David - Universita Cattolica Del Sacro Cuore

Travel is the greatest form of education; my semester in Italy and travels abroad have been the most rewarding 9 months of my life.

Academic experience

I studied 6 courses across history, political science, and economics. The Italian system works so that you can choose to study as many courses as you want, as long as they add up to 30 ECTS (a full-time workload). I really enjoyed the flexibility this allows as you can mix and match various courses suited to your interests and degree requirements. They also offered a separate international curriculum, a dozen or so courses specifically tailored for international students, but I chose to study entirely in the academic curriculum, the normal domestic Italian university curriculum. This was great as it allowed me to get the proper university experience in Italy as well as mix/make friends with Italians.

The registration process was pretty straight forward as you don’t have to confirm your classes until a few weeks after the semester starts. This means you can attend whatever classes you want, and it isn’t until week 3 or 4 that you choose what classes you’ll be attending the exams for. If you study in the international curriculum however, you are required to register for those courses before you arrive in Italy. The process can be a bit slow and bureaucratic at times, but the support teams and lecturers are all very responsive so it’s easy to contact people if there’s any trouble. Finally, the courses are pretty much run entirely by the lecturers- they set all the content, assessment, choose what dates (2-3 dates) exams will be held on, etc. and as international students are often in special circumstances, the lecturers are often very helpful.

Personal experience

As an international student it is incredibly easy to make friends with other international students when you first arrive, especially other Australians/Kiwis. I have connections across the entire world and we all still talk often. If you're in the academic curriculum you also meet lots of local Italians, which is very rewarding especially if you're learning Italian. If you're travelling, backpacker hostels always have people staying there with some interesting backgrounds and great stories to tell. In all cases, I gained some great friends while overseas and I can't wait to go visit them next time.

During my time in Italy I explored pretty much everywhere in northern Italy, I spent a lot of time in smaller towns and villages which sometimes turned out to be better places to visit than the bigger cities. Outside if Italy I travelled to 19 other countries over a 9 month period such as Finland, Malta, Georgia, Armenia, Turkey, Luxembourg, and North Macedonia (€20 flights are a treasure). I arrived in Italy with a medium understanding of the Italian language and now I have a much deeper knowledge of it, to the point where I would go days where I'd speak mostly Italian with my friends and at university. The personal experiences I made I'll never forget, and the skills developed will stay with me for life.

Accommodation

I lived off campus in an apartment that I found online near a place called De Angeli. It was 30 minutes walk from the university or 5 minutes walk from the closest metro stop, then 4 stops to campus and 6 stops from the city centre (Duomo). The best part about it was certainly its location, being so close to so many bars, parks, museums, etc. and so easy to walk to anywhere else in the city. The apartment itself was very well set-up and a good place to study. From most people I talked to, a majority of students found accommodation online through student-specific sites, some through AirBnB. A fair amount of people had found accommodation through contacts they already had in Milan.

The university does provide assistance when asked, I believe it’s all run through the international advisor team. I can’t elaborate much on it as I found my own accommodation, but it can be a helpful tool. There is also on-campus accommodation, but I can’t speak much on that either. I would advise future students to use all tools available to them and to get on accommodation as early as possible, but if you can’t find anything there’s no need to stressed, an opportunity always comes up sooner or later.

Costs

Rent was by far the largest expense at around €650-700 a month. When it comes to food I recommend going to Esselunga, a cheap and high-quality supermarket chain in Italy. I would spend ~€20-30 on each shopping trip, which I'd make once a week. Travel cards in Milan are run through a company called ATM, you can get a student travel card covering metro, busses, and trams. It costs around €25 for a month of travel from the start of the month to the end, and single tickets cost €2 for 90 minutes of travel. However Milan is a great city to get everywhere by walking or cycling, personally I walked 30 minutes from my apartment to university most days and that saved me a lot of transport costs. A night out with some friends for aperitivo would cost between €4 and €15 depending on how 'touristy' that part of town is. I would recommend going to places tourists might not go to to save a lot of money and get a more 'local' experience.

Overall Milan is a pretty expensive city to live in, but after a few weeks there if you pay attention to what and where you're spending you can easily live a lot more cheaply. On average I spent €10-15, €20 at most a day in the city. If you're looking at travelling widely, Wizzair (Eastern Europe), Ryanair (everywhere), Pegasus (Turkey) were always the go-to airlines. I had around 28 flights in total while overseas (my carbon footprint isn't looking very nice) and a vast majority of them were €20, €50 at most. Getting to Milanese airports are easy enough by train for Malpensa or bus transfer for Bergamo.

Challenge

My biggest challenge was making the time for my university study. I traveled around Italy and Europe most weekends and made sure I had no spare time, so it was difficult to develop a good study routine. In addition to various programs and opportunities I undertook at the university it was difficult to find a balance. I found lots of spare time on trains, busses, and planes that were great opportunities to study. I found it very important, especially closer to exam period, to go to a library and study for a set amount of hours or finish a certain task before I'd let myself go somewhere else. That being said, the courses at Unicatt are very exciting and different and I very much enjoyed studying them, but it was certainly a challenge to develop a balanced study-travel lifestyle when I was in a country containing so many things and places I wanted to see.

Professional Development

The university offers various other programs that you can be involved in, such as an employability program, internships, or the chance to teach English at high schools. The employability study lab was greatly run for 2 weeks before the start of classes and we had the chance to meet many professionals and experts in various fields. The teaching assistant program was also highly valuable and I would recommend it to anyone no matter what you study. I took Italian language classes both the pre-semester intensive and the semester courses and have continued learning well after my exchange. All of these have contributed significantly to my professional and personal development. Finally, I think just being able to travel the world and meet people from all corners of the globe with such different languages, cultures, beliefs, experiences, etc. has been the main factor in my personal development. I've returned to Australia with a much bigger view of the world and am very keen to go back out there when I have graduated!

Highlight

Of my time in Milan there are way too many highlights to choose any one, but the cafe-bars stood out. There was something just so wholesome about dropping by the same cafe every day before and after uni, getting an espresso and a brioche, talking to the staff, reading the Italian newspaper, catching up with friends there in the evenings for aperitivo, another espresso after dinner. Especially in my suburb which wasn't very touristy at all, becoming one of the locals and making so many friends there made the experience whole for me. 

Of my entire trip overseas, the chance to visit Georgia and Armenia for a few weeks stood out especially as a highlight, on the basis on how different and unique everything is in those countries. There are cheap Ryanair flights to Tbilisi and Yerevan from Milan and I'd highly recommend it!

Top tips

Travel as much as possible, there's so many opportunities to do so and the reward is great. Travelling with people you meet along the way is even better. 

Keep in touch with the people you meet, having overseas connections is good but having overseas mates is better. 

Budget well, but unless money is incredibly tight, don't worry too much about it. Milan is relatively expensive but when next will you get the chance to do all the city/country has to offer? What's money for anyway? 

Learn the language, even if you don't keep learning it after exchange. Not only is it great for personal development, but Italians absolutely love it when foreigners speak Italian to them, especially in a big tourist city like Milan. 

Choose university courses that are different from what you'd do at UQ. Unicatt has a drastically different course selection between the academic and international curriculums, so it's a great chance to study something entirely new or different from what you're used to in Australia. (eg. in the international curriculum they have a literal Italian cooking class. I didn't take the international curriculum, but you can literally get university credit- for cooking Italian food!) 

Take as many opportunities as possible. As mentioned above, Unicatt offers lots of extra programs and opportunities and I'd advise future students to take up as many as possible. I was teaching English at a high school, had Italian classes every week, participated in the employability lab, travelled every weekend/holiday, spent most mornings drinking espresso at a bar, caught up with friends every afternoon, and I still had time to see museums or go for walks often.