Boarding the plane at Canberra airport, I had a sense of excitement and trepidation. I had just taken a year off work and was setting off an international adventure with my fiancé. He was undertaking an exchange as part of his MBA in Milan, Italy. We would be based there for four months with a couple of months of travel either side. Having never lived outside of Canberra I was more than keen to launch into my life as an international wanderer.
We left on a cold wintery day bound for a European summer. Our preparations had been swift and tiring with the last few months being incredibly hectic. In between trying to plan the trip, organise visas and arrange accommodation, I was also attending Italian lessons to improve my language skills. The mixture of relief, excitement and nerves as we boarded the plane were gently calmed by a glass of champagne and a long sleep.
After weeks of sojourning around Israel, Greece and Italy, we arrived at our final destination – Milano. We had initially rented an apartment for a few nights to settle in, and planned to explore the city to find an area we wanted to stay. There were some quirks with our first home. For instance: the bed was at ground level, there was someone’s recently dry cleaned jacket hanging in the closet, the wifi didn’t work and the air-conditioning made a screeching sound. This did not deter us though, from diving head first into the city to check out the sights, sounds and food on offer.
Within a few days we found an apartment in the buzzing heart of the Navigli area. It was on the canals and had an abundance of bars and restaurants to explore. It was also located about 50m from the metro, bus and tram stop, which made getting around Milan very easy.
A bane travellers understand well is living out of suitcase for any extended period. Therefore I can say it was a great pleasure to finally unpack everything we had been lugging around in suitcases. We could finally hang our crushed clothes and fold our belongings in an orderly fashion. We also had an iron, which in style-conscious Italy – is as essential as an espresso.
One challenge upon arriving in Italy that triggered some bemusement was “la buracarazia!” (“the bureaucracy!”) Specifically relating to the process to obtain a “Permesso di Soggiorno.” This is a permit to stay in the country and is the final part of the visa process. Although this took some time and little patience, we eventually got through the process and with a few tales to tell!
In support of making the most of the experience, I joined an expat community. I thought it would be a good way to meet people and experience Milan through their eyes. We went along to one of these events on our second night in Milan. We stood in the bar area watching people arrive and greet each other. The crowd was glamorous but unfortunately not really mingling beyond their immediate clique. It wasn’t easy at first, but once we struck up a conversation with people, it became easier. We continued to attend further events and meet up with people we had met through this group.
I also continued Italian classes when we arrived in Milan and found these invaluable. Not only because it helped with the language, but to meet new people and give me a challenge.
In Milan, events are on almost every night of the week, including the famed Fashion Week. Being in the fashion capital of the world, we too glammed up to take part in various events around the city. Music and culture are also big features in Milan so we enjoyed many concerts and exhibitions. Many of the activities on offer were also free!
Another feature of Milanese life that made settling in easy was Aperitivo. Aperitivo begins from about 6pm and runs for a couple of hours. The concept is you order a drink (I recommend a sprtiz or vino) and that entitles you access to a buffet on offer. Great for after a tough day of work, study or shopping!
Leaving our familiar surroundings in Canberra was not easy, and there were challenges with sorting out life admin and logistics. But the more determined we were to go, the easier hurdles were to overcome. Living in a city where the language is new can be hard, but opening yourself up to meeting people, embracing the culture and experiencing as much as you can will create a new home where you can flourish.
Through writing my blog (www.anywhereiwrite.wordpress.com) I found a good outlet to laugh at our adventures and challenges, and provide insights on my perspective of life abroad.