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An unusual erasmus


The chosen city

Crossing rice fields on the Turin-Milan regional train, I was looking for the inspiration to do poetry in Italian.

I know I'll find it, maybe in a few years, but something will have to come up. While waiting I can, however, write about the experience that began in September and will end in June or July or whenever I pass my exams. The sooner the better, so that I can take all the documents to the University and get the rest of the scholarship.

I didn't think it was possible that the only place offered in my faculty for Milan could be given to me. I thought there would be at least twenty people behind it. I thought that, at best, I would get Pisa or Florence, even Rome, but not Milan

I had made a tourist trip with my parents at the age of fifteen through the main cities of Italy. It was a unique and incredible experience, we slept on roads and parkings thanks to the minivan that served us as a caravan. We ate a lot of sandwiches, I remember.

I enjoyed all the cities very much, maybe the most fascinating ones were Venice and the ruins of Pompeii. Because they were unique, original.

Milan is beautiful, it has a beautiful cathedral, but was not the main reason why I wanted to go there to study medicine.

The main reason was my boyfriend. He lived near there, in Turin. But unfortunately, Turin hadn´t the agreement with Valencia needed to study there with the Erasmus scholarship. Milan was the closest city from the list you could choose.

It´s true that this city was one of the cities that called my attention the least in the trip with my parents. I just remember eating in a street where a tram was passing that made a lot of noise and was very annoying.

In any case, by the time I was going to apply for the scholarship I already knew these cities well, due to the long-distance relationship I had had for almost two years with my boyfriend, which forced me to travel there about once a month. I always arrived in Milan and then took the train to get to Turin. Unfortunately, Ryanair doesn't have a line between Valencia and Turin either.

This fact was an advantage for me when I had to do the language test before the selection of the scholarship beneficiaries; because thanks to these continuous visits to the Alpine country, with a few times I had gone to the cinema, some books I had read by myself in Italian, I could pass without problems. I even got a generous eight.

The Little Prince, a book about masonry, the Communist Manifesto and later, Robinson Crusoe, Huxley's New World... They were the first I tried to decrypt, understanding little at first, but not in a hurry. Without stopping to look in the dictionary every time I found a strange word. I read them naturally, as if it were a language I already knew, which I only had to remember.

It was not very difficult thanks to Valencian, which has a vocabulary and many verbs similar to Italian.

I found it hard to complement with my career, because I was already six years into my medical studies and was still taking third year subjects and half of the fourth year subjects.

And now I still wanted to study in Italian... I often wonder if I like to make myself suffer, make things awkward. Why do I always have to make things so difficult for myself?

And although it might seem that a masochistic person is necessarily negative, I think the problem was just the opposite. Too positive, too innocent, literally in a cloud. That's why I took all those crazy things without thinking about the possible drawbacks. With the blind confidence that everything is for getting the best.

My parents didn't stop me when I decided to study medicine, when I told them I wanted to have a long-distance relationship with an Italian boy, nor when I applied for the Erasmus Scholarship.

An unusual erasmus

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Mio amore

I met my boyfriend also thanks to the University, in the Greek island of Mikonos. We were in a discotheque that was half a beach bar. And the party was long, there were tourists from all over the world: Australians, Americans, Uruguayans, Spaniards, so many Italians... All dancing to the music of dj Shasha.

"What's your name?", "Where are you from?", "I'm from Valencia". Few words and so much dancing, it was all rushed. In a hurry he asked me for my mobile phone and miraculously I gave it to him well and didn't give him a fake one, because I had liked him very much.

Surprisingly, he kept sending me messages when everyone was already in their own country and then we went to the e-mails. We kept in touch via Hotmail until the following summer, when he decided to go to Valencia to get to know me better.

And so our story began, which required so many comings and goings by plane. Up to the point of getting to know all the Ryanair flying attendants.

Although at the beginning I was taking Vueling, which was more pleasant because of the relaxing music they played during the whole flight. Also because it's a Spanish company. In the end, because of the apparently more affordable prices, I switched to the competence, with the stressful music they play at Ryanair at the beginning when all the passengers are desperately looking for a place to sit.

On one of those flights I had the misfortune of carrying in my suitcase a book on pharmacology that weighed like a dead man, thus exceeding the 10 kilos maximum you can carry. Oh! I had to pay 35 euros, it was a hard pain to my pocket. I almost cried, I almost stopped trusting the company, what an injustice! But the necessity made me forget and keep travelling with them.

Even though they have now raised the fine to 43 euros if you go over the 10 kilos, çI assume the risk. I'm not afraid, I'm already a professional. I've learned that on the day of the flight I have to carry a lot of pockets. I have even a big hidden packet of Lacasitos in my back, pressed against my body with my socks. I wore three scarves and two hats, pretending I was not hot. In the middle of winter I was dressed directly in a yellow snow suit. Because it didn't fit inside my suitcase. I was embarrassed to take off my black fur coat, but in the end I jumped in and people looked at me worried because I looked like a plumber who was going to repair something on the plane.

In winter, to hide heavy objects was easy, but now that summer has arrived, things are getting more complicated..

Italian

My boyfriend and I spoke to each other at first in English. Neither he knew Spanish nor I knew Italian. And Esperanto is still not very widespread. It was a progressive thing to replace English with our original languages. After about half a year together, suddenly each one was speaking in his own language and the other one understood him. It was very nice to learn in such a natural way, without having to go to an academy or to review classes. No rush, nothing forced, no intensive courses.

It was very effective and motivating. He learned the basic level very quickly, because at the beginning he was very committed to the cause, he was very determined. He would ask me to correct him to every word he said in Spanish. He wanted to learn quickly.

However, once I came here in September, his motivation to learn Spanish slowly faded and he even lost Spanish knowledge.

My speed learning has been very different. It costed a lot to me to get the basic level. Well, at the beginning I confess that I didn't have any interest. I wanted to communicate with him, that was the goal.

But since I came here in September, I've ended up speaking it more fluently than him in Spanish. I've even acquired Italian medical vocabulary.

However, I still think I have a regular average level, although it all depends on who I'm talking to. It's funny how the mind can block you out in such a silly way. It happens when you're in front of a person who instills respect or fear into you. Because you think that he doesn't respect you and might offend you at first sight, that he considers you inferior. You start to babble, you feel sorry for yourself and you don't understand where your medical vocabulary has gone.

And it happens in the other way with tolerant, humble people who know how to listen with patience and understanding. It's a pity that in this country these people are not very common.

I don't want to generalize, of course there are beautiful exceptions of very nice people but, it's not the rule.

An unusual erasmus

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The character

As a rule they are 'impulsive', 'impatient', 'intolerant', 'selfish' and 'hypocritical'. I was hoping not to be so harsh, but I want to make it clear that these are mere generalizations.

Maybe these characteristics are simply present in the same percentage in Spain but it is possible that here they are present with a higher level of intensity. Well Spain, Valencia, to be more precise.

I'll give you a scientifically proven example: in the queue before entering the plane, I was there so many times and I can assure you that there hasn't been a single occasion in which a citizen of the boot hasn't snuck in. Usually, it's two or three that sneak in, rarely just one. And if I haven't had a cheater, it's because eight or nine places further back there wasn't an Italian. Mamma mia!

I really hate generalizations. And I hope that no person has considered me a representative of my country, my city or my people. Because I don't think I'm at all representative of most people there. But of course, when you go abroad, you are exposed to these judgments because people want to know you and they want to know your behaviour, the reason of that behaviour, to have a reference. To know why you talk like that, why you dress like that, why you eat at such a time and not at another time, why you sleep so much... And every time you explain your life you have to highlight that in your country it is usually like that.

Just when you are outside you realize what it means to be inside. Only from the outside do you get an idea of your own identity. And it's funny that certain details that you thought were unimportant, that you took as something without importance, are more important than the typical behaviors that everybody knows about your country. Even I, who thought I was so strange, was surprised at how attached I am to this curious country and community and town or city.

Luckily I always felt a bit foreign anywhere, luckily I have an open mind and I am tolerant for other cultures. Of course, I owe this attitude to the education I received in my country and much more to the education I received at home.

The Italian culture

In any case, you don´t have to make an enormous effort to adapt to Italian culture, since it is not contrary to ours, there is no great difference between them, ours in many ways derives from it. So there are many coincidences.

Here people also like to eat well, talk a lot, go out and party, and play football, get married and have children.

In many ways the difference is that here everyone seems more conservative, more pure, genuine, without strange influences that corrupt the tradition.

It's feels like time has stopped or maybe in my country, for some reason (maybe because of American influence), time has accelerated.

In general I notice everyone is more old-fashioned, especially adults and the elderly. There is still racism, classism, machism, much more evident than there.

The Milanese fashion

One of the most obvious signs of this old-fashioned mentality is its 'way of dressing'. No matter how warm it is, you won't see women or young girls walking down the street without socks until August. They'll wear a scarf around their necks. They will never go to class in a tight tank top without wearing a bland cardigan to cover. If they wear a skirt it will be as normal as possible, black and rarely short above the knees.

I suffered that the first few days I went to class. Now I'm learning to hide myself. Actually, the first impression I got was that I was at a fancy party. I saw girls wearing silky navy blue dresses, all matching, velvety shoes, all so cute and so posh.

In fact, I understood the fashion right away, the tendency was not to be afraid of looking more than you are or more than you have. On the contrary, the richer you look the better, the others will not be offended, they will still feel envy but it will be a "healthy" envy. I only had to bring from Valencia those clothes forgotten in my wardrobe, clothes that my cousin leaves me, which is very elegant. Like jackets with shoulder pads, grey or beige, grey or black scarves, without printings. Everything as boring and dull as I could find, in short. And many more heavy jackets because there´s so cold here.

I tried to not get lot of attention. But one day you forget your socks for lack of habit and there's no woman you meet who doesn't notice.

An unusual erasmus

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One day you want to put a pink scarf on your head, hippie style... Okay, but you risk being looked at really badly, no one might talk to you, even when you ask them for a street because you're lost. They make the association fast: if you wear a pink scarf on your head you'll be homeless, then you'll ask them for money or pretend to steal them.

I've seen women in the centre of Milan, so many of them, that it's not like they go to a funeral, but black makes them crazy, so they could even wear black enamel because they don't look out of place.

But let's not exaggerate. Have you ever taken something yellow to class... The underwear! But well, sometimes I recognize that they have gone with a dress not very long, that you could see even the knees, with a flower pattern. Grey flowers, yes, but at least there's something to start with, right?

If we exaggerate too much we fall into the same trap they do. They mistakenly believe that we all dress from Desigual brand.

Those who have not travelled to Spain (few of them) think that we dress in clothes with huge pink prints, in all the colours that exist in this world.

Then there is the male fashion. Just as in my spanish class the four smart guys who have a front seat wear a shirt, here even the most rebellious wear a shirt, and buttoned up well, eh?

So the smartest guys in the first row are forced to wear a tie, or a jacket, or an executive bag from time to time, in order to be able to improve themselves in formality. Teacher's pants... Incredible but true.

The teachers, of course, obligatorily and without fail, wear shirt, tie and suit. If anyone has forgotten these elements it was very unmanly. And he wouldn't wear a tie but he would wear a shirt. You won't see one in jeans, that´s impossible. It's almost a lack of respect for the students. Like I'm going to be in my underwear to teach the class.

Anyway, I have nothing against this dress code, I do not think we should give it much importance. But they serve as a reflection of their more conservative character and culture.

In Milan I've seen many glamorous people, very stylish. The grandmothers on the bus are a show of good taste and love for the detail.

Beautiful dresses, perfect color combinations, it seems that the woman spent the whole day before calculating all the accessories just not to make a mistake even with the make-up.

I am a woman, but being realistic I can recognize that I have seen beautiful women, who also had an exquisite style and, of course, were also intelligent.

One day I decided to count all the bags Louis Vuitton I saw on the street and I lost count (it would be more than 10). And I don't think this brand is very interesting. It's brown, with a very ugly and sad pattern. I'm much more attracted by the brand of 'Alviero Martini', with its orange pattern of old maps... That's original, first class.

Generalizations

It´s true that generalizations are hateful. My (possible future) father-in-law, only talks about Italians and sees me as a foreigner who is in his country doing tourism.

Every little silence between both of us is enough for him to come up with his famous phrase that I detest: "And there in Spain, how do they do when...?

Every time he starts I have to take a breath, count to ten, pray that he gets lost and leaves the question half way through and goes to talk about something else somewhere else (he talks from his elbows), that they call the phone or the door... That he leaves me alone basically. Because I'm sick of it. Do I have the post of Spanish ambassador? Do I have "Spanish culture savant" written on my forehead?

I have no idea, I liked history when I was in high school, but I only had it one year, and I didn't even reach the Franco dictatorship... I often feel like saying: "Leave me alone, I'm a citizen of the world and that's it!".

I have to say that sometimes the conversation is even interesting. In any case, I have always found conversations about cultural differences interesting, when they occur between mature, open-minded people who are aware of what generalizations are. The problem is that, in this case, the interlocutor who asks me is older but not as wise and has a head full of prejudices.

But well, it's his problem, and a little bit mine.

Human anatomy

I think I should leave the differences in dress a little bit now, to not bore the reader. Now I would like to comment the anatomical differences. Because I have found them, trust me.

It's not easy, in fact, I've often been mistaken for a lifelong Milanese citizen. Thousands of times I've been asked where there was a street, a cathedral, a museum... As if I was from there all my life. And many times I have played the role of a tourist guide, following the game.

But there are small details of the physiognomy that allow you to identify an Italian. Because of their expressions, it's an art.

The anatomical difference that has caught my attention has to do with this rich expressiveness that they have. I don't know if it's a cause or a consequence, but there is something that makes them as the way they are.

Well, what I have noticed is that they have different hands. Yes, the hands, exactly the first proximal phalanx of the thumb.

It's more evident in girls, since one is used to see small hands in thin girls. However, here they have this phalanx extraordinarily developed, which causes a greater abduction of the thumb from the rest of the fingers. A condition that could be due to the movement they make when they talk about something they find unbelievable. This expression also has its Argentinean version. They put all the fingers together and move both arms up and down while saying something like: "Ma scusa, ma come é possibile? Ma che cazzo dici? ".

This attitude is very frequent and if they are angry or in a bad mood they will not stop all day long, for whatever reason.

Expressions

But this is just one of the expressions they make with their hands. They have almost a language.

When they touch their ear with one finger it means "faggot". If they turn their index finger on their cheek, it means that what they're eating is delicious. The word "spectacular is always accompanied by a circle with the index finger and thumb and a perfect horizontal movement of the hand towards the right (or left in case they are left-handed).

Joining the fingers together and taking them off alternately with both hands upwards means "fear"...

Come on, if you tie an Italian's by the hands while he's talking he really feels in difficulty to express himself. He needs to move, move his hands, legs, arms, hips, head, feet... They need at least two square meters around to be able to tell you a movie they have seen, it´s a funny fact.

And if we take into account the facial expressions, I don't even tell you, they are magicians at this. They're great actors. I imagine this is why they have marked the wrinkles on their face in such a characteristic way.

Men in particular tend to have wrinkles from their mouths to their noses. I think that's quite attractive. That's why they look good with a moustache and a small goatee that marks this gesture.

Speaking of attractive, I admit that at first I had the impression that, as a rule, the girls were quite ugly, just because they had big noses, or aquilines, with thin lips and bulging eyes. Well, I've seen a lot of them.

But then I saw beautiful girls, which looked like they had been taken from a modeling magazine. At first I thought that they were typical girls who didn't look like they were from their country, but then I realized that there is a beautiful girl phenotype made in Italy. I was mostly struck by some defiant green eyes, long curly brown hair, all accompanied by that love for detail and care for the appearance.

And then there's the male issue. They seemed to me only attractive, but far from being handsome or strong.

I have seen, of course, very interesting guys. But they were only exceptions. It could be concluded that they normally have a thin, bony, even rickety constitution in many cases. Very few are overweight, or obese. Even if they are older, sedentary students... it doesn't matter. It's probably because of what they eat...

An unusual erasmus

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The food

The Italian food is very tasty and varied. It seems to be the typical thing to say by the tourist guide anywhere in the world, but here it's very true. The northerners say that in the south they eat worse because they abuse oil, fat, sweets and red meat.

I'd say an obese American who eats regularly at Macdonalds would like to abuse olive oil and have a homemade ice cream a day.

You can eat great all over Italy, you eat and drink as a god.

I think food is the main pleasure for them. More than sex. Because the pleasure of eating is practiced and lived intensely from birth to death. Just as sex is only for adolescents, young people and adults.

Besides, it's not a taboo, it's a pleasure they can talk about for hours and hours. I understood the importance they attach to it when I met my boyfriend's parents.

We were in a hotel for a week and they saw us like two or three times a day. I have to say that he is an only child, so the mom or dad can appear at any time, because they are always looking for perfection and those typical super-protective parent things. Especially the father, could be in the most unsuspected place. I remember that the cleaning lady opened the door for us every morning, supposedly by mistake, because we didn't remember to put the "don't go in to clean" sign.

The thing is that, maybe because we didn't know each other well, we couldn't talk about many things, every time we saw each other the following happened: immediately after the initial greeting we were victims of an interrogation about what we had eaten. For breakfast, for lunch, for lunch, for dinner... it didn't matter. And it wasn't just "Hello, how did you eat?"; "Did you have a good dinner?". Questions that can be answered with a simple "good" or "yesterday was better but not bad... ".

No no, they were 'open questions', you had to make a formal composition of the facts, explaining each dish (first, second... ), if they had put bread, what shape it had. What brand was the wine, if the pasta was curly, in little balls or normal, each ingredient and the history of the ingredient.

Not forgetting the dessert, whether the ice cream was natural or handmade... Luckily I knew little Italian at the time and he wrote the text, I just accompanied it with repeated affirmative head movements and smiles. I'm sure the cook's mother couldn't have explained it better.

Erasmus experience

Now I will try to remember a little bit how my Erasmus experience began. That experience in which I thought I was going to live great by being paid to be on a continuous excursion for an entire course, only in exchange for studying and passing. Which was supposed to start in September and it did, only the money didn't come until after Christmas and I was really afraid. I could already see myself asking for money on the street, I didn't think I could survive. I'm proud to have endured the situation and continue doing it.

In my house we had been planning since the crisis began, so we were blindly confident that I would pay the rent with the money they gave me a month with the scholarship. Even that I would have plenty of it and with that extra money I would pay for my travels... but how happy I was, please. No one explained to me that the money would come late, like all scholarships in the world. Sorry, but I'd never been a scholar before, it was my first time.

I had believed that as soon as I arrived in the destination city and certified that you were there you would get 70% of all the scholarship. I almost regretted leaving because of this, but then I would repeatedly realize that it was the right time to do it. And at another time I had not dared. If I had been correctly informed I admit that I would not have gone. So I'm very happy that no one warned me of the risks.

The "posto letto"

Before arriving I already knew that I would look for a flat, because in the residence for 300 euros a month you had to share your room and I could not take my boyfriend, I would be controlled... although I ended up in the same conditions without being in one of them.

I thought about the possibility of renting a single or a double room. Also because that way there would be no problems when my boyfriend went on weekends, plus I was in contact for a while with a girl from Barcelona who also wanted to rent something there. But they were very expensive, I couldn't afford it. Or maybe the cheapest was a room, a shoe box and it was too claustrophobic.

How did I find the little flat in Milan? Well, travelling so often to Turin, I already found a shared flat with the help of my boyfriend before September.

It was an easier task more than I had initially imagined. Too easy, in fact. I would later regret my choice... Although I don't regret anything, because nothing was predictable and it was a series of surprises that made me learn so much...

We looked at the flats on the Internet a little bit, we met four people and there we went one day to Milan to decide which one I would take. We didn't need any more days.

It wasn't difficult to choose either. One of them was 'close to the Naviglio', he was in a little hidden area, not very busy and very far away and had bad communication with the University.

And there were guys on the floor (my boyfriend is a bit jealous so he wouldn't let me stay there). But the main reason that immediately convinced both of us was the following: the five hundred euros clean that had to be paid per month plus the expenses for a simple room with its own bed.

The room, it has to be said, was beautiful, but you came out of it and it seemed that a gale had passed through there: total disorder, all dirty, the dining room table was in the hall (let's say that after eating you could literally run out the door because you were eating next to the phone), ( you couldn't put people as an excuse that you hadn't heard the knock on the door because you were in the kitchen eating, impossible). Then my bedroom closet was in the hallway, the bathroom was only for skinny people, very narrow... We didn´t like like at all.

We went to another flat where I was given the option to sleep with two girls in the same room. For the modest price of 275 euros a month plus expenses I could sleep in that mouse cage. On the one hand it was fine because there were no boys, but that room was inhumane. Between the beds there was almost no space. You almost had to take off your shoes to get into the room.

So we said goodbye to Roby, the nice girl who dared to try to convince us (who, by the way, was already suffering the effects of sleeping in the cage, as she had an alarming rat face) and we finally reached the one that would be the definitive one.

In a big avenue near the Polytechnic, a busy area with good connections to the metro and many buses and trams. The area was great, even though it was very polluted, because there was too much traffic. The girl who offered me the flat was a very educated Puerto Rican who did not want to stay in that apartment anymore because she was going to Germany to study. So she was looking for a girl to replace her.

I was offered in question for three hundred euros a month plus expenses a room shared with another girl, a flat inhabited by three other girls, with a large hall, a bathroom, a kitchen, a storage room and a small balcony on a second floor.

When we opened the door to the patio, an enormous, beautiful black dog jumped out at us and was very happy. He pounced on both of us and was as tall as I was when I was standing. I was so scared. So my boyfriend almost opened the door again to let him out. But it's a good thing he didn't because he was one of the people in the flat.

Dealing with the greetings I open a parenthesis to explain that this is another important difference. When they don't know you, boy or girl, they shake your hand. And when they know you, girls get two kisses and boys keep shaking hands, like here at the beginning. Although when the boys are very friendly they give each other two kisses, more easily than there. The two kisses, moreover, always start from the left cheek, just as we start from the right one. I already make an impressive mess and I usually do the opposite. In Spain I turn the left cheek and here I turn the right and I always look stupid...

This indicates a certain coldness because you can tell the difference between greetings to someone you don't know and those you already know.

But, at the same time, there is a greater closeness between boys than there is there, since for two boys to give each other two kisses it is not enough for them to be very friendly. Between father and son or between brothers I could see it, but between friends... Rumors can arise that they are gay very easily.

Well, continuing with the story of the chosen flat, I stayed there. I liked the room because, although it was shared, it was very bright, enormous, and had a balcony. This was because in the past that room was the living room, which they had taken advantage of in this way.

It also had a big table, with a chair to study and a big wardrobe just for me. The floor was in very bad condition. I will always remember that annoying sound that woke me up at seven o'clock in the morning, which were the steps of my colleague who got up so suddenly to go to work.

It gives me a little bit of melancholy to think of that place where I spent so many good, bad and normal times. Most of all, I'm sorry to think I won't be able to go back there. And I don't have a single picture.

The girl seemed honest and humble to me, I liked her. It's a pity she left before I got to the apartment.

Actually, everyone who rented a room there had to sign a very long and substantial legal contract. Good thing I didn't have to sign it at all, because I was actually replacing the other one. I was going to complete the contract of the previous one, staying until May.

So I just gave an advance payment to the lady owner (Mrs P. ).

I had to pay for half of August without being there, because on that date the Puerto Rican woman was leaving, leaving the keys on the table.

With the deposit I was also very lucky. I had been warned that the owner was going to ask me for six or nine hundred euros as a deposit when she arrived. But it was not like that. It could be that Mrs. P. was very old and her memory was failing her, it could be that she liked me, that she saw my face like an angel or that she was having a good day. The fact is that she didn't ask me for that famous amount of money, in any of the moments I saw her.

Mrs. P. was a very rich woman. She lived on the seventh floor of the same building. Every month I went up to pay her 300 euros by hand and then she gave me a receipt as a certificate that I had paid her. Her house was beautiful. I only saw the entrance and the living room but you could tell she belonged to a superior race... antique baroque furniture, walls full of huge paintings, fine ceramic vases, silver pots, golden clocks... quite an spectacle.

I found out he was also renting the restaurant under the building. From the second floor where I was, when it was complete, I got about one thousand eight hundred euros out of it. Since my partner and I paid 600 euros for that converted room and then there were three other rooms with large beds each. And each of them cost four hundred euros.

The worst thing is that you had to pay anyway even if you weren't there. I, for example, spent many weekends in Turin and one week a month I went to Valencia and ended up spending only half a month there and had to pay anyway. It made me angry...

My parents in Valencia also rent rooms for students so I am well informed of what it costs there. For one hundred and fifty euros you can rent a single room, with a balcony and close to the sea. Instead of the four hundred that it costs in Milan and there is no sea or river nearby.

In Valencia with that amount of money you rent the whole flat... it seemed to me a robbery but I didn't see anything lower in the ads, it was all that way in the city.

My flatmates

I felt bad for the girl who appeared only three afternoons in all the time I was there. A certain Vanessa. She always said she'd come soon to stay but nothing, months went by and she didn't come. But there she had her beautiful room gathering dust, with her big bed and her balcony. A bit expensive, but anyway...

Vanessa was not there and paid, but there were other forms of stupidity. Another one of my classmates, Silvia, spent two months studying abroad, in Moldova or somewhere else. Of course paying the four hundred a month. But when she came back she still stayed about six months to do nothing all day. Well, nothing, no. The poor thing had the hard task of taking Smart (the dog) out, smoking all day like a cartwright and looking for another girl to rent his room when she left.

She also had to be the moral support of the others, who every time they came home found her smoking in the kitchen so they could talk to her and cry.

Half Polish, half Italian, she was very delicate, and could not find the right job. And since her mother was a family doctor and endocrinologist I don't think she had any problem paying for her apartment. Come on, she was in no hurry. What a character. Always dressed in black, just like her dog, which was much nicer to me than she was, by the way. And I thought I'd like her, since I usually get along so well with strange people. Maybe she just looked weird, but she was a fake weird.

But when I arrived in September, Silvia and Smart were still gone. The afternoon I went in there to stay I found Marica (it wasn't a gay boy, it was a girl who would be called Maria). She told me a bit about the rules of the house, she seemed nice. She welcomed me in a very natural way, as if she was used to deal with new people. I think she would be used to it, because she had been in that flat for three years.

She also paid for a room with a large, single bed. But at least she paid for it more, because she was only absent some weeks to go to her city (Palermo) but very rarely, because cost her twice as much as it cost me to go to Valencia, because there was no direct line from Ryanair. She also often took her boyfriend to sleep on the floor, so I thought she was a smarter girl.

Marica was very strong, you could tell she was from the south. She spoke loudly and confidently. No hair on her tongue, able to say things that might offend. I think she was the bravest and most sincere girl.

I told her that I had a boyfriend and would come to the flat from time to time and she said it would be no problem, I would just have to agree with my roommate. What a good atmosphere there seemed to be between the two at first, however since I took an electric transformer from her, people thought I was a thief and I stole things.

And even though I was the only one engaged, thinking that she was the one who would understand me the most, there was a before and after since I brought my boyfriend the first time.

I realized when I saw her face, she came into the kitchen all serious, I thought there was something very serious wrong with her.

I remember that the first week she and her boyfriend invited me to have a steak dinner with mushrooms and carrots, great. They seemed so nice, they talked to me about their future plans, they wanted to go live in London and so on. I admit I never dared invite them. But the first months I had real problems of survival. I had the money counted for food and I started to eat basic food and get rid of the important whims. I didn't even buy sugar. At that time I still bought milk. If I didn't have enough for myself, how could I invite them...

The problem is that I'm very gossip, so there's no drawer without being uninspected. I looked at all the food that the others were keeping, and they looked so good to me. I often took a little something like nocilla, which I saw that no one was paying any attention to. Or sauces, like pesto, green and red... It was so good. Or some milk when I was out... olive oil... jam, that kind of thing.

So I would have felt ridiculous making them a dish cooked with their own ingredients... I would have felt like giving a brick of sugar to Fidel Castro. I could invite them for a glass of tap water, nothing else.

The thing is, they were waiting for something that never came. Even though they knew my economy was in crisis. In fact, at the same dinner I told them that I was looking for a job and if they could tell me about a bar where they were looking for staff. They recommended one where Marica had been working for a few months. The "Chius". Surely the question of speaking little Italian wouldn't be a problem because there they were continually taking in foreign people, especially Brazilians. So I took the curriculum but they asked me about the experience and there I screwed up because I was sincere and I told them I didn't have... how much I learned from these things.

It wasn't until I spent the first week in the flat that I had the chance to meet the girl from the "posto letto" next door, Cristina. Apparently she had been on holiday in the Canary Islands.

When she came she told me that she had learned the word "two hundred and forty-three", which was her room number. She was a very sweet girl, tidy in her own way, hairdresser, the most serious hairdresser I have ever met. She lacked the courage of Marica but at least she was sensitive. She didn't feel like opening her mind, a pity because she seemed intelligent.

But I know the culture she was interested in was just silly TV series, fashion shows, accessories, makeup, hairstyles and little else. She didn't want to make her life too complicated. She probably had an overweight complex, although she was just a little fat. But you could guess because she ate so badly and little. She often ate a pack of chocolate cookies for dinner. I don't think her diet was very effective.

She wated a lot, my goodness. I saw new shoes, T-shirts, a lot of creams and expensive products of all kinds that she bought every weekend, as soon as she had some free time, in a compulsive way.

I will always remember the table he had in his part of the room. Just as mine was full of books and pens, hers was a beauty parlour. She left all her cases full of gloss, masks, nail polish, moisturizers... Even little mirrors of all sizes. Anyway, temptation got the better of me and I guess I had nothing left to prove. What a joy to have free Kiko Milano makeup, but I always left everything exactly as I found it so there would be no suspicion.

An unusual erasmus

Source

The parents of this girl seem not to have taken much care in transmitting values such as general culture, food, savings... But they were very strict in telling her how she should behave to be a normal girl. They must have told her that the most important thing is to not raise her voice too much, to dress in fashion, as other mortals do, to say what people say, to think little, so as not to go crazy and lead a simple life. Funny that such a simple girl should come from the most original city she knew, Venice. She didn't like it, because she said it smelled bad.

I didn't see a possible connection with her in this life... Maybe a few years ago, when I was still a consumer (although I was never really a consumer). When I liked to go to the shops on Columbus Street to buy a T-shirt or a pair of sandals or a bracelet... But those fabulous years were behind me, mainly because I didn't have the money to do it.

At first it seemed that it wouldn't go so badly with her, she even offered me wine, some sweets made by her, she asked me what music I liked. She explained to me the difference between "tempesta" and "temporale", asked me where I lived and we saw pictures of Valencia on the computer. One day he wished me a good trip when I was going to take the plane... But I don't understand women, sometimes they are very nice and in the same day they stop greeting you. They look at you badly and you don't understand what you've done wrong.

The first month I still thought I could get along with them when there was more confidence. So I was trying when I saw them to talk to them, to get a little interested, I don't know if I was too cold and didn't ask them about their feelings, which is what you have to do.

But it wasn't all my fault. They had known each other longer and didn't seem to want to meet anyone else. They didn't seem to feel like making the effort to talk to a foreign girl. So little by little our relationship cooled down.

Work

I was stressed out about finding a job and that had influence in the situation. I didn't feel understood or accepted. We were not on the same level, in the same world.

I had taken the curriculum to a lot of bars, putting "lavapiatti", ads on the Internet... But nothing, nothing at all. Until I lost my hope.

I made a plan, I had to get money out of something. I asked myself, "What can I do for people?" I was a Spanish girl in an Italian city, so I could teach Spanish. And I announced myself, I certainly did. Worse, I didn't get any answers.

They just called me crazy perverts who were looking for prostitutes or weird messes. One even bullied me on the phone. I remember what a hard time I had. Because he insisted on calling me one evening when I was alone on the floor and it was very windy. Wind that moved the doors and windows causing very disturbing sounds.

I was afraid because I didn't know if she could reach me with my mobile number, I think you can only do that with a fixed number but I wasn't sure at the time. I even locked myself in the bathroom. What a nightmare...

So I didn't feel like placing ads would be a nice idea and I lost my hope.

I also though about taking care of children or the elderly and disabled people. I even put up ads to take care of dogs and cats or any pet in need.

Here I had a little more success but nothing came of it. I remember that I was proposed to take care of an old lady on weekends, sleeping at her house, for six hundred euros a month. But I refused the offer because on weekends I wanted to be with my boyfriend. It would have been depressing if I had chosen to study there for a year with the aim of being close to my boyfriend and when I arrived I left him for a little old lady.

To take care of children I was called a lot, but the failures followed one another. Sometimes because they had already found someone else, other times because they were older and needed someone to help them with their homework, so a person who knew Italian better than they did.

But I almost succeeded. I even met two women. They interviewed me at their home. I knew the children I was going to look after in question... but the promise remained only that and they didn't call me back to confirm that they were choosing me over all the others.

Another important job promise I found on the street. A man on a motorcycle stopped to ask me where there was a vet because his dog had gotten sick. Then he told me that if I was interested in working for an advertising agency where he worked.

I had once worked in Valencia delivering advertising on the street and I thought it would be something like that. So we met in a big square with a lot of people and there he explained to me what it was all about. This time the problem was again my boyfriend, because it was absolutely forbidden. I explained the situation to the boss, who acted as a jealous boyfriend who had shot her in the foot. Poor boss. So nothing, he said "Goodbye or until you leave your boyfriend" and I didn't see him anymore.

What a strange character this one is too, a bit of a risk I took that time. Anyway, I wasn't interested in what he offered me either because I had to travel all the time, things that had no place if I wanted to study in peace... and these were my frustrated attempts to find work in Milan.

Motivations

And the reader will wonder, okay, she went there to be closer to her boyfriend, but then it seems that what she cared about was looking for a job... Where are the normal objetives of an erasmus? Which are to learn the language, go out to party, meet people, and once in a while, study...

That's why at no time during my stay did I feel like a normal Erasmus student. It was never my main goal to learn Italian, or to improve it. If I wanted to improve or learn a language I would have chosen English or Chinese.

It is true that in Valencia there are many Italian tourists and more and more. So you can help me with this language in case you want to do little jobs in front of the public. But this language is only spoken in this country, it is not very important. And on top of that, they mistreat it and continually mix it with American... I think it has little future, I think in a few decades it will be a dead language like Latin because they are very stupid and don't respect their language, they are totally convinced that in order not to be ignorant what they have to learn is English and the more anglicisms they put into their language the more relaxed they feel. It's very funny when they pronounce in English names of movies, books, places...

I think it's very good that people know several languages and pronounce them well and so on. But I feel sorry for those who think that English is superior or is the language of educated people or people of the world. We have to admit that it is the most spoken language at the moment, well. But I don't like Anglicisms, or the strange mixes that Italian and English are trying to make. When you speak Italian you speak Italian, period. They don't realize that they are despising their language and at the same time they despise the rest of the Latin languages and the world. They have very little pride in their language. Despite being proud of their country.

Well that, knowing Italian is a curiosity but not my main goal.

I didn't come here with the intention of having a good time, in the sense of going out to discos until late, getting drunk, making out with every individual who would lend himself to it. Not even to make friends. I don't have many friends but I'm happy and satisfied with them and I wouldn't mind having them for the rest of my life. No more, no less. I wasn't worried about starting friendships with people I was going to lose in May.

Because even today thanks to Facebook these friendships are not lost completely, but basically our relationship from September would be to see the photos that he uploaded on Facebook and when I forgot about it or that. Anyway, of course it's not that I absolutely refused to meet people, if it came up well, it's always interesting, useful and nice.

I'm thankful I have a boyfriend because I can imagine what a nightmare it would have been to come here as a single woman and have my heart broken and have my pride shaken and trampled to death, with frustrated children who consider you a piece of meat, one of those that abound so much these days... Well, but there are also those who are looking for something serious, of course, I don't deny it. Everything is possible in this world. Maybe I would have found love... But my heart was already busy and quiet, better that way. Otherwise I would have studied very little.

I wasn't interested in getting drunk either, as I like to take care of myself, I have enough of the kidney failure that I was diagnosed a bit late due to a congenital pyeloureteral stenosis. Not to mention the mitral valve prolapse that I was diagnosed with in Milan. I've been listened to a lot of times in my life, but only one emergency doctor here heard a murmur when I had gone there just to have my throat looked at because it was very painful and I had a cough.

Besides, when I drink, I get sleepy... But it wouldn't hurt to dance a little. It would have helped me to dance to de-stress. I feel a bit old thinking that I haven't been able to go out once to party, I haven't known Milano night. And yet the opportunities have not been few, because you only have to sign up at the Erasmus office to receive invitations every week for snacks and parties everywhere... paying, of course, but somewhere I could have gone, but nothing. It was also because I signed up late, only in the second semester I went there as if I had just arrived in town.

Not only they invited you to go out, they also made excursions to other cities, you could get free entry to museums and exhibitions of all kinds. It was probably rather silly of me not to take advantage of this great opportunity to get to know the city. If I had signed up at the beginning I could have used that Erasmus card, but I signed up when I didn't live in Milan anymore...

So, if I haven't come here because of the motivations that drive the rest of normal Erasmus, I think I might start to worry. Because, if one thing is clear, I am not a normal Erasmus. I'm not the "typical" one. But I don't worry right now, I'm getting over it.


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