Day 122

It’s been 122 days since Day 1 and a lot has happened.

I’ve traveled all over Europe – to 11 countries and over 25 cities – but on the last day of my semester abroad there was no place I’d rather be than in the city that had become my home and with the friends that had become my family.

To be perfectly honest, most of the day was spent packing (which was incredibly depressing). But that night we decided to recreate our first few days of the semester. We started with dinner at Spontini, the place we went for our first Italian pizza (though technically it’s Sicilian “sfincione” pizza). We had gone after Italian class our first full day in Milan, and it’s so delicious and wonderful it’s been our go-to whenever we’re near the Duomo and craving pizza (which is a lot of the time).

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Our next stop was right across the street at Cioccolati Italiani for the what is literally the world’s greatest gelato. They fill the cones with melted chocolate and they swirl the gelato so pretty and the flavors are sooooooo good and just oh my goodness I promise you this is the best gelato ever! There’s always a line out the door, but one of the perks of living here is that we can go on off hours, and let’s just say that we go to Cioccolati a lot. It was sad knowing this was our last Italian gelato (devastating really), but at least we knew we were ending with the best.

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We made a stop at the Piazza del Duomo so that we could meet Julie’s family who had just flown in that day. The Piazza was packed because the Filarmonica della Scala (La Scala’s philharmonic orchestra) was performing a free concert with David Garrett (the equivalent of Thor if Thor played the violin). Knowing this would probably be the last time I would see the Duomo and Galleria, it was nice to just stand there and soak in the beautiful surroundings and enjoy the company, all while accompanied by some classy music. It was a fitting goodbye, quintessentially Italian.

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With a last glance at my favorite place in Milan, we moved on to Movida, the aperitivo place in Navigli that we went our first night out. It was too late for aperitivo and we were already full of pizza and gelato so we all just sat at our usual table and got drinks. I got a Movida, because when something is named after the place you know it’s good (case in point my favorite Armani Cafe from the Emporio Armani Caffe…oh Italian coffee how I’ll miss you).

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We didn’t stay out all that late (we left Movida around midnight which is early by Milan standards), but we wanted to get back to Arco to watch the recap videos that Nina and Ana had made. We were expecting to cry, but we have so many funny videos from the semester that we ended up laughing hysterically instead. We had agreed that we wouldn’t sleep that night since we wanted to be awake for our last few hours in Milan together, so we just hung out in Ana’s room playing poker and trying to ignore the clock as it got closer to 5am when the vans would pick us up to take us to the airport. At 4:30am we had no choice but to get up and get our huge suitcases from our rooms down to the lobby. As we waited for the vans to show up, the tears really started to fall as we looked at our empty rooms and said goodbye to Julie who was staying in Europe to travel with her family. The drivers were super nice and patient with us as we, our ginormous suitcases, and our tears slowly made our way outside and in to the vans. It was painful to watch Arco and the rest of Milan disappear behind us as we settled in for the hour long drive to Malpensa Airport.

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And so begins the airport saga. It began with more goodbyes, as Tia, Lan, and Nirali had to go through security almost immediately since they had the earliest flight. This was followed by a very long and aggravating phone call with United as I tried to figure out why our United Airlines app was saying the flight Nina and I were on was canceled. Turns out our plane had some kind of mechanical issue, so I managed to get us on a Swiss Air flight connecting through Zurich. Unfortunately we were stuck in middle seats, but on the plus side we would get to go to a bonus European city and also get an extra half hour in Milan. Our flight was leaving at 11:10am, later than our previous flight.

With our remaining time, we waited in an incredibly long line to nervously weigh and check our bags, claimed my VAT refund (value added tax – I spent enough at Armani that I could claim it as a non-EU resident woooooo!) which was shockingly easy, and then hung out in the cafe in the food court. I had a croissant and my last Italian cappuccino *sob* as we sat reminiscing and once again trying to ignore the clock. We stayed there as long as we could before Nina and I had no choice but to head towards security along with Ana who had a flight leaving soon as well. I had held it together pretty well up to that point, but I realized that after security there was no going back and my study abroad semester would be over, so I lost it when I had to get up from that table because I really really really didn’t want to leave. We said goodbye to Ryan who was flying out the next day, and the three of us made our way through security trying not to make scene but not being able to stop crying (yes, we were those girls).

Nina and I said goodbye to Ana, and then we boarded our very tiny plane to Zurich. We cried when the plane took off, but we were so exhausted we slept the whole flight even through it was only an hour long. I wish I could say that we enjoyed our stop in Zurich, but our connection was only about a half an hour, so all we did was run through the airport and stress as we waited at Customs. I will say however that the airport was new and beautiful, and the view outside was very green and pretty because it’s Switzerland and they’re awesome. We managed to catch our plane and settled in to our flight. It didn’t feel that long since we slept most of the way and Swiss Air also has excellent food by airplane standards.

We landed in Chicago around 3:45pm which was an hour earlier and our original flight would have been. We were quickly through Customs and then were reunited with our families. From there it was home, reunited with my dog Buddy and my favorite deep dish pizza from Lou Malnati’s.

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I was pretty much on the time zone already, so now it’s just time to get used to life in America again. I’ve heard the culture shock coming home to the US is always way harder than when you’re actually going abroad, and so far it’s been 100% true. The mental shift you have to go through is dang hard to begin with, and even harder because you don’t want to actually make the shift. Yes I miss the food and traveling and of course I miss my friends like crazy, but what I miss the most is the version of myself that I was when I was over there. I loved that I had become the kind of girl that booked last minute trips to Cinque Terre and learned to surf and went to extreme lengths to track down a tennis player. I don’t want to stop being that kind of person, and I’m terrified that I’m never going to feel that happy and free ever again. Because now I’m back to having legitimate responsibilities and now I feel kind of rudderless because I had been looking forward to studying abroad for so long (I knew I was going to do this before I even started high school), and now I don’t really know what to look forward too.

I know I should probably stop scrolling through the pictures and re-reading the blog and opening the emails with discounts for Hostelworld and easyJet and thinking what I would be doing right now if I was still abroad. I’m trying not to be that obnoxious person who can’t talk about anything but her study abroad experience to everyone who stayed here and just doesn’t understand, but it’s part of the healing process. Because even as much as it hurts, I wouldn’t choose to have done this semester any other way and I don’t want to forget that. My life is infinitely better because I studied abroad – I’ve traveled all over the world, learned about other cultures, broadened my horizons, built amazing friendships, become braver and more confident, and fallen head over heels in love for my host city. Not only did I find out more about myself and develop a never ending desire to travel, but I found a place on the other side of the world that I will always call home.

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I don’t want to say arrivederci, so I’ll just say ciao for now ❤

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Expo 2015

Imagine spending a day at Epcot, but better because there’s FOOD!

That’s basically what the Expo is. You’ll remember from my previous post that the Expo opened on May 1st, but with final exams and all of the traveling we’ve been doing, today was really the only chance for a large group of us to be able to go before we leave in a couple of days. There was no way we weren’t going, since Bocconi gave us free tickets and this will probably be the only time we get to live in a city when it’s hosting the Expo.

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The Expo is located a little ways outside of the city. We woke up early to get to the site when it opened, that way we would have the entire day to spend there. Glad we did, since the grounds are HUGE. There are over 140 countries participating, either in their own pavilions or in “clusters” such as the Arid Zones, Bio-Mediterraneum, or Spices. These pavilions branch out from the main walkway that runs the length of the site.

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There was a ton to see, but of course we had to get a taste of home by starting at the USA pavilion. The theme of our pavilion is “American Food 2.0: United to Feed the Planet.” There was a vertical farm, a boardwalk featuring food system conversation starters, and a video presentation called “The Great American Foodscape.” The videos had us drooling since we haven’t had foods like BBQ in months, so immediately after we ran over to Food Truck Nation to get a BBQ pulled pork sandwich!

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Sticking with the USA theme, we made a stop at the Coca-Cola pavilion (corporate sponsors have pavilions too!). We were each given a bottle of Coke (in a glass bottle!) as we learned about Coke’s global presence, emphasis on physical activity, and environmental sustainability initiatives. At the end of the tour we were allowed to choose a Coke beverage of our choice from some miraculous Coke vending machines. Since I don’t like carbonated drinks I hit up the low-cal Powerade.

Screen Shot 2015-06-08 at 10.14.29 PMWe then spent some time in Palazzo Italia, which is the collection of Italian pavilions (as the host country they get more than one). Whether it was the pavilions highlighting the food excellence of the 21 different regions of Italy or the wine exhibit, all exhibitions related back to the four Italian Powers: the power of expertise, power of beauty, power of challenge, and power of the future. It’s one giant reminder that Italian food is the best 🙂

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We still had a little time before we were scheduled to visit the Switzerland pavilion and we were hungry again (big surprise), so we went to Mexico hoping for tacos. Unfortunately no tacos, but we got to hang out on a cute patio and learn about frijoles (among other traditional cuisine).

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It was finally time for us to visit Switzerland. The Swiss pavilion is really popular with visitors because of it’s really cool set up, which is why we had to get what is basically the equivalent of a FastPass at Disney Land. The pavilion is four silos, each stocked with a different resource – coffee, fruit, salt, and water. Visitors to the silos are allowed to take as much as they want, but the silos will not be refilled so the floors will just keep lowering until they’re empty. It’s a super cool concept because it makes all the visitors think about scarcity and their own consumption.

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The first level of apples was already gone and we weren’t about to eat a packet of salt or espresso powder so at this point we were really hungry. We made a stop in Germany for some currywurst, and I couldn’t resist making my own Magnum ice cream bar as well.

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There were a ton of other really cool pavilions to see, so we made our way along the length of the site to everywhere from Estonia to Japan to Ecuador to Holland. It’s really cool to see all of beautiful pavilions and how the different countries interpreted the theme.

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Our last pavilion of the day was Brazil, because it’s Brazil and look at it! The net was actually really hard to walk across since my feet are so small, but it was still a cool concept about the country’s technological capabilities that don’t harm biodiversity. I was also super pumped that they had açai smoothies! I know it looks gross, but I promise they taste great and are really good for you too!

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Today’s global food-crawl was so much fun! We got super lucky that Milan is hosting the Expo this year, and I am so so so glad we were able to do this. Food is good, Milan is good, the study abroad life is good ❤

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Life in Milano

It’s no secret that Milan isn’t the biggest tourist destination.

Sure, Milan has a few big tourist attractions along with some hidden gems if you dig a little deeper, but overall Milan is not a touristy city. Especially when Italy has other cities like Rome, Venice, and Florence, Milan doesn’t get much love at all. However, this makes Milan an ideal place to study abroad. Without the hoards of tourists that take over the rest of the country, Milan is a wonderful place to just live.

Over the last four months, our lives have become so much more than just school, traveling, and sightseeing. We have some of the best shopping, food, and nightlife in the world, and it’s all at our fingertips. Milan is a city that is very spread out and has very different neighborhoods, but everything is very reachable for us via the public transportation system of buses, trams, and metros.

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In a city as fashion forward as Milan, you better believe we’ve got some great places to go shopping. There’s a mall a few stops south of Arco, but I prefer to do my shopping in the city center on either Corso Vittorio Emanuele or Via Torino. Our go-to stores quickly became H&M, Zara, and Mango. On the completely opposite end of the spectrum, there are places like La Rinascente and 10 Corso Como. La Rinascente is a high end department store, and 10 Corso Como feels more like a museum than a store, everything is incredibly high end and when I visited I was afraid to touch anything.

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While I can’t afford to buy anything here either, my absolute favorite place in all of Milan is the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II. It is the most beautiful building, and I take every chance I get to walk through it when I’m in the area around the Duomo. The Galleria is known as Milan’s “drawing room,” the first Prada store was (and still is) located here, and there’s also a very unique tradition that takes place here. On the mosaic floor, there’s an image of a bull and if you put your heel on the bull’s balls and spin around three times, you’ll have good luck. I have no idea why, but everyone does it at least once (I definitely made a trip before my final exams).

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Something I did after finals was treat myself to something I had wanted to do all semester. As I’m sure you all know at this point, I’m obsessed with Armani, and I figured that something from my favorite designer would be a great souvenir to get for myself from Milan. Nothing fancy – just some “accessible luxury” Emporio Armani sunglasses and Giorgio Armani () perfume, but it felt amazing to finally (I’ve been to this store a lot this semester) walk out my favorite store having actually bought something!

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Victory!

Being in Italy, food is as much a part of life as fashion in Milan. One of the only Italian phrases I know is “due gusti” (two scoops) because this semester I’ve had gelato more times than I can count. Over the course of the semester we’ve found our favorite gelato places near the Duomo, near Bocconi, and across the street from Arco, and of course we were never against trying somewhere new too! We lived our lives by the motto “If you’re not eating gelato every day, you’re doing Italy wrong.”

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Italy also did a great job of getting me addicted to coffee. I went from a girl who had maybe one latte (out of desperation and sleep deprivation) all of last semester to a girl who was making hourly runs to the Lavazza vending machine during finals week and making every excuse to get an Armani Cafe from the Emporio Armani Caffe on a continual basis.

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Milan is also the home of aperitivo, the American college student’s dream come true. Aperitivo is meant to be a pre-dinner drink with light snacks, but obnoxious Americans like us turn it in to an all-you-can-eat-buffet. So for anywhere between 7-10 euro, we get a drink and can fill our tiny little plates with food as many times as we want!

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I’ll admit that at the beginning of the semester we didn’t take full advantage of our very fortunate food situation. We had Esselunga and our favorite pizza place and that was all we needed since we ate plenty of good food when we traveled on weekends. As the semester went on, we started branching out more, whether it was a new restaurant in Navigli or a food truck outside of Bocconi. Our wallets didn’t appreciate it, but our stomachs certainly did!

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While we usually go and eat closer to Bocconi and the city center, one of our last family meals was at an adorable Milanese restaurant near Arco. It required a 20 minute walk through cornfields to get there (yes, Arco is so far outside the city that we’re in the middle of cornfields – just like Chambana!), but it was totally worth it. It’s not often that we do the big, long multi-course Italian dinner (antipasto, primo, secondo…), but when we do it’s always memorable!

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Like I said, most of the places we usually go to eat are further in the city. Our favorite area is Navigli, the canal district of Milan which is a short walk away from Bocconi. It’s full of awesome restaurants, bars, and places for aperitivo. The canals were empty when we first got to Milan, but when the weather got nice they filled them and it’s become a really fun place that we love to hang out in the evenings.

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And speaking of evenings, I can’t talk about life in Milan without at least mentioning the nightlife. I am incredibly biased, but I think that Milan has the best nightlife of any of the cities that we’ve visited this semester. I love how everything is so classy, it’s so much fun to get dressed up with your friends and go to a club that’s in a beautifully renovated bank or church, or owned by a famous designer. It’ll be nice to be back in Champaign and not feel the need to wear heels every night, but it was a fun change of pace for a semester!

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It has been so much fun living in Milan this semester! I’ve probably consumed more gelato, coffee, carbs, cheese, and tomatoes than is good for me, but whatever this may be my only chance to live here! I’m in love with this city, and again I just want to emphasize how livable this place is. It’s not just a home-base that I only use for it’s three airports and two train stations…it’s actually home, and I love spending time here.

Exploring Milano

After Spring Break, I quickly realized it was crunch time.

Milan has so many incredible things to see and do, and it hit me that I had only really seen the big touristy things – the Duomo, the castle, The Last Supper, etc. Before I left for my study abroad semester, I had promised myself I wouldn’t be one of those people who traveled so much they never really experienced their host city. After being gone for most of the month of April, I realized I had become one of those people and I vowed to do my best in using my final month to explore Milan.

Step one of my exploration of Milan was trying new cafes, since I thought I should take advantage of the fact that I was living in a country with incredible coffee. A group of us quickly became attached to Botega Caffe Cacao, a cafe in the Brera district that had an upstairs seating area with outlets and wifi, making it the perfect place to spend hours studying. They have these amazing drinks called Cremosinos, which was some wonderfully refreshing mix of espresso, cream, and chocolate chips.

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As addicting as the Cremosinos were, I had to change it up sometimes. Thanks to a recommendation from Julie, I found my way to Ca’puccino, an adorable restaurant in near Porta Venezia that let me occupy a table all day. I also had to try Bar Luce, a cafe in the Fondazione Prada campus. Fondazione Prada is an exhibition space led by Prada for the promotion and art and culture, and Bar Luce was designed by film director Wes Anderson (The Grand Budapest Hotel) meant to emulate the typical Milanese bars of the 50s and 60s, along with a ceiling resembling the Galleria. When I went to Bar Luce it had just opened the previous week so it was incredibly crowded, but it was still cool to be able to grab a cappuccino there and walk around the outside of the Fondazione Prada.

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As much as I love Prada, I had to give my favorite Italian designer some love too. This is the 40th anniversary of Armani, so Giorgio Armani unveiled an exhibition space called Armani Silos. It opened at the start of the month with a bunch of celebrities present (Chris Pine, Cate Blanchett, Leonardo DiCaprio, Hilary Swank, Tom Cruise, Pierce Brosnan, Sophia Loren, Tina Turner, etc.). Armani Silos is basically a museum to showcase the last 40 years of Armani designs, and it’s laid out so that each floor focusing on a common theme in Armani’s collections – black with primary colors, the evolution of jackets, etc. Since I had just finished up a project on Armani for my fashion class, it was really cool to actually see all of the things we had researched.

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A lot of the other things I did were kind of spur of the moment –  take a detour to walk by the Borsa (Italian stock exchange – note the middle finger statue haha), get take-away lunch and eat at the Colonnes (Colonne di San Lorenzo, which are Roman ruins near Navigli), or take a quick look at the frescoes of the Chiesa di San Maurizio al Monastero Maggiore types of things.

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Of course there were some larger excursions too. The Pinacoteca di Brera is an art gallery in the Brera district (duh). Entry is free on the first Sunday of every month so I took the opportunity to explore one of the best collection of Italian paintings. Didn’t really know what I was looking at, but I tried my best to act cultured.

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The Triennale di Milano is a design museum (Milan is not only a fashion capital but a design capital as well!), and was basically the opposite of the Brera. Because of the Expo, most of the exhibits were centered around food, and let’s just say it was really really weird.

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A trip was also made to the Cimitero Monumental (Monumental Cemetery) on the north side of the city near Garibaldi. It’s known for it’s beautiful tombstones and impressive monuments.

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I’m pretty proud of what I’ve been able to accomplish in the last month. That being said, there are still so many churches and museums and other things in Milan that I never had a chance to visit. Milan isn’t known for being a touristy city (and it certainly has made living here easier, so I appreciate that), but there are still plenty of hidden gems if you look hard enough. Glad that I eventually figured out that looking harder was worth the effort, and now I feel like I’ve gotten to know this city so much better. Couldn’t have asked for a better place to spend the semester!

“Studying” Abroad

Contrary to popular belief, I am actually going to school this semester.

I’m an exchange student at the Università Commerciale Luigi Bocconi (though we just call it Bocconi), and let me tell you Bocconi is an amazing place to study abroad. First of all, it’s a really really incredible school. It’s known for being the “Harvard Business School of Italy” and is consistently ranked as one of the top ten business schools in Europe. Just last week it was announced that Bocconi is currently ranked the third best business and management studies university in Europe, and seventh best in the world ahead of schools like Oxford, the London School of Economics, and Copenhagen Business School. When other people hear that we’re studying at Bocconi, we get the “Ooooh that’s a great school, you must be very smart” reaction, which is pretty darn cool.

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This of course means that the people at Bocconi are super impressive as well. The list of notable alumni is ridiculous, with everything from politicians (Italian prime ministers, UN officials, European Parliament members) to royalty, distinguished professors, bankers, top executives and countless CEOs. Not going to lie, I first heard of Bocconi because the CEO of the Novak Djokovic Foundation (aka Djokovic’s wife) is a Bocconi alum. It’s pretty cool to think that the girl sitting next to you in your class could be the next Chiara Ferragni (also a Bocconi alum). Honestly, this wouldn’t surprise me at all, since all of the Bocconi students are beautiful. Everyone is soooo attractive, and so polished and stylish and put together it makes me feel like I need to step up my game (and I’m actually trying…I’ve been wearing pants in 80 degree weather because apparently Italians don’t wear shorts no matter how hot it is). It’s actually really fun to be able to experience the whole fancy prestigious private school vibe, which is obviously so different from UIUC.

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Bocconi itself is pretty small. There are less than 15,000 undergraduate and graduate students, so the campus which is located in the zone just south of Milan’s city center is small – just a few blocks. There were two buildings that I had class in – “The Round Building” and “The Lion Building”. There are three sets of doors into the Lion Building, and two lions guard the middle doors (hence the building’s nickname). There’s a superstition at Bocconi that if you walk through the lions you won’t graduate, so no matter how crowded the atrium is, you’ll never see anyone walking through the middle doors. There are a few other buildings on campus, like the library (which has great study carrels), a dorm (with the cafeteria), and “The New Building” (where professors have their offices), which is absolutely beautiful. Bocconi is also just a business and law school, so there are only a few bachelor degrees offered (International Economics and Management, International Economics and Finance, International Politics and Government, and Economics and Management for Art, Culture, and Communication) in addition to the five year law program and graduate business school SDA Bocconi. Again, this was obviously very different than UIUC, so it was cool to experience the small city school environment.

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Despite Bocconi’s small size, the school has an enormous exchange program. Bocconi has exchange programs with over 200 universities in over 50 countries, which means that the school is very experienced at managing exchange students, and there are a ton of other students just like you. Because the school took great care of us and we had a huge network of peers, Bocconi proved to be an incredibly easy place to study abroad. Also, Bocconi has an English language requirement for all of it’s students, so there were plenty of classes in English for us to take.

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I took two online classes from UIUC, so I only took three classes at Bocconi: Management of Fashion Companies, International Relations, and Intro to Management Consulting. I took Management of Fashion Companies for a grade, the other two as pass/fail classes. Bocconi (like all other European universities) structures it’s classes and grading very differently than UIUC. Classes meet twice a week, for an hour and a half each time (I had one class on Monday, two on Tuesday, one on Wednesday, and two on Thursday). Exams are short (my longest was 75 minutes) and they end up being a HUGE percentage of your grade. I had a final worth 60% of my grade, another that was 70%, and another class that had two exams each worth 50%. This is because there’s no homework each week, and really only one group project per class. The grading scale is also different. You are given a score out of 30, with 18 or above being a passing grade. In order to get an A transferred back to UIUC, you need to get a 27. For all future study abroad students, I really recommend taking as many pass/fail classes as possible, since it can be pretty stressful to try and get that 27, especially at a school as challenging as Bocconi.

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Management of Fashion Companies was definitely my favorite class. It also happened to be my hardest (not looking forward to getting my final exam grade back), but it was totally 100% worth it. I came into the class with literally zero knowledge of the fashion industry, and this semester I learned SO MUCH. It was fascinating, I could legitimately see myself pursuing a career in the industry and loving it. And of course, it was obviously super cool to take a fashion class in a city like Milan. We had tons of incredible guest speakers come in, like the CEO of Moschino (yes, that’s right, the CEO), a director at Valentino (my favorite!), a responsibility communicator from H&M, and a brand consultant from Gucci. As a part of the class, we had a group project about a fashion company. Because it’s an Italian brand and I’m literally obsessed, my group chose Armani and we compared/contrasted the lines of Emporio Armani and Armani Jeans. I wish all group projects could be like this one, it was not only super interesting but also sooooo fun! If you’re interested, here’s our final video.

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“Research”

International Relations was a fantastic class to take abroad. There were two halves of the course – the first half was about the EU, the second about China. As with the fashion class, I had virtually zero knowledge about the European Union before studying abroad, and learning about how the EU works and all of it’s challenges was fascinating. Whether it was about immigration controversies, challenges in Greece and Ukraine, or monetary policy in the Eurozone, it was so interesting to learn about these issues from the Italian/European perspective. Studying abroad is all about gaining a global perspective and learning about other parts of the world, so this was an ideal class to take this semester.

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Intro to Management Consulting ended up being a great class, despite the fact it involved an 8:45 Monday morning class. Waking up at 7 on a Monday hurt, but it was definitely worth it. The professor of this class was one of the best professor I’ve ever had, and unlike most consulting classes that just teach you case interview frameworks, this class centered around the actual consulting industry and what it was like to have a career in consulting. Since I think I want to be a consultant, this was an incredibly valuable class to take. We also had a group project for this class (ours was about recommendations for investing in parking technology solutions). It was incredibly frustrating at times (no one likes rewriting a 25-page report the day before it’s due), but it was a great opportunity to work with students from other universities and really get to know them. Even though I took this class pass/fail, it still felt like such a great accomplishment when we were able to get a 30 for my friends who were taking it for a grade!

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Today I took my last final exam, so I’m officially done with my time as a Bocconi student. That meant I could finally walk through the lions!

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Freedom!!!

All in all, Bocconi was a great place to study abroad. It’s known for being the most academically challenging exchange program that the College of Business offers, but I think it is totally worth it. Not only did I actually feel like I learned something this semester, but I had some of my best professors and loved all of my classes. School may not have been my highest priority this semester, but it was still a big part of the reason why my study abroad experience has been so amazing.

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Life at Arco

It’s been a while since I introduced you all to Arco, so time for an update.

I’ve already explained what Arco is and shown you my room, but there’s a lot more to life at Arco than sleeping and having a place to leave my stuff when I travel.

Arco is pretty much your standard dorm. In addition to our rooms, there’s a lobby, laundry room, lounge (which has Lavazza vending machines…35 cent cappuccinos are soooo clutch), and trash room. I honesty don’t even mess with the trash room since Italy is really into sorting trash (and it’s harder/more complicated than you would think), and the maids take out our trash when they clean our rooms and give us new sheets/towels each week.

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There’s no fitness center or room with exercise equipment in the building, but there’s a gym that’s a short tram ride away that you can join, and there’s also a gym at Bocconi. I didn’t even try going through the process of signing up for a membership since it seemed like a huge hassle and I knew I wouldn’t be using it enough to justify paying that much. In my opinion, the best option is the outdoor track that is less than a 5 minute walk from Arco. I won’t tell you how many times I’ve been to the track to run (hint: it’s not many), but it was nice to have a free option close by (especially given the amount of gelato and carbs we were consuming).

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One of the best things about going to the track is that it makes you feel like your actually a part of the community. There’s always old people walking their dogs out there, and it’s fun to feel like you’re a local too. When we were taking the taxi to Arco for the first time, I remember thinking that we had made a huge mistake because it was grey and cold and everything looked straight out of the Soviet-era. But now we’ve totally embraced the neighborhood that we live in. It’s full of cute old people, we’ve got our Esselunga down the block, Christian’s (our go-to pizza place for when we get back to Arco late at night and starving from a long day of traveling) around the corner, and an excellent gelato place across the street. What more could you need 🙂

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It’s true that Arco is on the very outskirts of Milan (hence the lack of other people our age and the abundance of apartment complexes). So even though I have to allow 45 minutes to get to class (it takes about 30 minutes to get to Bocconi), and it takes even longer to get to the Duomo in the center of Milan, the public transportation is easy. We have a tram stop a block away from Arco, and that is only a few stops away from a metro station. The public transportation runs frequently, the routes are easy to figure out, and the time flies by since we’re almost always going somewhere with someone else from Arco. Since I’m someone who hates driving (and I would never recommend driving in Italy – the drivers here are crazy!!), I love having such a good public transportation system available to us.

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However, by far the best part of life at Arco is the community kitchens. It’s where we can all cook together, eat meals together, and celebrate together.

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The kitchens are very much the epitome of how much we’ve become a family over the course of this semester. Whether it was our taco nights or High School Musical sing-alongs, I know that the moments in those kitchens, along with the rest of Arco, will be some of my favorite memories from this semester.

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We used to complain about Arco a lot – about how far away it was everything, how cold it was the first few weeks (I used to go to sleep wearing gloves), how it took so long for the light in our bathroom to turn on. But now, especially after having been gone traveling for seemingly the entire month of April, we couldn’t imagine living anywhere else. There’s no better feeling than getting off of the tram and seeing Arco at the end of the street. These past few months, it’s truly become our home away from home.

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Home Sweet Arco ❤

Expo 2015: The Opening

I am really really lucky that this is the semester I’m in Milan.

I’m sure Milan is amazing all of the time, but it’s especially cool that this is the year Milan is hosting the Expo 2015! The Expo (short for Universal Exhibition) is what they now call the World’s Fair. Before coming to Milan I hadn’t even realized that such a thing still existed, but since the World’s Columbian Exhibition is my favorite part of Chicago history (I was the only weirdo who liked the Daniel Burnham part of Devil in the White City more than the serial killer), I was pretty pumped to find out that I was going to be able to go to a World’s Fair!

The Expo takes place every 5 years (the last one was in Shanghai in 2010). These things are a big deal and they last a long time – Expo 2015 (officially called the World Expo 2015 Milan, Italy) runs from May 1 until October 31. It’s also really cool that host cities get to choose the theme of the Expo. Expos are always about technical innovations and building a better society, but the hosts get to pick a specific focus. Shocking no one given Italy’s love for food, Milan has chosen the theme of Expo 2015 to be “Feeding the planet, energy for life,” focusing on how to best cultivate a healthy and sustainable food source to feed the world’s growing population.

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Since the start of the semester, we’ve been counting down the days until May 1st because 1) we’re excited for the Expo, and 2) we’re ready for all of the construction to go away. The entire time that we’ve been here, there’s been orange construction fences through Navigli, scaffolding covering the Galleria, and sawdust floating through the airports. As with every big global event like this, there’s been plenty of doubt about whether or not Milan would be ready in time for the Expo. Well, happy to report that the construction disappeared miraculously overnight, and the city looks wonderful!

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For those of you wondering about the huge stage in front of the Duomo, it was for the event that took place in the square on April 30, the night before the Expo officially opened. There was a huge concert featuring the famous Italian opera singer Andrea Bocelli in addition to the chorus and orchestra of La Scala and various other pianists and opera singers.

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Not that I don’t appreciate Italian Opera, but I chose to go to the Martin Garrix concert that night instead. To be perfectly honest, I had never heard of Martin Garrix before and only knew of one of his songs (for the clueless people like me, he’s an 18 year old DJ from the Netherlands. Yes, that’s right…18) . But I just went with it since all of my friends were going and since EDM is so big in Europe I could kinda swing it as a cultural experience.

The concert was literally insane. First of all, Martin Garrix is good. You might not believe me because I’m clearly not an EDM expert, but according to DJ Mag (apparently they’re a reliable source??) he’s the fourth best DJ in the entire world. His music was great, the lights were amazing, and I’m currently obsessed with his new song Don’t Look Down. Martin Garrix definitely has himself a new fan 🙂

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Before his set started, we did our best to push our way to the front. Everyone else had the same idea, so we got stuck in what was basically the equivalent of no man’s land where there was a ridiculous amount of pushing and shoving. It was incredibly cool to be that close, but it was also freaking terrifying because I was pretty sure I was going to get trampled. We lasted a good amount of time up there, and then went to the back where we could enjoy the music without fearing for our lives. Since EDM is literally the opposite end of the music spectrum from opera, I can guarantee I had a very different experience than everyone at the Duomo that night. May not have been as cultural, but I can also guarantee that I had more fun and I’m very very glad I went!

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So the Expo actually opened on May 1st. The Opening Ceremony was at the main open-air theatre on the Expo grounds, and included speeches from the commissioner of the Expo, the mayor of Milan, the president of the region, the prime minister of Italy, and the Pope. Again I wasn’t actually there, I was doing some site seeing around the city (more on my exploration of Milan in a later post). Turns out May 1st was not the ideal day to go on an excursion through Milan, since May 1st is Labor Day. Labor Day usually means protests and rallies, but because it also coincided with the start of the Expo the protests were much bigger this year.

Unfortunately for me, the biggest protest took place near the metro stop closest to the church and museum I was visiting. As the State Department has already emailed us several times this semester warning us to stay far away from any form of protests, I knew better than to get too close. I snapped a few pics from a safe distance – not really of the protestors but mostly of the police barricades and riot gear. Props to them, they seemed very prepared and in control of the situation.

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I honestly hadn’t thought the protests were that big of a deal, but when I got back to my room later that afternoon I saw a bunch of dramatic headlines like “Violence overshadows start of Milan Expo as police and protesters clash,” with pictures of burning cars, broken glass, and tear gas. I had been really lucky that this all happened while I was in the museum, the worst I had seen was the aftermath of garbage and broken windows and graffiti when I tried to take the metro (which was closed) back to Arco. (the two pictures of the aftermath on the left are mine, the one on the right is of the actual protest at the station that is from one of the articles)

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I am incredibly disappointed that something like this stole the headlines from a day that should have been a celebration of the city of Milan. While I am all for people’s right to protest, it is frustrating that there are people in this world, like the anarchists at this particular protest, who look for any excuse to be destructive and violent. I know that big international events like this are not always popular – I remember from Chicago’s Olympic bid, I saw it in Brazil for the World Cup, and I’ve been hearing about it for the last three months here in Milan. This next month will certainly be a challenge – safety will be a concern, the increase in tourists will be annoying, and the increase in transportation strikes will be incredibly inconvenient. That being said, I will never stop believing that these kind of events are a good thing. Over 11 million tickets have already been sold for the Expo, and I can personally vouch for the fact that Milan is going to gain a huge tourism boost based on the crowds I’ve seen in the center of the city. And even though I’m a business student, I don’t even think it’s about the money – I truly believe that the greatest benefit from an event like this is the unity and pride that brings the city together, and for this reason I don’t understand why any city wouldn’t want to host something like this. It’s going to be interesting to see if my opinion changes during the next month (though I’m confident it won’t!), and regardless of the situation I am unbelievably excited to be living in a city that gets to host an event of this magnitude!

Sorry for the rant, but this is a topic that I’m very very passionate about. I can’t wait to actually go to the Expo later this month (Bocconi gave us a free ticket!), and let you all know how it is! (Spoiler Alert: it’s going to be AMAZING!!)

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