This here marks the halfway point. In less than two months, I’ll be back in the States and frankly, it’s a thought I’ve tried to avoid putting into words. On the train ride back from Brescia tonight (a completely spontaneous trip decided this very morning), I reflected on the two shorts months I spent here. Trust me: I played nostalgic-inducing music to truly provide kindling for some feisty mental conversation.
I present the conclusion I’ve arrived at:
Exchange is not like Study Abroad, at all. You do not have somebody to help you choose classes, plan your trips for you, find you somewhere to live, or even take care of your visa. Some say it’s a blessing and a curse, but it’s honestly a blessing. You’re forced to become a master at finding cheap flights and trains, a connoisseur of AirBnB, and a native of your city and school’s bureaucracy.
Throughout it all, the thing I’ve appreciated the most is how much exchange subtly (though others may argue otherwise) forces a certain degree of assimilation into the culture and lifestyle. At the Bocconi program, especially, because we spend little to no time at school, life happens in the city. For instance, not living with my peers helped me befriend all the vendors and businesses on my street; just the other day, my local produce vendor helped me craft a new recipe for truffle tortellini. At first, making plans is difficult since students live relatively far from one another, but we quickly learned to fix that by consistently making plans for lunch after class or grabbing a drink at night.
I believe, for people who need the independence and slight edge of fear in their life, the Bocconi program is perfect. It caters to an international student audience and the school understands everybody’s need to travel and explore. Very rarely do classes have mandatory attendance and all classes can be taken as attending or non-attending. This is one of the most defining aspects of this European program. This system is designed to allow students to take courses that may have overlapping schedules, with slightly different assignments and tests given to non-attending students. If you choose to take a course non-attending, the workload is the same (it’s a lot) but is an opportunity to explore different topics at the same time. I have a friend who’s in five courses and taking four non-attending (he’s doing just fine academically, I promise). In any case, I realized how uneducated I was about what I was actually getting into when I chose exchange over study abroad.
And I love that fact, because every surprise has taught me something new. The best part? No matter what part of the world my friends are from, we’re all in the same, shaky boat together.