It’s 9 PM, the mingling of Italian, Spanish and English outside my bedroom is intoxicating, but welcomed. It is an environment that I have grown accustomed to and surely one that I will miss once this is all over.
It is funny to think about all the things that you will miss when you still have them close to you. Like how I’m just nine stops away from Il Duomo di Milano, the easiness of hopping on a train and getting out in front of the largest cathedral in Italy is a sensation of it’s own. The fact that every street you walk through is filled with amazing architecture, from baroque to modern skyscrapers, Milan has it all. It is also that feeling that you get when someone greets you with a ‘Ciao!’ and a smile every time they see you, even if you have only had one short conversation. Milan has an air of its own that is difficult to describe, but I am sure that it is a sentiment that everyone feels while on their study abroad.
It has been two weeks since I first arrived in Milan, Italy and I still cannot believe that I am here. This is mainly due to the fact that I was not sure if my study abroad was going to take place. I remember how sure I felt back in September 2017, finalizing all my university requisites and turning in my application. Back then, I was sure that everything was going to be alright. But as a student from the University of Puerto Rico — Río Piedras, and as a Puerto Rican overall, long term and short term plans have been in a tailspin ever since Hurricanes Irma and María hit our shores. Even after four months, life in the Island is a struggle for many and life is not close to being ‘back to normal’ as much as they make it seem. In spite of it all, I have been one of the few who has had the opportunity to continue their education through different means. For me, this has been through study abroad. I was fortunate enough to become a visiting student at Brown University for the 2017 fall semester and ecstatic to be able to continue with my Spring 2018 study abroad plans at the Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore in Milan (Cattolica/Unicatt).
I would be lying if I did not say that the two months before arriving in Italy were filled with anxiety. Between finishing my semester at Brown, contacting my home institution back in Puerto Rico, selecting my Italian classes and getting my visa in order in Boston, I felt like I was all over the place and nowhere at the same time. Everything that I was doing was being done last minute, but thankfully, everyone that I was in contact with had a helpful disposition. Which is why that after two weeks of being in this city, that I still cannot believe that I am here. As I walk through the streets of Milan and marvel in its beauty, I am always reminded of how lucky I am to be a part of this. Of how easy it has been to connect with likeminded people and to have created wonderful experiences in just two weeks. However, I sometimes have to remind myself when feeling overwhelmed, that everyone is in the same boat: this is a new city, a new language, and a new culture. You just have to try and go with it. Adjusting is not something that happens overnight, for some it takes a while and that is nothing to be ashamed of.
Which is why I’m thankful that Cattolica connects its international students with the Erasmus Student Network (ESN) an organization that brings international students together through different extracurricular activities. Being part of an organization like this not only chips away at the fear of having to go all out by yourself in a big new city, but it also gives you the opportunity to connect with those around you.
During my first week, ESN Unicatt Milano, prepared a ‘Welcome Aperitivo’ where we had the opportunity to mingle with various international students. It is through this Italian tradition of light eating and drinks, that I was able to meet the people which I would spend a day in Verona. A Sunday filled with quaint streets, city views and of course, la Casa di Giulietta or Juliet’s House.
This weekend, after hearing my Intensive Italian professor talk about the festivities happening throughout Italy, I along with another student decided to head to Venice for il Carnevale di Venezia. A journey that started as a joke of ‘maybe we should go?’, led to us running to Milano Centrale at 6am on a Saturday to catch our morning train to the floating city.
Two trips filled with laughter and adventure, that would not have happened if I had not made a split second decision. This is something that I plan to take advantage of while in Italy. To not only connect through the organizations that Cattolica has to offer, but to explore what Italy is made of. From the outside, one may think that the country that looks like a boot is just a mixture of pasta, fashion and art, and while that may be, each region has its own quality and I look forward to discovering them.