Learning about the world – and myself – on my Milan adventure

| April 18, 2018

It is greatly satisfying when you realise that you’ve lived almost a year abroad, become accustomed to a new life that was not previously yours, and returned home safely with a desire to go back for more.

To think that only a month ago I was speaking fluent Italian. Thinking, speaking, dreaming and studying all in Italian, but the greatest accomplishment wasn’t learning it. It was being understood.

I am a 20-year-old student studying a Bachelor of Global Studies, majoring in communications and languages at the University of Technology, Sydney. From a young age, I have always felt what people call “wanderlust” – a strong desire to wander and explore the world.

However, for me it wasn’t just wandering or travelling, it was wanting to live in a foreign land far away from Australia. So, when the opportunity came for me to study in Milan in Italy, I didn’t think twice about it.

My journey in Milan was filled with some of the best and worst moments of my life, with a lesson to learn from every situation. It began as you might expect with a bittersweet departure and, when I arrived, that feeling of homesickness in the pit of my stomach.

But, thinking back, none of that matters to me now because the good moments always outweigh the bad and my exchange experience can only be defined as a wonderful experience.

My time in Milan was much more than a study semester abroad. It was an opportunity to learn the Italian way of life, but most importantly, a chance to learn about myself.

It was a learning experience where Milan became my second home and I knew what time to wake up and take the tram for class, or avoid certain streets because of peak hour traffic.

In Milan, my daily life included attending one of the most prestigious universities in Italy which was approximately a 15 minute walk from the Sforza Castle, once the main residence of the Visconti lords. It also included shopping in one of the most internationally recognised cities in the world, and visiting the famous Duomo of Milan.

However, the greatest cultural challenge was deciding how many gelato scoops to order, and whether to order pizza or pasta for dinner!

At university, befriending new classmates and stressing for upcoming exams was all part of the norm. I realised that even in Italy, students have the same scholastic struggles and go about their school life in a similar manner. However, there are differences which I became very quickly accustomed to.

For example, lunchtime slowly turned into a daily espresso with any side  of carbohydrates: pizza, pasta or a panino. Although, eating carbs with coffee was only one of many cultural experiences that became part of my Italian life.

I quickly learnt to walk on the right side of the road and check for incoming traffic approaching from the opposite direction. Another thing I quickly learned is that Italians only speak loud and louder.

Everyday, on the hustle and bustle of the streets of Milan, the sound of Italians speaking over one another became the sound I woke up with or fell asleep to. It was the sound of home.

Whilst I was overseas, I spent a lot of time travelling, learning about how other people around the world live and eat and cook. I traveled alone on many occasions, which was incredibly out of my comfort zone.

I never considered myself the kind of person capable enough to take the first
step and introduce myself but now I have lost count the number of times where I did exactly that.

Travelling is not the five star luxury we sometimes imagine it to be. There have been many times where my phone ran out of power and I was forced to navigate without a map in a foreign country where English was not always a spoken language.

Sometimes you miss your last commute and the only thing you can do is remain calm because sooner or later you will find a solution and get yourself back home.

However, travelling has also exposed me to the pressing socio-economic issues across Europe: the immigration crisis, poverty and unemployment.  Despite all the mesmerising parts of the Italian culture and European lifestyle, there are serious injustices that need to be addressed and it reminded me of just how lucky Australia is.

All this goes to show that travelling makes one modest. We recognise what a tiny place in the world we occupy and that not all learning comes straight out of a book or classroom.

I now have a better, more informed perspective on the world, and have also learnt a lot about myself and my capabilities. I am more perceptive and aware as a person, and know that I can deal with any situation I come across in my personal and professional life.

A new sense of appreciation for the smaller things in life is a normal response for anyone who has spent a long time away from home and from everything they feel comfortable with. It really makes you realise just how much you can achieve on your own.

So as a final comment, I would like to encourage all of you to go, fly, roam, travel, explore and discover because travelling is an eye opening and life changing experience that allows you to live life to the full.