Cliché or not, I have been in love with the idea of Italy since my teenage years. It has so much historical value, impeccable cuisine, and some of the most beautiful sights in the entire world, not to mention arguably the most romantic language of all. When it came to choosing the location of my year abroad, it was a no-brainer that I’d be putting the two Italian universities on offer as my preferences. The question, really, was which city I would choose between the cosmopolitan financial-centre, Milan, and the country’s food and student capital, Bologna. Both offered similar academic modules, which meant the decision was based mostly on the lifestyle and culture of each city.
Having visited neither previously, I relied heavily on testimonials of the QMUL students currently at each university. Others may choose to visit the cities to get a ‘feel’ for them, but I was personally set on preserving some sort of element of mystery for when I arrived, particularly so that I had as many things to see and do as possible when immersing myself into Erasmus+ life. I cannot overstate how useful it was to speak to the individuals experiencing it first hand, as you get the most honest and relevant point of view that you can. They will more than likely jump at the opportunity to spill the beans about their year abroad, anyway, so I would advise creating a list of factors that are important to you and asking away. For me, those factors were cost, student-friendliness, safety, and authenticity, by which I mean the truest ‘Italian’ experience I could get. In my opinion based on the insights I was given by the QMUL students, Bologna won in every category, sealing my decision.
Another key part of my decision was the fact that the QMUL student in Bologna at the time offered to pass on my details to her landlord, so that I could arrange taking over her room when she moved back to the UK. Whilst there are many services to aid exchange students in their searches for accommodation, it was a primary source of anxiety for me with the move. Having heard stories of people staying in hostels for a lot longer than anticipated when showing up before term started, I was set on getting signed up somewhere early, and this was an incredible advantage of having formed a relationship with the QMUL student in Bologna. However, I should point out that my decision to take the room was based on very detailed information and photographs. Many others choose to visit the city a couple of months before moving in order to search for properties in person, and it is probably more of a ‘norm’ to do so. If I hadn’t been so confident in the QMUL student living at the property, I would certainly have opted to do the same in order to make sure I knew exactly what I was getting for my money and that I felt safe in the neighbourhood.
I would say, particularly as someone who loves clothes, packing was one of the hardest stages. I took two large suitcases with me, which is probably more than a lot of others would take, but still had to cull a large part of my wardrobe and the things that previously made up ‘home’ for me. I had to become brutal in my definition of ‘essentials’, and this led to several occasions of repacking during the weeks prior to the move. For this reason, if you’re anything like me, I would recommend at least organising what you are planning to pack a fair while before it comes to it. I also had a helping hand with my move, which was quite key in physically allowing me to take the second case, so don’t overestimate your capabilities.
Since arriving, I have settled into Italian life quite quickly, but I think they key to that is the willingness to get yourself out as many days as you can. It’s the only way you can familiarise yourself with the area and culture, and I certainly don’t mind tucking into a quality espresso every day, particularly when costing a mere €1. On top of this, I’ve taken advantage of the free time before my studies begin and the relatively cheap trains here, visiting some local towns and even getting to spend my birthday in Florence. A word of warning: the cities will be in their native names, rather than the English that you might be used to, such as Florence actually being called Firenze, so bear this in mind when searching for the correct train.
The rest of my flatmates have almost all arrived now, beginning another chapter in my year abroad, and the foundation of many blog posts to come I’m sure. Until then, arrivederci!
Amber is studying abroad on the Erasmus+ Programme with Queen Mary University of London at Università di Bologna, Italy.