As the clock strikes the end of my first two weeks in Milan, I am overwhelmed with excitement, exhaustion, and the realization that these next few months will fly by. The first week of study abroad made me feel like I was back in “welcome week” of freshman year in college. My IES Abroad program hit an all-time high this year, with 135 students participating in the various classes offered here in Milan. Most students arrived with friends from their colleges while a few others, like me, knew absolutely no one. Fortunately, I quickly realized that this would not matter. Everyone is friendly and prepared for an experience in which you can only strive by being open minded.
The first piece of good news I got in Milano was my wonderful host family. I was given a warm welcome on my first day, and every day since they have been attentive, patient, and very generous. My Italian skills were inexistent when I arrived, and have only made so much progress in my first two weeks here. I told my host family that they should not feel bad speaking in Italian to me or around me, because even though I may not understand much, it will help me improve at a much faster rate! However, when situations require it, my host mother and her two daughters team up to figure out how to explain things to me in English. My host mother is an excellent cook so every day I look forward to coming home for dinner time and smelling her fresh pasta with all kinds of sauce, or concoctions of vegetables as soon as I walk through the door. I was also pleasantly surprised by the freedom I am given. Many students who go abroad choose to live in an apartment with other students rather than a homestay, by fear of losing all independence if they enter a family. My experience so far has only been positive in this regard. My host mother encourages me to “have fun” and go out with my friends whenever it pleases me so long as I am smart about it (i.e always have money, a way to be reached, my keys). So, while keeping the freedom of a college student, I also get all the advantages that only the homestay offers. My host family takes me on tours around the city, explains the history and buildings of Milan, teach me delicious recipes, and naturally, shows me what being Milanese is like in day to day life. I would really encourage anyone to do a homestay, I know it will be a very significant part of my abroad experience.
The classes are held at the IES Abroad Center in downtown Milan. The first two weeks of the program are devoted to intensive Italian classes which are held every morning for 3 hours. Though this may seem like a lot, the teachers are extremely efficient in creating an environment in which we learn everything we need to “get by”, while also never feeling pressure to get everything right. We also each get to participate in a cooking class with an Italian instructor, an opportunity which I am very much looking forward to! Once the two weeks of intensive language classes are over, we enter our regular schedule for the semester. Our language classes are reduced to three times a week for a shorter period of time. Though my music classes have not begun, I have already realized how much potential studying Opera in Milan has. The program offers a prolific amount of opportunities for students to attend concerts and meet influential people in the world of art. Just next week I will be attending a concert in the MITO festival for free! Furthermore, IES Abroad music students can audition for the Coro Verdi, the second-best choir in Milan after that of La Scala. This gives you a chance to meet very talented singers, most who are much older than us, and take part in the rehearsals led by a formidable conductor who rumor has it, may be the next choral director of La Scala! Even my teachers have endless connections. Bottom line is, if you want a chance to evaluate your shot at becoming a successful professional musician, Milan is the right place for you.
Though classes are important and the primary objective of studying abroad is in fact, to study, leisure time is crucial and no one does leisure as well as Europeans! Milan is filled with museums, a very active night life, and arguably some of the best cuisine in the world. A few days ago, I went to MUDEC- the museum of culture in Milan. This was my first pick because I had read that they were holding a special exhibition on Gustav Klimt, one of my favorite artists. The museum is located close to “Navigli”, the canals of Milan, a hotspot for restaurants, tourism, and aperitivo. MUDEC created an amazing exhibit of the Austrian artist, combining his works with the music that inspired them, and concise but necessary explanations of his life and contribution to the world of art. After a successful first experience in the museums of Milano, I am enthusiastic to discover more. My list includes the Novecento, the museum of La Scala, and a trip to the church of Santa Maria to see the last supper. The Netflix series will have to wait…