Lewis - Politecnico di Milano

M Architecture
Semester 1, 2019
Academic and beyond; the most rewarding experience I've ever had.

Academic experience

Whilst on exchange I studied one major design studio and two research based courses.

The design course was intensive and required the capacity to undertake a large workload. This course was broken into three smaller subjects, however, all grades were based on an accumulation of the three courses, all of which were very closely related to one another (design, structure, and BIM). The organisation of the design studio was very different to that of UQ, whereby attendance was required 3 days a week and work was expected to be done during class time. This came as quite a shock, however, the teachers were very helpful, understanding, and lenient. The course content itself was interesting and I learnt a lot about contemporary European architecture and urban planning. Some challenges arose in terms of European building codes and standards, but again, the teachers were very understanding and lenient on these issues.

The first of the two research courses that I enrolled in was a subject that looked at ultra-lightweight building structures. For the most part, this course was very similar to a research course at UQ, although the cohort was much larger.

The second of the research courses looked at the topic of urban sociology. This course was also similar in structure to that of a UQ research elective, however, the course content was much different. I found this to be the most valuable of the courses undertaken as it addressed topics of research that hadn't been touched on at UQ.

In general, the academic system was much less rigorous in terms of organisation, which allowed some flexibility and freedom, but also presented challenges whereby objectives were often unclear. As stated earlier, the teachers were all very accommodating and so despite this, all queries and confusions that I had were quickly rectified by discussing it with the professors.

The process of enrolling in courses was fairly straight-forward, although a lot of the classes filled up very quickly during sign-on, as there were limited spaces. Luckily I managed to enrol in all of the courses that I had originally intended to, whereas some other students from other universities were forced to enrol in Italian-speaking classes which would have been a huge challenge.

Personal experience

Whilst living in Milan I had the good fortune to meet some other students who have now become my close friends. This was one of the highlights of the exchange experience for me. I would recommend attending the welcome week at Polimi as this is where you are first introduced to other students and is a great opportunity to meet people (everyone is equally nervous and so starting a conversation is much less daunting). The connections with both peers and professors that came about through the semester were of huge value, not only in the long term, but also as a means of getting to understand other cultures from all over the world.

Whilst overseas, I took the opportunity to travel when I had the time. As Milan is so central to Europe as a whole, it allowed me to travel relatively cheaply, easily, and quickly. Sometimes I travelled with friends that I had made, and other times I chose to travel alone. In both cases I found it rewarding and I would suggest to everyone who goes to Milan that they should utilise the city's location within Europe to explore travel opportunities.

Prior to going on exchange I had fallen into a slump of self doubt, boredom, and  lack of motivation. I had hoped that going overseas would provide me with an energy boost and that is exactly what it did. Being in an entirely new environment without the safety nets of existing friendships, family and familiarity meant that every day became a challenge, but a doable and exciting one. In doing a semester abroad I now feel much more confident, excitable and motivated about the future.


Finding accommodation in Milan was one of the most challenging aspects of the semester. Most other students had found accommodation prior to arriving, whilst I had left this task until the very last minute. In fact, I spent almost one entire month living in a hostel. In the end, once I did find something, it was almost perfect and probably worth the wait. I had been looking mainly through accommodation websites, however, the place that I moved into I had found through Facebook. The landlady didn't speak any English, only Italian and Spanish, and so with my limited Spanish capabilities I organised a viewing and inevitably brought an Italian friend with me to discuss the particulars of the lease agreement. It was an apartment very close by to the university, shops, public transport and two metro stations. The other people living in the apartment were the landlady and her small family, as well as one other exchange student. I was hesitant to move into a place where the owners also resided as I was worried about potential conflict, however, they resided in their own portion of the apartment. The experience once I had moved in was relatively good. The owners were friendly, although conversations remained simple due to the language barrier (I did pick up a fair amount of Italian and Spanish because of it though). The other student and I also got to know eachother quite well and it was nice to have someone who was separate to my other university friends to rely on.


Milan is the kind of city where you have total control of your spending. If you want to live cheaply you can, and if you want to live a little more lavishly you can do that too for a price. In comparison to Australia, the only expenditure that was costly was accommodation, which in my case was 650euros a month. Transport cost only 22euros per month for unlimited travel across Milan, and food was cheap depending where I went. If I wanted a lot of food for a small price I would either get a pizza from my local takeaway, cook at home, or go to a trattoria which is essentially a restaurant with really low prices. Often my friends and I would go for aperitivo (drinks and free food) in the city, and after a while I got to know the places to go for cheaper drinks. One thing that did shock me was the price of entry to entertainment venues, but considering the cost of other expenses it wasn't too much of a worry.

Travelling within Italy and to neighbouring countries was also relatively cheap, with Ryanair flights and regular intercity trains costing around 20euros. As Milan is one of the more expensive cities in Italy, travelling out of town for a weekend was sometimes be a great way to have a holiday whist also saving a little bit of money.

In total, I would recommend that you have at least $12,000 (including flights, accom, food, living expenses etc) in order to do an exchange in Milan. Of course more is better as that allows you to travel more often and more freely whilst living in Milan.


The biggest challenge of the semester abroad was the academic experience itself. Having been taught and tested in the same way throughout the entirety of my education meant that the slight differences in educational modes in Milan were a struggle. In the end I did very well academically whilst studying overseas, however, it took a lot of focus and constant communication with professors in order to do so.

Professional Development

The main skills that I have acquired whilst on exchange are a sense of self-confidence and independence. After having to start completely anew in a foreign country I have learnt to rely more on myself, and my success in doing so has given me confidence in my abilities.


Being able to meet people of differing cultures that share similar values, humour, and taste was the highlight of my experience. This manifested in an Easter trip to La Spezia with two other exchange students from Germany and Austria. We spent 4 days wandering the north west coast of Italy, where literally everything went wrong, but we had a fantastic time doing it.

Top tips

- Be sure to pack for a chilly winter and a scorching summer - Milan is especially hot in summer.

- Organise your accommodation prior to departing Australia. Otherwise you may end up living in a hostel for a month like I did. You can use agencies like spotahome and uniplaces. I had friends who used these services and they were happy with the outcomes.

- Set aside time during Milan Design Week to explore the city. Everywhere is buzzing and you'll want to see and do as much as you can.