For my STEP Signature Project, I participated in the Fisher Undergraduate Student Exchange program in Milan, Italy for all of spring semester 2019. I took core business courses as well as marketing electives at Università Commerciale Luigi Bocconi. In addition, I traveled extensively throughout Italy and various other countries in Europe, including Switzerland, France, Germany, England, Ireland, Hungary, Austria, Czech Republic, and Spain.
Through this experience I learned what it takes to adapt to the unfamiliar and how I personally adapt. Part of the reason I chose this program was because it was completely out of my comfort zone. I had never been to Italy or spent a significant amount of time abroad. I was nervous, even after extensive preparation. I took an orientation class discussing culture shock, read books about Italian culture, learned all I could about the city of Milan, and researched academic life at Bocconi. I prepared myself for emergencies, such as making copies of all my travel documents in case something was lost and locating the nearest US consulates. I had been preparing for over a year, and still went in with little idea of what I would feel and how I would react.
My semester abroad turned out to be an amazing and incredibly transformative experience. In the end, I feel that I successfully adapted and learned how to thrive in the unfamiliar. I was able to open myself up to new experiences, move past the inevitable negatives, and embrace a new culture.
The initial hurdle after arriving in Milan was the new surroundings. I had to learn how to get around on a new public transportation system far more complicated than what exists in my home city of Columbus, and the best way to figure it all out was to jump right in, fully prepared to end up lost. I spent my entire first day in Milan wandering around by myself taking mental notes of where tram stops were, how long the commute to Bocconi was, and so on. I also had to adapt to a new campus and academic life at Bocconi. Accepting that it was going to be a little bit of a rough start getting used to a new set of campus buildings, new professors, and new assessment methods, I eventually managed to make the school feel a little bit more normal as the semester went on.
Next was adapting to the culture. I didn’t know much Italian going in, but a short crash course at the beginning of the semester helped greatly. Though I only mastered a few basic phrases, it felt like a significant connection to just be able to order espresso and a croissant. Beyond the language, I was encountering differences in food, social interactions, and many more things that could have been incredibly overwhelming. Almost every weekend I was visiting a different country in Europe as well as interacting with hundreds of exchange students from around the world, all with their own stories and experiences to share. Having an open mind and being willing to embrace these new cultures helped me adapt and thrive while abroad.
In addition to new surroundings and culture, things were inevitably going to go wrong at some point. There were public transportation delays in Milan, I missed buses, and I had flight delays. Biggest of them all, however, was having my wallet stolen in Florence about a month into the program. That wallet unfortunately contained my passport, credit cards, driver’s license, student ID, and dorm key. It was the kind of scenario that had frightened me beyond anything else as I was preparing to leave the United States. After the initial shock at the fact that all my important payment methods and forms of ID were gone, I realized the situation was not as bad as it seemed and could be fixed by staying calm and positive. After trip to the US consulate in Milan, I had a new passport. I had credit cards cancelled and replaced, was issued a new dorm key and student ID, and had a wonderful group of friends who were willing to help out with anything else I needed. Two weeks later, I was pretty much back to normal and able to move on and enjoy the rest of my semester.
Just as my semester abroad was full of the new and unexpected, my future could go in any direction and I feel I’d be able to handle it. One of my goals is to work abroad, which feels much more achievable after spending four months in Milan. This experience has given me a sense of confidence and adaptability that I would not have without it.