Ciao from Italia!

March 30, 2015

Olivia Knott

Best part of studying in Italy? I can finally add more to my Italian repertoire than simply “ciao” and “la dolce vita.”

Why yes, in fact, I can now order coffee and give directions- actually, I promise I can do a bit more than that- and I have great hopes that by the end of four months I’ll even be able to hold a decent conversation. But for now: Coffee orders, directions and present tense conjugations will have to do. The greatest choice I made when studying abroad was doing it alone. I am not going to lie: The first few weeks felt like a cringe-worthy repeat of first year, when I came to U.Va. knowing virtually nobody. But Study Abroad is not supposed to be an easy semester-long vacation; it’s a time to grow as a person, to challenge yourself and to find comfort in never feeling comfortable. Personally, this time abroad has proven to me my strength and ability to thrive in new and unknown places. To know this about myself is valuable especially as fourth year and the inevitable real world approach.

Now back to the topic of never feeling comfortable, since arriving in Milan, I have learned several valuable lessons that you can apply to any study abroad experience:

  1. Once you have arrived in your foreign country, continue to push against feelings of familiarity.
  2. Try your best to meet and interact with locals, especially if one of your major goals is to learn the language. One of my regrets is deciding not to live in a home stay, an experience that would have allowed me to practice Italian more and experience the culture as a part of a family.
  3. If you are not doing a direct school exchange, take advantage of courses that allow you to meet students not within your program. I am currently taking a women’s wear design class at the Instituto di Moda Burgo, Milan’s fashion school- that has been so cool in its own right- but has also allowed me to interact with international students and teachers.
  4. Take every opportunity that comes your way. Yes, a three and a half hour-long opera might sound like a snooze fest, but when our program offered us tickets to see Mozart’s Lucio Silla at La Scala, the most famous opera house in Italy, this was not an experience that we could pass up! Just make sure you drink a coffee at intermission… Even I, who actually really loves opera, could have used the extra caffeine to get through the final act.
  5. Before I left to study abroad, a friend of mine told me how for her, it was a time for self-reflection while away from the usual grind of life on Grounds.

This last tip is the most important piece of advice I have carried with me during my travels. Everywhere I go and everything I do, I constantly try to be mindful, thinking about how I want this experience to shape me and my goals for the future. 

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