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A Survival Guide to Palermo

Why did you choose to go to Palermo, Sicily (Italy)?

Because there were no places left for Berlin or Krakow, and Palermo was all that was left.

How long did your scholarship last? How much were you paid?

I'm from Madrid, and my exchange was just for one semester. I didn't even get 1000 euros for the six months I was there. I think this is really unfair as the students from Andalusia get 5, 000 euros for two semesters!

What's the student life like in Palermo?

It's good - like wherever you go, there are cliques, but that's normal. The student life is decent.

Would you recommend the city and University of Palermo to other students?

The truth is no, I wouldn't. The teachers always turn up half an hour late - that is, if they decide to turn up at all - and they don't speak in Italian. Instead, they speak in Sicilian, which is a dialect that an Italian from Rome wouldn't understand, for example. The teachers who do speak Italian speak it with such a heavy accent that you can barely understand them. All exams are done orally, which means that they call students up to the front one by one and that you can end up sitting there for five hours waiting for your turn, four days in a row. They don't care at all that you're sat there waiting, and it's completely unacceptable that everyone has to turn up and wait without knowing when their turn will be. Just make a list with time slots, it's easy! Incredibly disorganised.

What's the food like in Palermo?

The food isn't bad, but they don't make the most of the resources they have. They mark down the price of food, and the cold meat is poorer in quality and more expensive than in Spain. It's cheap to eat out, but the food isn't nice. :P They cover everything in batter and fry everything. Be careful at the food markets: they always try and cheat you, the scales are always tampered with and they try and get you to come over when they see you. Then there are the pickpockets...

How did you find your accommodation?

Via the student association ESN Palermo and ETU Palermo. You can find them both on Facebook.

How expensive is accommodation in Palermo? How expensive is everyday life?

This is the good part: shared flats are very affordable here, and a room in one costs around 135-170 euros per month. Prices in the supermarkets such as Carrefour are higher than they are in Spain, and there's not as much variety. They try and cheat you in the supermarkets too unless you haggle with them, but personally I just went to Carrefour. I was tired of having to haggle with the people behind the counter everyday. Though Carrefour is more expensive, you know they charge honest prices.

How are you finding the language? Have you signed up to a language class at the university?

As I mentioned before, they don't speak Italian here - they speak Sicilian instead, and the two languages aren't similar at all. There's even an Italian-Sicilian dictionary. I've got a friend from Milan who can understand Sicilian as her grandad was from Sicily, but if it hadn't been for that, she wouldn't have been able to understand it either. When Sicilians speak Italian, they're understandable but they have a heavy accent, and you can't understand them as well as you could someone from Florence or from Milan. There's a course in Sicilian for 'studienti stranieri' (international students) organised by ITASTRA, a division of Palermo University. The course is free and lasts two weeks.

What's the cheapest way of getting to Palermo from your home city?

By plane. I looked into getting the ferry, but you have to go from Valencia to Barcelona, then from Barcelona to Cerdeña or to Civitavecchia, and from there to Palermo. A total of 32 hours travelling time without sleep, and costing 350 euros.

What are the best places for partying in Palermo?

The Vucceria district, Ballaró... there's a great atmosphere there. :D Look out for pickpockets and look after your phone. People get robbed a lot here.

What about eating out in Palermo? What are your favourite places?

There are some great cheap ice cream cafés, and Palermo is one of the cities with the most restaurants and cafés in the world - I think it's the city in Europe with the most.

What does Palermo have to offer in terms of culture?

The catacombs are spectacular, the palatial chapel is free to visit for students, and the port has its charm, but there isn't much else. The only thing I really liked was the beach, and you had to pay to enter certain parts, so the free area was always packed full of people. The rest of Sicily is cool.

Do you have any advice for future students coming to Palermo?

In all honesty, the thing you'll like about Palermo is the friends you'll make while you're there, but this is true of every Erasmus exchange. As a place, I wouldn't recommend it. You can get robbed in any city, but it's ridiculous here. I know people who had to go home in the middle of their Erasmus because people had broken into their house while they were in it, and I know lots of people who got beat up and robbed in the street. They drive like madmen, even when the light's on green to cross the street they beep at you, and there are some really dodgy people about. Everything is really dirty and shabby, almost everything looks half-abandoned... there are homeless dogs everywhere... I wouldn't go back again, it was dangerous to have gone there on my own. You don't fee safe on the street at night.

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Share your Erasmus Experience in Palermo!

If you know Palermo as native, traveler or as exchange student... share your opinion on Palermo! Rate different characteristics and share your experience.

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