A Week in the Life of a Milanese Student

After spending some time in Italy, I realize that living in a different country coincides with a lack of stability. While this sounds quite pessimistic, it actually is a positive thing! In order to move outside of one’s comfort zone, instability must occur. From my experience, there was a long period of adjustment before I began to feel completely comfortable with my surroundings. Daily activities were challenging and most of my energy was committed to figuring out ordinary tasks. This along with traveling throughout the country caused fatigue during the first few weeks of the study abroad program. Now, I can proudly say that I actively participate in society and have actually developed a daily routine. To me, structure is everything and without it I am a complete mess. While there is a fine line between structure and spontaneity, I tend to lean towards structure. Nevertheless, I still developed a healthy balance this semester.

During the week, my days usually start off with the phone alarm blaring either at 6:30am or at 8:00am, depending on which classes I have that particular day. Then, I proceed to take a shower, iron my clothes, and get dressed. At this point in the morning I have about twenty spare minutes so I put a Moka pot of coffee on the stove and aggressively drink about two to three espresso shots. After being sucker-punched by caffeine, I put on my shoes, connect my air pods, and make the ten minute trek to the metro station. Once on the metro I generally tune out my surroundings and listen to music. Needless to say, I am absolutely not a morning person. At about halfway through the public transportation journey, I transfer to a second metro line which stops fairly close to campus. I like to give myself an extra twenty minutes to go to the nearest bar and order another coffee, which is usually a cappuccino with soy milk. In the past I used to think I was addicted to caffeine, but boy was I wrong! Italy gives a whole new meaning to this term and I am unsure how I will cope when I go back to the United States. If I am hungry, I will order a croissant, referred to as a “brioche”, filled with either chocolate or jam. During my first month here I ate one of these every morning, but quickly realized that I do not need to have one every single day. They are not going anywhere and the daily sugar consumption is probably not the best for me. But I figure if it’s good enough for the locals then it is good enough for me, and continue to have them in moderation. Speaking of locals, the typical Italian way to consume one’s breakfast is while standing at the counter next to the cash register. While I appreciate the sentiment of enjoying a quick breakfast, this method still is not fast enough for me and I occasionally take my items to-go. For some reason, I feel the need to rush around in the morning regardless of whether or not I am actually running late. I guess you can take the boy out of New York but you can’t take New York out of the boy. I simply have to be more mindful and take my time. Finally after contemplating my breakfast decisions, I speed-walk to class where the rest of my day picks up.

Specifically, I attend classes four days a week with two of those days consisting of a morning and a late afternoon class, separated by a four hour break. This has its benefits but I find that the time gap is too short to go home and too long to solely do homework. Therefore, I often have the urge to go shopping! Every week shopping temps me, after all I am studying in Milan. I consciously have to decide to sit in the common areas on campus and do work. During particularly busy weeks, the fear of failing exams and presentations usually facilitates productivity. Even though I try to get work done in public settings, it is incredibly difficult for me to accomplish anything because, I would much rather sit and people watch instead. Thus, I can only complete so much before I get distracted. When I want to be productive in a different capacity, I usually go to the grocery store. Since I grocery shop in the afternoon, produce stands are always open and I enjoy buying vegetables there. This is vital to my weekly routine because it presents the perfect opportunity to sharpen my Italian skills while also purchasing ingredients for homemade tomato sauce. It’s a win win. I will say, the one downside to shopping around campus is lugging items back to the apartment, which is about a thirty-five minute commute away. At first this was practically impossible because I was shopping with the American mentality that an apocalypse was coming. Eventually after altering my perspective, I now only buy what I need for that specific week and am able to carry everything back without an issue. On the days where I do not have a four hour break in the afternoon, I usually go back to my apartment to cook and make some coffee before completing homework. On occasion, I will skip the coffee and take an hour nap instead, but I dislike this because I feel strange after napping. Lately, I have not been napping and have been trying to get as much done as possible in preparation for the end of the semester.

For me, nighttime is the most productive part of the day. Usually, I practice my newly acquired culinary skills by making the dish of the week from cooking class. Italians are very particular about what wines pair with their dishes, so often I find myself sipping on a glass of wine while cooking. This is much needed after a long day and it also is a way to lean into the cultural aspects of Italian cuisine. After cooking and demonstrating self-care, I attempt to get some homework done while lounging in bed. If there is some time left at the end of the day, I like to watch an episode of a show on the Italian streaming service I purchased, perhaps have another glass of wine, and then go to sleep. Sometimes however, this is not the standard routine for the night. On Wednesdays, I have a class that ends at 6:30pm and grab an “aperitivo” with friends after. This consists of a drink alongside some appetizers. This is my favorite part of living in Italy because I prefer to snack on a selection of smaller items as opposed to one large meal. Another benefit of having an aperitivo with others is that Italians, especially students, use this time to catch up with friends and even meet new people. For me, this has been a great way to solidify relationships with classmates I otherwise would not interact with outside of class. Going out to dinner with classmates comes across as too formal whereas inviting them over to an apartment seems a bit informal. Thus, Aperitivo is perfectly in between formal and informal, providing a low pressure way to socialize. On days when I am not cooking or having an Aperitivo, I am most likely doing laundry. I do laundry about once a week, which is roughly how often I do laundry in the states. I am very fortunate to have washers and dryers in my building, however they are a bit expensive. To use the washing machine each load costs 2.50 euros and to use the dryer it costs 0.50 euros for every thirty minutes. This adds up quickly, especially during weeks when more than one load needs to be washed. For this reason, I have been hang-drying almost all of my clothes. I did this in New Paltz sometimes, but not to the same extent that I do it here. I suppose a benefit to this is that it prevents my clothes from shrinking, which is a common issue I used to have. Maybe I should just stick to air drying moving forward.

Even though there is some variety in my schedule during the week, the best part about studying abroad is the fact that most professors do not hold classes on Friday’s. This provides an excellent opportunity to transition from student to traveler over the weekend and explore Italy, as well as, the surrounding countries. Of course this only occurs if I finish my work in a timely manner, but somehow I always manage. Consequently, some of my trips were incredibly spontaneous and booked within the same week. This definitely creates an element of surprise that is a little scary but very exciting. Yet, once in these places they wind up being just as fun, if not more fun than the planned trips. Typically, I travel from Friday morning to Sunday morning and make sure to leave myself some time in Milan on Sunday afternoon and evening. This is when I finish some last minute things and mentally prepare for Monday’s. I do the same thing in New Paltz and figured that something needed to remain the same from my routine at home. I suppose that Sunday’s will forever be my “get a grip” day.

Overall, I am slightly mind boggled that I have developed such a regiment for myself while living in another country because there was no conscious though behind it. After all, humans are creatures of habit. The structure I created here helped me stay on track while also indulging in all that Italy has to offer. Without it, I definitely would have been overwhelmed and would not have performed as well in my classes. I will say, I am curious to see what habits come back with me to the United States and what will remain in Italy. Maybe my new and improved routine will be a combination of both! In reality, nothing will ever compare to the life I have created for myself in Italy and I am so glad that I was able to enjoy it to the fullest.

Below I have attached some pictures of my cooking, in and out of the classroom, as well as my morning cappuccino and weekly aperitivo with friends.

Until next time,

Ben 🙂

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