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Italy – Jun

Student Jun in front of a building in Milan

Student: Jun
Course: Bachelor of Public Health and Health Promotion
Program: Trimester Exchange T2 2023

I wish to share my cultural exchange experience as I am aware that it is uncommon for someone in my age who would have applied as undergraduate exchange student. I am very grateful that I had this amazing learning experience that was offered to me by my Australia Deakin and Cattolica University in Milan. I hope by sharing my positive insights potentially it may encourage other mature students to consider exchange, as what I have gained from the past semester has been transformative life experience.

How did you decide which study abroad opportunity to do?

One of the main motivations that I signed up to go Cattolica in Milano was to fulfill a dream for my partner who is a dual citizen of Italian and Australian. We had travelled to Italy several times as tourists, however we were curious about how would feel like to live as residents. We own an apartment in Como for future retirement plan and we have hardly used it. Como is about 40km away from Milan. Therefore, the potential to study one semester at Cattolica Milan was once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for both of us.

Describe the city you were living in: the landscape, the culture, the weather.

The landscape: I was intrigued by my opportunity to get to know the mystical city Milan, which is known as the economic capital of Italy and one of the four fashion capitals in the world. Milan is the capital of Lombardy province. My exchange university Cattolica is well-known for its quality in higher education with 102 years of history. The beautifully landscaped campus is located at the centre of Milan, which was convenient to visit some of the famous museums and monuments including La Scala, Milan Cathedral, Castelo Sforzesco in between lectures.

Culture: Milan offers rich north Italian culture. I find that Italians enjoy their social life, Milanese are fond of aperitivo with colleagues after work. No doubt most of us love the Italian Mediterranean cuisine, healthy and delicious pasta and pizzas, meat, fish and fresh salad everywhere and food is much cheaper than Melbourne. Also, I was influenced by how Italian people dress themselves. Milan is a busy and fast-paced city, Milanese enjoy luxury lifestyle, social life, arts, and high fashion. Catholic religion has strong presence in the city, with old and beautifully built churches on every main street around Milan. I noticed Italian people are kind and polite towards one another in general

The weather: Unlike my home Melbourne, which is famous for four seasons in one day, Milan has distinct weather, hot and humid in summer and cold and foggy in winter. We began the semester in early September, technically it was the Autumn in Italy. I felt hot and humid very often like summer, we were reminded to stay hydrated, luckily there are ancient wells everywhere in the city. I made sure that I enjoyed the free, chilled fresh water throughout my exchange. In November the sky looked grey and it became cold quickly. The professor explained to us that the grey sky is typical Milan weather as Milanese are famous for their work ethics, the dull weather encourages people to focus on work.

How did you make friends and what sort of things did you do together?

I anticipated that making friends could be difficult for me simply due to my age gap with the rest of the normal students. Cattolica International offered a full range of social activities with the purpose to connect international students who may experience loneliness or homesick. I wish I was young again as there were social activities almost every night including nightclub parties, day tour visiting museums, hanging out for pizzas in the evenings or trips away from Milan on long weekends etc. I decided that none of these social events would be suitable for me. I created my own opportunities to make some meaningful connections with young students. Luckily that my partner was there with me, and we stayed in Como, which is famous for its breathtaking view. I became a local tour guide and invited my Chinese and Australian new friends to visit Como several times on the weekends. We would walk around the stunning lake, enjoyed gourmet Napoli pizzas and gelati, we travelled with boats to other surrounding cities on the lake. We had time to tell our stories and made connections despite age difference. I was able to offer some advice and support as most students were first time away from parents and alone overseas.

Other memorable events include the two running festivals I signed up during the semester in Europe including the famous annual Swiss City Run in Luzern and Como Lake Half Marathon. I also invited classmates whom I worked in group projects to go out for coffees and lunches. I stayed engaged whenever I came to my lectures and am kind and open-minded when I interact with the peers. By the time I finished the semester I made more meaningful conversations than I had ever done in my life, I made new friends with students coming from USA, Mexico, France, Spain, China, Australia, German, Norway and Japan. I found that exchange students were eager to connect with others as no one had family there with them

What was something that challenged you?

Being a mature student It was not common in Italy that women at my age who would go back to study a bachelor’s degree. I was the oldest in all my four enrolled subjects, and possibly the oldest student on campus who is an undergraduate at Cattolica. I would be lying to say that it was always an easy thing. But I shifted my mindset by being grateful for my opportunity. I feel so proud of being an Australian which has instilled me the value that everyone deserves to have a “fair go”. I also feel grateful for the inclusive culture at Deakin University where mature students are common. Studying in physical classroom I have never attended the physical classroom during the three and half years since I began my study in public health, partially due to COVID-19, which online study has become the new norm. Initially I felt uncomfortable when I sat amongst classmates who were all so young in their twenties, but I was interested in the contents presented by passionate professors. Most of the young people were welcoming and friendly rarely anyone had made me feel I was different. Public transport strike I commuted daily except Fridays from Lake Como to Milan during the semester. I enjoyed my train trips. What I did not know is railway strike was common in Italy. I had to use expensive taxies several times during the semester as I did not want to miss my lectures as attendance was compulsory for exchange study.

What is the one big thing you will always remember from your experience? Or one big lesson that you learnt?

I will always remember the warmth and kindness of Italian professors and staff at Cattolica International, they made me feel good about myself. One big lesson that I have learnt is to be courageous in life, and do not live with fear. This trip has made me to achieve amazing personal growth, self-compassion. The time away from my Australia home allowed me to reflect about my life, and had fresh look of myself, it has enabled me to build a healthy new identity. Often what stops us to pursue our dream is our own limited belief.

Learn more about studying at Universita Cattolica Sacro Cuore

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