It’s been almost 7 weeks since I’ve arrived in Milan, so I think it’s about time I give you another update.
To sum up my abroad experience so far in one word: new. I am learning a new language, meeting new people, trying new foods, visiting new places, and doing my best to say yes when there’s an opportunity for a new kind of experience.
In being in a new environment, it’s impossible not to encounter some cultural differences. I’ve run into a few that, though quite subtle, are actually pretty important.
One difference is that while there is very little violent crime here in Milan, there is a lot of petty crime (think pickpocketing, theft, home invasion). As a result of this, people are very serious about locking their doors. If someone is running into their apartment to grab an jacket, they will first close and lock the door, get the jacket, and then come back. A second result of this is that people are very serious about their keys. The front door of my apartment building has a lock, and all the tenants (a few hundred) have identical keys that open that lock. If a tenant loses their key, there is a risk that someone will find the key, track down the apartment building it belongs to, and use the key to gain access. (Crazy, I know). Therefore, if a tenant loses their key, he or she must replace the lock, and replace the keys of every tenant in the building. The total cost of this is about $3000. Long story short: it’s very important to not lose your keys. Almost needless to say at this point, about three weeks after I moved in, I lost my keys. (See below picture of me stranded outside my apartment door with no means of getting in). To this day, I have no idea where the keys are; I might have left them in a taxi, but I was able to track down the taxi driver and he told me that he had no idea who I was and that he didn’t have any keys. After about a week of high stress, I fessed up. Fortunately, I was able to persuade the housing manager that since I lost the keys very far away from the apartment, it is very unlikely that someone could figure out where the keys belonged, so the whole lock and keys replacement was unnecessary. I left out the fact that I didn’t know where I lost the keys, so let’s keep that between us.
Another subtle difference here that I bet you’ve never heard is that the weight capacities listed in elevators are actually quite accurate. I’m guessing that in the States, when you enter an elevator, you don’t check the listed weight maximum and then proceed to ask every occupant their weight to calculate if you should get on. Back home, I’ve always used the strategy “if I can fit, then I’m sure the elevator can support me”, and it’s never failed. Unfortunately, that strategy has not been as successful here. A few weeks ago, I was walking into a building with some friends. Three of them walked into the elevator, and I stepped in to be the fourth. One of the guys shook his head and pointed at the capacity sign, which said the limit of the elevator was 300 kilograms (about 650 pounds). (We later calculated that our combined weight was 660 pounds). I smiled and, knowing how successful my elevator-riding strategy had been, walked in anyway without a worry. Somewhere between the first and second floors, the elevator lurched and completely stopped. None of the buttons were working. We waited a few minutes, designated a pee corner, tried to force the doors open - you know, all the usual things when you get stuck in an elevator. Of course, I felt terrible, since this could not be more obviously my fault. We ended up using the alarm to call for help, and about an hour later, a repairman showed up who was able to rescue us. It was definitely a memorable experience, but not one I’m dying to repeat. Please see the below selfie to get a feel for the environment of that elevator.
I’m happy to say that the positive experiences I’ve had so far have vastly outweighed these not-so-positive ones. The highlight for me has been traveling. My second week here I went to Bergamo, which is a small but beautiful city about an hour from Milan. We saw some magnificent churches and some stellar views of the city and the surrounding hills. A week after that I went to La Thuile, which is a ski town in Italy right on the French border. It was unlike any skiing I’ve done before. The mountains were enormous - it would take us about 30 minutes to get to the top of the mountain via ski lift, and upwards of an hour to ski all the way down. One day I skied into La Rosière, a ski town in France on the other side of the range, and got some crepes. Overall, it was a unbelievable experience that I hope I’ll get the chance to do again.
The next week I went to Dublin with Sophie and Melissa, two of my friends from Tufts. We went to the Guinness Factory, and were showed how to pour “the perfect pint of Guinness”. Guinness is interesting in that its taste is highly dependent on how you pour it. There’s a very methodical process where you pour at a specific angle, stop prematurely, let it sit for a period of time, and then finish it off. When it comes out out of the tap it’s a light brown, and a few minutes later it’s pitch black. I haven’t quite mastered the technique, but I did teach myself to enjoy the taste, so I’m calling that a win.
Last weekend I went to Amsterdam, with my friends Ron and Nikki, and Nikki’s friend Mary. (See below picture of Ron and I fixing our hair before we take a picture). It’s an awesome city. We walked around a lot, went to the Van Gogh museum and the Rijksmuseum (another art museum), and the Heineken factory. We went to a Chainsmokers concert which was pretty crazy and super fun. We got a feel for what the culture was like and all in all, had a great trip.
This weekend I’m staying in Milan, and I’m happy to have a little break from travel. This is actually my last weekend in Milan before finals period in May (lots of travel ahead!) so I’m making sure to take advantage. I’m really glad that I chose Milan - there are very few tourists compared to other cities in Italy, so I really feel like I am getting to experience what life is like for people that actually live here. I was warned a few times going in that people here are not very friendly, and I have to disagree. Everyone I’ve met has been welcoming and understanding that my Italian is, for lack of a better word, awful. If you are planning a trip to Italy, I recommend you make a pit stop here. And if you are planning a trip to Milan in the next two months, please let me know!
Sorry this was so long, but I hope you feel informed about my time here so far. Looking forward to next weekend (Athens) and beyond.