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My European Study Experience

Published by Kurt Magnus — 2 months ago

Blog: Study Abroad Tips
Tags: Erasmus blog Bologna, Bologna, Italy

One of the best decisions I ever made was to study abroad. Ever since I was a kid I wanted to learn how to speak Italian, so when the opportunity to study in Italy presented itself I packed my bags and enrolled at the University of Bologna.

The following tips are offered as a guide to help you get the most out of your time abroad and are based on my experience as a student in Bologna, Italy. Even if you are not studying in Italy, these tips are meant to be relevant no matter where you plan to study.

You are about to embark on an adventure that will probably be one of the best decisions that you will ever make.

Tip 1: Live with the natives

The best way to improve your language skills and gain a better understanding of the culture is to live with native speakers.

Many American students make the mistake of living with other American students while studying abroad. Sometimes this is unavoidable because certain study abroad programs house American students together. However, if you have the option, it would be in your best interest to reach beyond your comfort zone and live with native students.

While living with your American friends provides a certain level of security and ease, it greatly reduces your ability to advance your language skills because you will ultimately speak English to each other no matter how great your intentions to speak your chosen foreign language.

The last thing you want to do while studying abroad is to speak English. The whole point of studying and living abroad is to become fluent in the language that you study and better understand the culture in which you live.

Two other reasons to live with native students are to immerse yourself in the culture as best you can and to develop lifelong friendships.

One Sunday afternoon the sister of my Italian roommate, and another Italian friend, came over to our apartment to cook. We spent the afternoon making gnocchi al pesto from scratch while watching Italy’s most popular variety show.

While this may seem like a simple way to spend an afternoon, the experience was wonderful because it provided an opportunity to learn more about the Italian culture. I learned how to cook Italian cuisine while asking questions about Italian slang phrases spoken during the variety show.

The afternoon was also the first of many gastronomic adventures with these soon-to-be lifelong friends.

Tip 2: Walk instead of ride – Impulse Exploration

The walk from my apartment to the university was 2.5 miles, which I walked almost daily. I could have easily jumped on the bus to save students free time, but walking the five-mile round-trip trek provided a better cultural experience.

The act of walking forces you to be in the present and provides a visual and aural experience that does not exist on the metro. Walking also allows you to venture down a different path to and from class everyday.

By walking the streets of Bologna, I was able to explore on impulse little shops and cafes that I would have missed riding the bus.

For example, on my way home from class one evening, I stood at a roundabout waiting for rush hour traffic to pass in order to cross the street. After waiting a few minutes, I decided to walk a couple of blocks out of my way to cross the street at a traffic light. On my way, I found a hole-in-the-wall wine store unlike any other I had ever seen.

Wine barrels with spigots lined the walls from floor-to-ceiling on all four sides of the shop. Each barrel was labeled with the type of wine and price per bottle (750ml and 1.5L). You could buy a clear empty bottle, or bring in one of your own, for the proprietor to fill straight from the spigot.

Needless to say, I became a regular customer because the experience of buying wine was so much fun.

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