I’ve made the most of being in central Europe travel-wise, so against my better judgement and the actual limits of my bank account, I’ve gone a bit OTT and booked a shit-tonne of trips. When you find flights across Europe for 19 euros, it’s pretty difficult to resist…Erasmus grant you’ve really helped me out here!

Next weekend will be spent hiking in Cinque Terre. A few friends have already been and it looks absolutely incredible! The journey takes 3 hours from Milan and the towns are pretty much on the beach – need to get a decent tan while the sun is still about so this trip has been timed perrrrfectly! WQTQ-cinque-terre-walking

Work-wise i’m not too sure what i make of the Italian education system. Some lecturers grade you on how much you participate in class – which is pretty uncomfortable when a fellow classmate kicks up a fuss about your point and a debate emerges. As i’m not a fan of public speaking, i will definitely be keeping my mouth shut in future. The decent thing here though is the option to do modules as a ‘non-attending’ student, meaning you don’t have to go to class and just read the textbook instead (absolute win).

Anyway, i actually do have a fair amount of work to do despite being convinced that the year abroad was basically a holiday (very much not the case). Definitely looking forward to having a gander around Europe though. Every cloud and all that…

Study Abroad – The First Few Days

Having only just arrived for my year abroad in Milan, there are a few things that should have occurred to me before now. First off is that I probably should have started organizing myself a lot sooner that two days before departure, and secondly, the fact that i’m now living abroad hasn’t really hit me yet. I arrived last Tuesday, and have since been running all over Milan to finish the admin (tax codes, apartment hunting, getting an Italian phone, registering as a student etc. etc.) before classes start on Monday. Having unintentionally visited pretty much every area of Milan as a result of my incapability to read a map has definitely helped me find my feet. Although after flagging down a LOT of locals to ask for directions (very few spoke English), I’ve learnt that my Italian can only get better. They seemed to appreciate the effort though!

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This is far beyond my navigating capabilities.

House hunting has been THE most difficult experience by a long way. It’s definitely a better idea to have a look around the apartment when you arrive rather than doing it online – the majority look nothing like the adverts! A lot of the exchange students I’ve met from the hostel I am currently living in have all had a great deal of trouble finding somewhere, as well as finding legit landlords. Getting an apartment near to the University within budget, without a ridiculous amount of rent and with a reasonable hygiene standard has proven to be quite the challenge. That being said, after 3 days of panic about the lack of apartments available – as well as having had my first room double booked and ending up in a hostel for two weeks – I’ve finally found a place!

The hostel itself is alright, and it’s interesting to meet people who are on their travels. What i hadn’t realized though was that the rooms were locked at certain hours of the day – meaning you have to take everything you need with you for the whole day. I found this out yesterday when i was woken up and kicked out at 11am, assuming i could return 5 minutes later when the beds had been made. After making breakfast and coming back to a locked door i realized this was not the case. I spent a good  3 hours in the communal area in my pyjamas not being able to do anything about the situation. Luckily one of my roommates had done the same thing, and so we shared the shame.

So far I’m yet to meet any Italian students, which is quite surprising although a bit of a relief as I definitely wouldn’t be able to hold a conversation with them. The people i have met though are all incredibly nice, and it’s reassuring to have others around who are in the same boat. Exploring the city with a new group of people has made the adjustment a lot more fun (and a lot less stressful – maps are not an issue for everyone so it would seem)… I’m yet to wrap my head around the public transport here though, that’ll definitely take some getting used to. The Italian drivers are absolutely mental and literally do not give a fuck –  a red light doesn’t always mean the’re going to stop and a green man doesn’t mean you can cross the road – it definitely requires some serious concentration to get anywhere!

Milan is definitely not what i had expected. The city is very relaxed and the locals (when they aren’t driving) are very friendly. I’ve been mistaken for a local a fair few times already despite wandering round with a map and a very confused expression so I guess i’m doing a decent job of adjusting to city life! One of the most beautiful places I’ve visited so far (apart from the Duomo) is an area called Navigli, which is close to the hostel and is a popular student area. Last night we spent some time at the Colonne di San Lorenzo near the canals after an aperitivo (a cocktail and a LOT of food for 8 euros) When in Italy..! The piazza was absolutely packed, music was on all evening and the atmosphere was amazing. So all in all a pretty decent night!

 

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This week has definitely had its low points, which probably would have been avoided if i’d sorted myself out before i flew over. Even so, the people I’ve met and the places I’ve seen more than make up for my assumption that I could wing-it when i arrived, which was definitely not the case. I’ve learnt the hard way that doing as much as possible at home before moving to a country where you don’t speak the language and where organization just doesn’t exist is the best way to go about settling in with minimal hiccups. More prep was undoubtedly needed on my part. Will that be the case next time? Doubt it.

That being said, I’m glad i had the opportunity to come here and i’m sure all the stress of the past few days will be worth it!