Becoming Milanese

Claire Iverson
December 19, 2018

As long as I can remember, I have never wanted to look like a tourist.  In the past I have been embarrassed to be seen going to important monuments or museums, though I deeply wanted to see them.  But a large part of me wants, more than that, to blend in with my surroundings.  I yearn to be spoken to in the language of the country I’m in, even if I don’t speak that language, because I want to pass the test of looking like a local.

Recently I’ve embraced more about being a tourist.  I have become more comfortable with sticking out like a sore thumb and asking for help.  I’ve become less apologetic about being an American abroad by choosing to focus instead on making the most out of any travel I do.  Though I am flattered and glad whenever the Milanese speak to me in Italian first, I am accepting that I don’t necessarily scream “Italiana!”  I’m deciding to be grateful instead of disappointed or bothered when I’m approached in English.  Silver lining: less language confusion and clearer communication on my part!

It is in this semester, more than any other of my earlier “blending in” attempts, where I have felt the most like a local.  Yes, this is largely due to the sheer amount of time I’ve spent living in Milan by now. I mean, you don’t live in a city for four months and not start to blend at least a little.  But I believe a large part of my assimilation is due to my willingness to do just the opposite earlier on in the semester.  Sticking out of a crowd and learning the ropes of the city prepared me much better for becoming an honorary Milanese than pretending to be something and someone I’m not would have done.

But as I’m nearing the semester’s end, my eyes have been opened not only to the perks of blending in, but also to the dangers!  Sometimes you learn much more as a tourist about a city’s history, culture, and mindset than you could if you’re focused solely on acting like a native.  Throughout three months in Milan, I had yet to do some of the “staple” things the city has to offer.  So, I compiled a checklist of all the things I wanted to do and see before I ran out of time, even though some of them may be touristy.  Here goes:

  1. Actually go into the Duomo.  I have walked past countless times and have rarely used those times to appreciate the amazing work of art in front of me!
  2. See the newer districts of the city, like Gae Aulenti and City Life.
  3. Head to the most famous cafes and bars to try authentic Milanese coffee.
  4. Walk around without a set path.  So, head through Parco Sempione, check out the fashion district, and find some hidden places.
  5. Visit the Fondazione Prada, the Armani Silos, and the big museums and monuments of the city.
  6. Read up on the history of Milan! 

When I set my mind to my list, and actually moved past my fixation with avoiding a touristic attitude, I accomplished everything on it.  I’m proud of myself, but also shocked that it took me four months to get around to these things!  I learned a lot about Milan, and a lot about myself too in the process.

Study abroad has been a life-changing and eye-opening experience which I will certainly never forget.  It has shifted how I think about traveling, how I think about language, and how I think about people.  But, it’s also taught me to remember the basics: pay three euros to see the inside of a cathedral from nearly a thousand years ago.  Doing so may make you a tourist, but it is well worth it.  I’ve even become inspired to take a tourist day in my own city.  Baltimore, here I come!

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Claire Iverson

<p>I am in love with many different things: with music, with languages, with literature, with cuisine, with other cultures. I study opera and international studies at two leading institutions, and am constantly trying to find the best balance between these two fields, incorporating socializing and personal time. In my spare time I love to read. I believe very passionately that connecting with other people and cultures through commonalities like food and music makes me a more developed individual, and that I am a better person because of opportunities in which this can manifest -- like studying abroad!</p>

2018 Fall
Home University:
Johns Hopkins University
Baltimore, MD
International Affairs
Music Performance
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