Dear SAI Prospective Student,
Meeting your peers, classmates, nemises (and other) over the past two years working at SAI, I’ve met a wide range of driven, intelligent and gifted people who are open to putting themselves in new situations to seek new possibilities.
As an Englishman in Milan, It’s often to everyone’s merriment (‘fun’ I believe that the correct translation to your language) to go over the differences in our respective cultures and I get gradually sadder at the realisation of my lack of understanding of ‘true’ Mexican cuisine and lack of knowledge of Lizzie Mcguire’s fabled trip to Italy (I’m suing my parents for emotional distress as we speak).
However, bouncing back to the point, I also therefore empathise with you finding some of your academic and living experience in Italy being tough. I’ve completed my masters here, lived here and, some small times, I find it thus.
I have found that there have been some things that are consistently mentioned near your departure day that I wish could have been addressed sooner and I hope that, if you’re to take one thing away from this mess of words, to be open to talking to me, your fellow students/tutors and family throughout your semester here. Tim Minchin said that ‘opinions should be taken out, stretched and tested at every opportunity,’ and opening up to the people around you will give you infinite points of view to assess life.
Fundamentally, as it is your decision to try studying abroad, I can’t preach enough about having the confidence to take your time to plan how you wish your experience to be. Three months will go by quicker than the next Donald trump/democrat lie (delete as applicable), and it will be music to my ears to see students realising complex projects/ideas that are within their ability but just require the confidence to achieve.
Here are some samples and counters to general points that continually arise:
‘My course project was not stimulating enough.’
If you’re focused on your course, why did you choose to come to Italy? Could you use your spare time to try to understand this diverse culture more? Do you like to travel? If you wish to further your coursework, is there a skill or area that you wish to develop independently? Could you discuss this with your tutor/other students/do it yourself?
‘I felt pressure to travel every weekend’
Why? Turn off Instagram. Take your time and plan what YOU want to do and see if that clicks with other people. If not, sod them (is it acceptable to say ‘sod’ in the US?) and do it yourself. Always make sure that the expense and time for travelling is used going to the places and things that you wish to see.
‘I don’t like the other students in my class/I didn’t meet enough Italians’
Your university may have a few hundred students each term. Milan has a population of around 1.4 million. Chances are that, if you go to conversation exchanges (try facebook), look to volunteer, go to aperitivos/concerts/events/talks/yoga/workshops and talk to people, you will find like-minded souls here.
‘My teacher is too strict/relaxed/technical/jolly etc.’
Variety is the spice of life and, from my experience, Italian tutors generally push this to the extremes. However, the main benefits I feel from Italian universities is that there is a massive push on contact time with tutors and a real respect between students and tutors as they come to know you better. I always suggest contacting them as frequently as possible as they will reply always, even after you return to the U.S, and who knows what aspects of their experience will help you in the future.
‘I heard that Milan was a scary city’
Are these SAI students smiling out of fear? I believe that Milan is as scary as….a pug playing in bubble wrap.
My reasons for leaving Florence and moving to Milan were that I wanted to be in a more cosmopolitan city, remain surrounded by history, enjoy far more variety of contemporary art and design and to live somewhere which is designed to live in in the modern day (try walking on the pavement in 90% of the streets in Florence and you’ll quickly understand what I mean). You have a great amount of time here to get under the cities surface and find it’s pulse. Once there, It will be very hard to leave.
Also, with your infinite amount of friends studying in Rome and Florence, that’s a lot of choices for guides when you go to visit no?
I hope that these vague and off hand pointers give some food for thought for your decision making process on study abroad and, rather obviously, can’t wait to meet some of you in the future.