Queen Mary Economics student and Turing Grant recipient Harkirat Singh studied abroad at Bocconi University in Milan, Italy. Harkirat takes a look back on the challenges students can face when looking to study abroad but how and why these challenges should not stop you.

My curious and inquisitive nature enables me to keep thriving and forces me out of my comfort zone, which is one of the many reasons I decided to embark upon a semester abroad at the University of Bocconi, Milano. Admittedly this experience was daunting at first, especially since this was my third and most heavily weighted year of university, but I faced the challenge head on, and it once again proved how facing the challenges in my life always result in fruitful results.

I faced many roadblocks when deciding to pursue this opportunity. Firstly, let’s start off with a big one: the language barrier. I will not deny that knowing Italian would’ve been quite helpful in some situations, especially when you are trying to go to the barber shop and want to really convey your preference. While I am on the topic, if you guys decide to go to Milan, I highly recommend South Barber, it is undoubtedly the best in the city and there’s a reason all the Italian rappers go there. Anyways, I’ll be frank, I did not know a single word of Italian when I went to the country and there was no point in time where I felt left out, or I felt I was lacking. Therefore, if you guys are deciding on going on a semester or even a year to a non-English speaking country, I say do not let the language barrier be the thing that stops you.

Second big challenge is not knowing anyone and leaving all your friends and family behind. Trust me, I understand this more than anyone. As someone who had never lived out before this was very daunting at first, but it taught me a great deal about putting myself out there and now I have developed the most meaningful relationships through that, and I am certain they will last a lifetime. Just remember you are not alone and there are many there like you so talk to them because they are feeling the exact same way you are. There is a huge Erasmus Student Network there which you can join. The Erasmus Student Network (ESN), especially at the beginning of the semester, had daily events which toned down to at least weekly events where you can meet other exchange students and build lifelong friendships. The ESN had several trips around Italy as well, and my trip to Florence with them was the most memorable trip of my life. The city was beautiful, and, on that trip, I was introduced to some of my closest friends today.

Lastly, many people skip out on these experiences due to financial difficulties. When it comes to finances there are many grants available, personally the Turing grant played a huge contribution in allowing me to enjoy my experience abroad. There is a ton of financial support available and a ton of scholarships. Again, do not let finances be the reason you miss out on an opportunity of a lifetime. I believe my semester abroad exposed me to a diverse environment, allowing me to develop the skills required to become a more well-rounded future professional, and allowed me to gain a truly global perspective on economic matters. I strongly believe this experience allowed me to develop an academic arsenal that will enable me to instigate positive change in a transnational, interconnected world where global understanding seems a fundamental attribute.

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