Trent – Universita Commerciale Luigi Bocconi
Semester 2, 2019
Bachelor of Business / Bachelor of Laws (Honours)
I’m writing this blog post while on the train from Milan to Bologna, one of a few last stops before I finish living la dolce vita. Bologna felt like a fitting end given its feature as the setting in John Grisham’s The Broker was part of what made me fall in love with the idea of an exchange in Italy. I’ve been one of many students fortunate enough to travel the world while on exchange at Bocconi University in Milan this semester. I, like most I would think was pretty nervous about the idea of moving overseas for the better part of six months, and recall being a little sceptical of everyone offering up cliché’s such as ‘it’ll be the best time of your life.’ Without a doubt my experience exceeded all expectations, but it’s not without challenges and I hope I can provide some insight for those considering an exchange to Italy.
TLDR; In the same way that university is, exchange is what you make of it – so stress less and try to live like an Italian (from the south!).
Despite the warnings of others, I arrived in Milan during August which some of you may know is the month within which Ferragosto falls, and recall thinking to myself ‘how quiet can it really be? ‘This is Milan after all’ (famous last words). As it turns out, basically everyone escapes Milan in August for their summer holidays down south, so it was a little quiet and to be honest a rather underwhelming start. Nevertheless, it was a good chance to settle into the city and get my bearings while it felt like I was effectively one of the few people living there. If you’re planning on going early, spend the week exploring the south while it’s still warm!
To quote a friend,
‘…in Italy, you’re either the person relaxed about everything, or the one frustrated by that person.’
My first encounter with the infamous Italian bureaucracy was when attempting to buy a semester-long train ticket, which required a passport sized photo, a small tree’s worth of paperwork and about three hours of my life I’ll never get back. Having said that, it was definitely worth the pain (despite the stereotypes, I found Milan’s public transport and in particular, the underground Metro network to be reliable. Unfortunately, there’s no UberX in Milan so ~€22/mth for unlimited public transport is the most student-friendly option.
After a few days the Whatsapp groups started appearing (as a heads-up, Aussies, Kiwi’s and our North American friends seem to be the few remaining students who communicate via Messenger so brush up on how to use a Whatsapp ‘sticker’). It wasn’t long before I found myself accepting an offer to meet up with a few exchange students over aperitivo, a northern Italian tradition where your drink comes with a selection of snacks.
I’ll allow myself to offer at least one cliché; say yes to these opportunities and put yourself out there as much as possible because the group I found myself with along the Navigli that night ended up becoming life-long friends and I can’t imagine my time at Bocconi without them. It was a relief to hear others in the same position, asking ‘what have you been up to? It’s pretty quiet hey…’ I know I felt the pressure to be making the most of every possible second, and it took me a while to recognise that it’s okay to have some down time, so be sure to pack at least one good book and pencil in a few series to binge on Netflix or whatever the platform of choice is by the time you’re reading this.
One of the reasons I chose Bocconi was that it has an exceptional reputation (recently named the #3 business school in Europe by the Financial Times). Another was that with approximately 1,000 exchange students making up ~10% of the student population each semester I knew the university would be organised, at least by Italian standards. I wasn’t left without an opportunity to make friends as the semester started with two weeks of social events organised by either the university itself or the Erasmus Students Network.
There was something for everyone from football matches to afternoons exploring George Clooney’s Lake Como. While all this was going on, we started our Italian Crash Course, and I can’t recommend it highly enough. Not only was it a great chance to meet new people, but I found it made a marked difference being able to roll out a few lines of Italian whenever the chance arose. The weekly follow up course that many seemed to opt-out of, was one of the highlights of my exchange (even if I was lost for most of the semester!).
Advice for subject selection
Another generic piece of advice I was given was to ‘take all the bludge subjects you can – why take hard sounding subjects while on exchange?’ So, when class selection rolled around I picked a bunch of classes with vague sounding titles. However, after attending my first lecture I knew I’d made a mistake because it was just painfully boring (thankfully Bocconi has a subsequent add/drop period in week 2 so you can easily switch!).
My thoughts are why suffer through boring subjects deliberately? It’s hard enough to study when you’re on exchange so you may as well at least like what you’re doing! In the end, Applied Valuation Analysis for Mergers, Acquisitions and Other Business Combinations was one of my favourite classes. Overall, if you can see past the general disorganisation and laissez-faire approach to process, it’s not hard to see why Bocconi is a first-class institution. Three of my four lecturers ended the semester with ‘you all have my contact details so reach out if there’s anything at all I can do to help you – whether that be career or academic advice,’ and you could tell they meant it. That’s a culture thing. I had heard mixed reviews on the academic rigor of Bocconi, and the truth is you can extend yourself as much or as little as you like.
As to housing, I was lucky enough to secure a spot in Rezidenza Isonzo, one of the many student dorms provided by the University. There are a few tradeoffs when considering this one… Living in the dorm is definitely the most cost-effective option given Milan’s rental market, and as a plus you don’t need to deal with an Italian landlord when something inevitably doesn’t work. On the other hand, you do give up a few freedoms in terms of space and having friends over whenever you like. If I had my time again, I’d probably make more of an effort to find a rental place with other students.
Having said that, my eventual roommate Dani from Germany became one of my closest mates and friend for life. We also had access to Fifa, table tennis, pool and a gym so my advice would be apply for housing and see where you land (be sure to apply as soon as possible with all forms/documents at the ready as the available places go quick). If you are set on renting consider the Navigli and Porta Romana areas, both close to Bocconi and well serviced by public transport.
Life in Milan
As far as life in Milan goes, for some reason the city seems to have a mixed reputation and I recall one friend off-handedly saying ‘yeah I didn’t like it at all’ – Thanks… If you’re on the fence about Milan as a city feel free to reach out because I found it a great place to live and I think that’s the difference. Things work in Milan, it’s well connected to the rest of Europe and is the beating heart of Italy’s economy. I’d also heard that people in the north have a reputation for being a little frosty and while this is true at times, I hardly think that’s a feature unique to Milan.
One thing that I wasn’t used to compared with Brisbane was that there’s truly something going on every night of the week, whether it be a university social, €12 last minute tickets to La Scala or a Champions League match at the famous San Siro.
Food and drink in Italy
Now the bit you’ve been waiting for – food & drink. Best pizza in town is Pizza AM (although the better situated sister restaurant Piz, is a good alternative when friends and family come to town). I couldn’t go past Salsamenteria di Parma when it came to fresh pasta, but you’ll be well looked after anywhere in the Brera area. While it’s warm you’ll find all the Bocconi students enjoying an aperitivo around the Navigli (Milan’s canals) or dancing the night away at the lively Just Cavalli and Old Fashioned. When it comes to campus, Dhalia Lab is the Merlo’s of Bocconi.
However the university café does .75c coffee and fresh pasta/pizza each day for around €2 (there’s even automatic ordering machines for when you’re not feeling up to a conversation, and if like me you can’t decipher the menu have faith in the ‘primi del giorno’ (dish of the day) which never let me down. While I’m on coffee, latte translates to milk in Italian and the baristas will have no qualms handing you a cup of cold milk if you order one – save that mistake for the Americans… In terms of night life, there’s a different club for every day of the week, if that’s your scene I have no doubt you’ll figure that out in due course.
So there you have it, time for a few final words of wisdom: If you’re not sure what to say in Italian class, ask ‘come si dice (insert English word/phrase)?’ for a get out of jail free card. ‘Dov’é il bagno’ will help you find the loo. Make the effort to travel to Sicily while it’s warm and make sure to travel with new friends. Despite what nutritionists may argue, it is possible to live on a diet of pasta while alternating between tomato and pesto sauces for three months. Buy your cheese by the block. Pack gifts from home for friends you haven’t made yet. Best day trips from Milano? Parma, Turin, Lake Como – take your pick. Oh, and just be sure you spend more time being the relaxed Italian than the frustrated one.