Experiences in Milan

As we continue to look back at experiences students had last spring, let’s turn to Linjiang Han, a Commerce major who studied in Milan, Italy on the UVA Commerce: Third Year Core: Universita Bocconi program to finish off her third year. In this post, she writes about her thoughts from during her second month in Italy!

One of my biggest challenges since coming to Italy is the use of clothes drying racks instead of dryers. I asked around and realized other European countries also use drying racks. When I lived in the United States, I used to wash my clothes once every two or three weeks. After coming here, I must wash my clothes every week because of the lag time for my clothes to dry as well as the small size of the washing machine.

Another difference is that the grocery stores and product container sizes can be much smaller than they are in the United States. I find this to be a fact that is rooted in culture and not likely to change. In the stores, there is also not as many selections as I am used to and prices can be higher due to the cost of living in Milan and the euro-to-dollar exchange rate. I try to save on expenses by finding less expensive restaurants and places to buy food in bulk.
Not only are the grocery store prices high, but also restaurant prices. While you do not tip in Italy, there are sitting fees that are essentially mandatory tips. These sitting fees are generally €2.50. Once, I thought I should save money and ate a small meal that was €4.50 only to realize the sitting fee costed over 55% of what I ate. To get around this problem, especially when I’m traveling and prices can sometimes be exorbitant in the first place, I will eat at cafes or small establishments where there is no sitting fee. However, when it comes to eating authentic Italian food, especially ones specific to a region, I am willing to pay more money for it. In the following photographs are some of the local foods I’ve eaten: Spaghetti al Nero di Seppia (Squid Ink Pasta) from Venice and Polenta e Osèi (Polenta Cake) from Bergamo.
Related to food, another challenge I encountered when I came to Milan was the late dinner time because of aperitivo. Since then, I have fully adjusted by to it by eating lunch at a later time or eating a snack around lunch time. After coming to Milan, I have realized that not only is my body affected by meal times, but that many Italian businesses tend to take a lunch break. Even at the university’s help desk, there is a three-hour window in the middle of the day when it is closed. Therefore, I am now accustomed to checking hours of operation if I want to go someplace close to lunch time.

Additionally, everyone places great efforts in sorting out trash in Italy. For example, we have five different trash bins in my apartment with one each for plastic, paper, glass, organic waste, and miscellaneous. In addition, personal bathroom trash must be taken out by each occupant that day. I was not used to taking out the trash every day, so it was an initial challenge to remember every day.

I have been exploring Milan by going to different neighborhoods/bureaus of the city. When I went to the northwest part of the city, I was surprised to find a Chinatown. I later asked around and discovered there is a large Chinese population in Milan. After my realization, I asked some Chinese speaking locals about their immigration and was informed they immigrated to Italy when the economy in the country was good and particularly because they already had friends in Milan. This really resonated with me because I immigrated to the U.S. from China. Beside is a picture I took when the Chinese New Year was approaching and I saw there was a lot of decorations in Chinatown. On Chinese New Year, there were so many Chinese gathered that could cause someone to think they were not in Italy anymore.

Unfortunately, I have had more practice speaking Chinese than Italian since I came to Italy. My Italian is very poor and I also cannot roll my r’s. Some Italians assume I cannot speak Italian because I am Asian and they are correct in this case. Once or twice, people have greeted me with “konnichiwa” or “nihao.” The most Italian I have used is to order food to the lunch lady or the basic phrases such as “thank you” and “you’re welcome.” However, I shall endeavor to learn more Italian while I also explore more of Milan.

My exploration of Milan includes going to its different museums. From my visits, I learned a lot about the history of the city I’m currently studying abroad in.  For example, in Milan, there is one central canal with many restaurants known as Navigli. However, in one of the museums, I learned Milan was once more like Venice with many canals but, due to industrialization, most of the old canals were covered over by concrete and Navigli now remains the only main canal in Milan. While I thought this was rather tragic, I am glad Navigli is still around as I often go there for aperitivo and enjoy the view (seen on the left). I believe that anyone who lives in Milan must have seen this beautiful view as they pass by Navigli.

Through walking around Milan and sometimes taking spontaneous routes and detours, I am becoming more attuned to the pulse of the city. I believe by the end of my experience, I will feel like a real local rather than just a student who attends one of its universities.

A big part of my goal for coming to Italy was not just getting to know Milan, as I wrote about in my last blog, but the country itself. By going to other Italian cities besides Milan, I have been able to see the part of Italy that’s less business-focused. In smaller towns like Bergamo, an hour away from Milan, the pace of life is slower, though definitely not lackadaisical, in which Italians take time to eat meals or sit in a gorgeous park to read. On the other hand, in cities like Venice where tourists outpopulate the locals, many of the locals I find are around retirement age and often keep to themselves.

I believe I am learning more about Italy, not only through a third-person point of view of traveling, but also interacting with local Italians wherever I go. In Venice, I talked to a local who actually spoke Chinese to me, a huge indication of the number of Chinese tourists who visit the city, and we discussed the city itself. He told me about the pollution of the canals that is not only caused by tourists, which I had previously assumed, but mostly because of the wastes from nearby plastic factories. When I brought up how the U.S. would usually fine such companies to clean up the waste, he replied that the red tape of the system means that these factories wouldn’t really be fined. I found this topic really fascinating because I don’t think I would have researched something like this before going to Venice and I got to see Venice beyond all the touristy canals and through the lens of a local.

Currently I have traveled to six different Italian northern cities, most of which are close to Milan. My travels have provided me the opportunity to practice Italian. Since Bocconi is an international school and my classes are all in the English, I don’t meet many Italians at school. When I go to stores and shops, I use very basic Italian phrases such as “how much.” Through my travels, I seek to gain a better understanding of the Italian lifestyle and culture that are shaped by the country’s history and geographical location. Later this semester, I hope to visit more Italian places, both cities and small towns, in my efforts to become more educated about the country I am living in.

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Rome: Pre-Departure Reflection

As students prepare to start fall semester abroad, we look back at the experiences of those who studied abroad last spring. Shivani Dimri is a History and Environmental Sciences major who spent spring of her third year on the IES: Rome program. Read her pre-departure reflections below, and stay tuned for more posts detailing her semester in Italy.

 

Warning: My thoughts keep zigzagging between English and Italian, making it that much harder to express my feelings about moving to Rome for the spring.

My name is Shivani. It’s an Indian name, but it has the same pronunciation in Italian. I am from Falls Church, Virginia and I’m a third year double majoring in history and environmental sciences. Let me tell you, I have been looking forward to study abroad since I started college, and I’m so excited that I’ll be departing for Rome at the end of January. I’m eager to improve my Italian, meet new people, and experience new cultures in Italy.

So…why Italy?

Arguably, the Italian language has defined my college experience more than anything. If you know me, you probably already know that I started taking Italian in my first year at UVa simply to fulfill the College’s foreign language requirement. Yet, I thought to myself, if I’m going to spend four semesters studying a language, I want to do it well. I want to actually be able to speak the language and retain this knowledge. With a positive attitude, I found that I really enjoyed Italian and had a knack for it, reading books and watching videos and finding any possible opportunity to speak it. By my second year taking Italian, I gained something that I didn’t expect to come from learning a second language: a new voice.

I know it sounds strange, but hear me out. Sometimes I’m afraid to speak in front of people I’m not already close with because I don’t want to seem stupid. Sound familiar, my fellow introverts? In a way, I have more confidence speaking Italian because it’s easier for me to assure my brain that it’s okay if the words don’t exactly come out right. It’s always okay to make mistakes, but my brain feels like I have more of a pass when it comes to Italian because I’m clearly not a native speaker. I started learning when I was eighteen years old!

With that being said, I look forward to speaking Italian in Rome with my host family, with my peers, and with anyone else I meet in the city! But of course, there’s more to my desire to go to Italy than learning the language and understanding my identity.

There’s history. My History Distinguished Majors Program thesis is on Italian imperialism in East Africa. The classes I’ll be taking at IES about modern and ancient Italian history fit right into my interests and Rome is the perfect place to take field trips related to what I’m learning.

There’s culture. As an Asian American student, I’m curious about the lived experiences of immigrants, minorities, and expats in Rome. I look forward to learning about their contributions to Roman culture through my coursework and when I’m out and about.

Oh, and I guess there’s food, too?

As a double major and DMP student, it’s taken a lot of planning and some challenging course loads over the last five semesters…but it’s all paying off because now I have the privilege to spend over three months in Italy! I leave for Rome on January 28th. My longer-than-usual winter break has been giving me time to relax at home…and pack, mine the internet for travel tips, and call upon Teresa (my friend and former UVa in Siena student) for advice. Now I just can’t wait for my adventure to begin!

Architecture in Venice

Emma Hendrix is a 3rd year student majoring in Urban & Environmental Planning in the School of Architecture. She is spending the fall semester on UVA’s Architecture program in Venice, Italy.

Grand Canal. Situated between the Middle East, North Africa, and Northern Europe, Venice was primarily established as a center for commerce and trade. Before the road and train track were created for easier access to the Italian peninsula, boats were the only mode to transport goods and people. Still today, boats come in and out of the city to transport goods, as shown here.

San Giorgio: Showing the (high water) – flooding on Venetian islands. Venetians watch the acqua alta forecast in order to be ready to walk through high levels of water. Some tourists will find the acqua alta exciting being something they usually don’t experience, but in reality the flooding is not good for the city. Speed limits for boats around the lagoon are one way the city tries to control the flooding, which in part results from the constant motion of water hitting Venice.

Bressanone, Italy: Students met with Sandy Attia (an architecture graduate of UVA) to visit her architecture firms’ projects. The town is situated in the valley of the incredible Dolomites, a section of the Alpine Mountain Range.

Grand Canal. Another vaporetto stop in Venice located on the Grand Canal. The Grand Canal (Canal Grande) is the canal that stretches through the main conglomeration of islands, which creates the left and right side of the city. To determine left and right, one stands facing away from the source of the water.

The vaporettos lined up Fondamente Nove (a street on the northern coast of the island).

Special Introductions to Florence

Sarah Genovese is a Foreign Affairs major, who went to Florence, Italy in Spring 2017 during her third year.

I can’t believe what a whirl the first 11 days in Florence have been. It feels as though I have been here for 10 minutes, but also for 3 years. I am beginning to have a sense that I am in “my neighborhood” as I approach my apartment at the end of long walks. I am getting lost slightly less often, though I have never been particularly good at directions (and still get lost in my hometown). I have faced a few obstacles: the hot water in our apartment shut off one day; my debit card is scratched and a new one is (hopefully) on its way. “Our apartment.” I share an apartment with 8 girls: 4 from UVA and 4 from Penn State. Everyone is very nice and very compatible—it turns out that college age girls with an interest in travelling Europe for four months have a lot in common.

Our first weekend here was full of school orientations, and less formal means of orienting ourselves in Florence. My personal favorite part of the first few days wa going to an aperitivo, a cheap “pre-dinner snack,” buffet-style and served with a drink. It was a cultural experience, very revealing of the slow-paced, food-oriented Italian lifestyle. It was also a lot of fun to do with my apartment-mates. It’s been a continuous, conscious effort to avoid the “study abroad bars” and “American diners” that study abroad students here tend to frequent, and make sure that I’m doing culturally engaging things with my study abroad friends.

This weekend, two of my apartment-mates went to Berlin, and three of us went to Siena. Siena was a beautiful town—we went to the Siena Duomo, a medieval art museum, and Il Campo, the city square. We had lunch at a highly recommended restaurant, L’Osteria on Via Rossi, and I had Siena’s traditional pasta with a wild boar ragu, which is a Siena staple as well. Engaging with Italy via food has definitely been one of my preferred modes.

Sunday of this weekend, I went to a church service at the nearest cathedral which, like all of the churches in Florence, is amazingly beautiful. I am a confirmed Catholic, but hadn’t been to church in a while. The contrast between the strange language and the childhood memories gave me a mix of emotions that was hard to sort out, but which draws me to go again. However, my plans for many long weekend trips may disrupt this desire. Indeed, the hardest part of study abroad so far has been trying to establish a balance between all of the things I want to do in Florence and Italy, and the things I want to do in wider Europe. I look forward to figuring it out!

Eating your way through Sicily

Katherine Johnson is studying abroad in Italy this semester, majoring in Philosophy. Check out her trip to Sicily below!

After nearly three months of restlessly waiting for our group trip to Catania, I still was not prepared for the limitless amount of food we ate. Our professor warned us to bring our control top leggings, that it was a good idea to fast the day before, and even showed us a Powerpoint of everything that must be tried. Four days in Sicily – a delicious adventure – and an entirely new culture of cuisine.

Lunch in Palermo: We started with the Antica Focacceria San Francesco, an especially memorable restaurant because it actually used to be a favorite of the notorious Mafia boss ‘Lucky’ Luciano. From arancini to sardines, panelle (chickpea fritters) to eggplant parmesan, our first typical Sicilian meal was nothing short of amazing. Focaccia was passed around the table until the basket was as empty as the wine bottles, and we finished with the absolute best cannoli in possibly all of Italy.

 

Lunch in Catania: After hiking Mount Etna, we settled in a little gift-shop restaurant in plain view of the mountains. Coca-Cola was placed on the table for the first time since I’ve arrived in Europe, so we immediately traded up for red wine. The bruschetta came first, and already we noticed that bread in Sicily is very different from bread in Tuscany (although both were actually incredible). Sausage, eggplant parmesan, and lasagna were quickly placed in front of us, and devoured even quicker. For a mountainside restaurant whose main business comes from hikers, I give it a 10/10.

Snack in Catania: Straight from the Mt. Etna restaurant, we took our bus back to the city and stopped in front of Pasticceria Savia for a food and walking tour. The only way we were able to get through this much food was remembering that it’s a marathon…not a sprint. Two types of arancini were split amongst us all – and for everyone who has never heard of that word before: arancini are stuffed rice balls coated with bread crumbs and then deep fried. My favorite are those filled with mozzarella; but ragu, ham and cheese, or spinach are other common types. Arancini get their Italian name from the word arancia (meaning orange in English) because they faintly resemble this fruit in their color and texture. Side note: some parts of Sicily call it arancine (feminine) while in Catania it’s called arancini (masculine). We thankfully had to walk to our next destination for desert: granita with brioche. Molto bene.

Dinner(s) in Catania: Our group gave a lot of business to Ristorante Marco, because we ate dinner there two nights in a row. I’m not even kidding when I say there were more plates than table space – we were stacking. Two types of ricotta cheese, mushrooms, four types of horse meat, artichoke, five types of salamis, two types of bread, eggplant, fish, fries, frittata, and of course, wine, surrounded us for hours. For desert there was lemon granita and chocolate salami – which is not actually salami but made from cocoa, broken biscuits, butter, eggs, and a bit of port wine or rum. If you’re ever in Catania, put this place on your bucket list. Oh, and try horsemeat because it’s actually amazing.

I’ll save you the description of how full we were from this weekend, but I’m sure you can imagine. So when you get a free moment, hop on a plane to Catania and try EVERYTHING, because we all deserve Sicilian food.

Ciao,

Kat

Studying abroad in Italy

Sarah Genovese is studying abroad in Italy this semester, majoring in Foreign Affairs. Check out her spring break below.

 

You could call this the Spring Break Edition of my blog posts, because after traveling to three different cities (Barcelona, Lisbon, and Madrid) in a very abbreviated time span I don’t know quite where to start. To make sense of it all, I’ve decided to do “favorite” and “least favorite” part of each city, and tried to include some of what I learned in each place.

Barcelona: I was surprised how much I loved this city. Favorite parts had to be learning about the history of the city and the people (free tours are great for this kind of overview, and I did one in every city I went to) and the nightlife (because if you didn’t try to stay up all night with the Spanish, I’m not sure you’ve gained a full understanding of the culture). My least favorite part of the city was the necessity of using the metro– I’ve gotten used to cities one can walk around in quite comfortably, and during a long trip with multiple plane rides it was stressful to add metro trips to the equation. But really, that’s a stretch. I was surprised how much I loved Barcelona. I definitely discovered how crucial learning the history can really be to one’s experience in a city.

 

Lisbon: my favorite part of Lisbon was Lisbon itself– I could spend all day and night just absorbing this beautiful city and its many different neighborhoods, and to some extent that’s exactly what I did. I can’t wait to go back. My least favorite part of my time in Lisbon was that I got so sick I physically couldn’t leave the house my last day there. No delicious Portuguese dinner for my last meal (only a five piece McChicken nugget), no lovely pastel de nata pastries, and no hike in Sintra. It was all pretty devastating. I learned that traveling can be taxing and taking care of yourself extra carefully is definitely in order.

 

Madrid: my favorite part of Madrid was El Prado (this museum makes spending 7 hours in a museum easy) and walking down Gran Via. My least favorite part was that compared to Lisbon, it just lacked charm. It’s a big city with a lot to do, but I never felt completely blown away. Still, I learned that every city really does have something amazing to offer–if my friend hadn’t been visiting from the US I probably never would have thought to go to El Prado, and I really would have been missing out.

 

 

Carnevale and Venice

Katherine Johnson is currently studying abroad in Italy. Follow her journey through her blog posts on the website. Enjoy!

Carnevale.

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What it is: a traditional Christian celebration marking the beginning of Lent, the period of 40 days before Easter when no meat is eaten. Corresponds to English “carnival” and is our equivalent of Mardi Gras in New Orleans.

How It’s Celebrated: Basically, it’s a huge winter celebration of masks, parades, food, music, and parties. All of Europe celebrates it, but there’re a few cities in Italy that go ALL OUT.

The Best Places to Go:
Venice
Viareggio
Ivrea
Acireale
Putignano

CET planned for us to go to Carnevale di Viareggio, so Michela and Giulia, our Italian roommates, bought our train tickets and we left for a day trip. Just the excitement of going to one city for Carnevale inspired us all to also buy tickets to Venice for the following the weekend, and there are absolutely no regrets.

Review of Viareggio:
Viareggio celebrates Carnevale mostly with a parade of floats. The first round is a satirical showcase of politicians, world events, and Italian pride. A few that stuck out were the Brexit float (Britains with suitcases and God Save the Queen) and Trump (Los Trump Alato – The Winged Trump) with Trump as a bald eagle with wings holding a bag of money in one hand and a crying Hillary Clinton in the other. On the banner it read “Make Carnival Great Again!”

 

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In the second round, Viareggio brought out the big guns (literally, check out the “Make Carnevale Great Again” float). These floats were the most massive works of art I have ever seen, and all of them come with masks, full costumes, marching bands, dancing, and throwing confetti and candy. It’s difficult to even describe these so see for yourself:

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America, once again, was portrayed as the Trump takeover with cowgirls and guns. Oh, and it lit up later.

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The parades go on for hours and they’re judged as a competition (winner’s released later in March). The typical carnevale food we see throughout Italy (i.e. frittelle) weren’t present at this Carnevale, but they had food trucks, gelato, and games.

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Is It Worth It?
For €18 in Viareggio, absolutely!! S/o to CET though, we got in for free!

 

Review of Venice:

Unlike Viareggio, Carnevale takes over ALL of Venice. As soon as we crossed the bridge from our Airbnb to the ferry stops, we were surrounded by costumes, masks, and murano glass. Oh, and the view was pretty good too.

Piazza San Marco was first on the list. Every square inch was filled with people, and there were mask competitions, Romeo and Juliet reenactments, and showcases going on all day. After visiting Basilica di San Marco, we went to the top of the Campanile (iconic tower) for the most beautiful views of Venice.

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Carnevale wasn’t just restricted to the Square though, it completely filled Venice from the Piazzale Roma to the Rialto Bridge. We each bought a mask in the name of Carnevale, and Kayleigh showed us all up by getting a cape too.

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My dreams finally came true around 5:30pm when we rode a gondola through the Grand Canal. I wish a picture could capture the beauty of Venice when the sun was going down, but they just don’t do it justice. Side note: George Clooney stays at one of the hotels on the Grand Canal, it’s a shame he wasn’t there.

 

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Finally, Is It Worth It?

Venice is worth going to any time of the year, but visiting during Carnevale just made it even better. The costumes, the masks, the shows, the food, and just the energy all over the city made it an unforgettable experience.

 

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Ciao,

Kat