Exchange to Universita Cattolica del Sacro Cuore, Italy
Semester 2, 2015
It was mid-August, around the height of Italy’s summer, I stepped off a bus in Genoa, no idea where I was. This was my first step onto Italian soil. It was a combination of the 20 hour bus ride I had just finished, the 35 degree heat, and the heavy bags that I was dragging behind me which caused my anxiety. I was stressed about arriving in my host country and not instantly liking it. I freaked out that I had made a mistake, but my friend and I dragged our bags to what we hoped was a taxi rank, and found our way to the hotel.
As I mentioned before, we had just stepped off a bus that took us from Prague to Genoa, around 20 hours sitting on a bus with little sleep. On top of this, we hadn’t had a decent meal in over 24 hours, so we were starving. When we asked reception where we could get food he told us that nothing was open, because everyone was on siesta, something that I thought only existed in Spain (silly me). We went to our room, I was sweaty, smelly and overtired. But we found a restaurant that was open and ordered a drink and a meal, this was well deserved. We then went for a nap, and on waking up I excitedly realised I was in Italy. After 10 weeks of travel, I had finally made it!
I will admit, the feelings of anxiety didn’t stop there. I found my first few days in Milan to be just as overwhelming. On my first night I had a panic attack about not knowing the language, I was about to begin a language course, but I felt underprepared, and ignorant. But I kept reminding myself that the reason I was in Italy was to force myself into learning another language, and once I met more people who were at the same level as me, I calmed down.
There have been a few times that I have compared my expectations of exchange to the reality, and I have decided that it is a meaningless task. There will always been differences that could not have been known before coming, and each country, even each city has its own little quirks that travel books just can’t pinpoint. I was shocked by the amount of smoking and by the erratic driving, even by the pace of the daily life. But I have been pleasantly surprised by the atmosphere, by the hidden cultural norms and by the food… it just isn’t hyped enough.
I don’t like thinking back to the moment I stepped off that bus in Genoa; I hate that I was so overwhelmed at the thought of trying something new. Because, after having lived here for two months already, I couldn’t be happier with my decision. In considering my return to Australia I am nervous… I am worried I will be too attached to the Italian lifestyle, we shall soon see.