Hi again. As I am finishing the end of my study abroad experience in Milan, I just wanted to share all the things I wish I knew before arriving.
Okay so one expectation I had before coming here was that everyone would be super well dressed. Of course there are many people that are well dressed, but in general I have found it to be like living in any city. I was told by an Italian friend that people never wear sweatpants or leggings. This definitely is not fully true though. People definitely seemed to wear less athleisure and were slightly more dressed up I guess. But dressed up is like jeans and a sweater. Everyone certainly does not look like a fashion blogger. So I am here to tell you not to worry too much about being super fashionable. You might think you need a whole new wardrobe for Milan but you probably will fit in wearing most of the things you wear at home if you are someone that tends to not wear a ton of athletic or lounge wear to class.
The other thing that was interesting to me was fashion week. It is super cool to be in the city while fashion week is happening but also it is important to note fashion week is super exclusive. There are very very few events open to the public and most of the ones open to the public are educational talks not fashion shows. If you want to be involved in fashion week do your research early. It also will likely help if you are a fashion student because friends I know taking fashion classes at a partner institution were able to go to a show with their class. You can find out where the shows generally take place and just go walk around those areas and see if you see anyone cool as well.
Packing was definitely something that stressed me out pre-departure and I do think it can be challenging. I wrote a blog post on my ultimate packing list for study abroad that you should check out if you want to know detailed tips but here I will give some quick suggestions. One is to make sure you pack for both warm and cold weather. The first month of the program and honestly some of October felt like summer. It was so hot out! Like I am talking high 70s and 80s so you definitely needed more summer clothes. Some friends I had packed too much for fall/winter because they expected it to be colder and they felt like they had no clothes in the beginning. You also need to pack enough for winter. It is now December and the weather in Milan is in the 30s and 40s so it is cold. My other tip is try not to overpack because you probably will do some shopping but I do not recommend you pack too lightly and assume you will buy everything here. I saw lots of TikTok’s saying to basically pack so so light because you are going to shop. The reality is if you don’t have an unlimited budget you are not going to want to feel like you have to spend money on shopping. I would not pack as if you are going to buy a whole new wardrobe here unless you feel you have the money to spend on that and everything else you want to do (be aware costs of traveling, food, and just doing fun things adds up fast!!!)
Traveling is such a fun part of being abroad. I would definitely recommend you do some traveling while abroad even if it is just a few day trips! Here are some things to note about traveling.
Milan has 3 airports. You have Linate which is the closest but often more expensive to fly out of. Then there is Malpensa which is the main international airport. There is a train that costs about $14 each way that will take you from the Milan city center to Malpensa which is the main international airport located about 40 minutes outside the city. The taxis from the airport have a set price so taking one too and from the airport can get pricey. Malpensa is the airport most people end up going through for many weekend trips. Then there is the Bergamo airport which is an hour bus ride from Milan. Bergamo is a completely different city and the airport is smaller but sometimes you can find cheaper flights out of here it is just the most inconvenient to get to and from. I would recommend using Skyscanner and also checking directly on the airline websites to find good priced tickets. I mainly flew EasyJet but sometimes would do Ryanair. Also, obviously the further ahead you book the cheaper the tickets will be so consider that. There are a few days the program gives you off because they are Italian holidays. Keep in mind that many Italians also want to travel on these days so the tickets are more expensive if not booked in advance.
I love the trains in Italy. I think if you can take a train somewhere I would generally recommend that over flying depending on time and cost. The one thing that is great about the trains is that they are super easy to get to and you do not have to show up early like you have to do at the airports. You could literally show up 10 minutes before the train leaves which is so nice. When deciding between a train and a plane, I would account for the time and cost it will take you to get to and from the airport and go through security. The trains also tend to bring you right into a city center while most airports are located far outside the city and will require more transportation once you get to your desired destination.
The trains are also cheaper if booked in advance. There are two main companies: Italo and Trenitalia. I would recommend using Omio or Trainline to look and compare ticket prices but book the tickets on the actual train site because then you will not need to pay extra fees.
Bag Storage Places
I would highly highly recommend bag storage places. Especially if you stay in an Airbnb because you will usually have an early check out time and nowhere to leave your bag. Generally, hotels and hostels will allow you to leave your bag there before and after you are allowed to check in and check out. Airbnbs do not work like this so bag storage places can be so clutch. I would always leave my bag at a bag storage place when I had more time to explore a place but nowhere to leave my bag. You can just google “bag storage + city” and there are generally many options. It is typically pretty cheap and it is nice to not have to worry about lugging around a bag while you explore.
Where To Stay: Hotel, Hostel, Airbnb
So when planning travel you generally have many options as to where to stay. I have done a hostel, a hotel, and airbnb before so I have experience with all of them. I think many times you cannot go wrong but it just depends on your budget, goals, and how many people you are traveling with. I would recommend looking at all options and comparing before deciding. I like using Bookings.com to find places to stay. I would also highly recommend that you research location and how easy it will be to get to and from the place you want to stay.
Hotel: Generally, a hotel is the most expensive option but you can get some good deals. I think hotels can work well if you have the right number of people and if you split the cost sometimes it can end up being similar to the cost of an airbnb. What is nice about staying in a hotel is you generally get more amenities, you get a lot of privacy compared to a hostel, and the reception is there to help you with recommendations, calling a taxi, or holding your bag after your stay. If you get in from a flight super late a hotel also might make more sense because they will allow you to check in late. Make sure if you stay in a hostel or airbnb to look at the check-in policies if you plan to arrive later at night.
Hostel: Hostels can be really great options! They are generally very affordable and honestly they can be very nice inside. They are great for solo travel or if your group is just trying to save money. If you think about it, generally if you are going somewhere for just the weekend you are barely going to spend time in your room anyways so all you really need is a place to sleep. Many hostels also have private room options which are great if you are traveling with a group and still want some privacy but don’t want to pay for a hotel.
If you are a little nervous about this option, I would not exclude this as an option right away and do some research before you decide. I wrote a blog post about my first hostel experience if you want to hear more about hostels, but I will write some general things here. One is that you generally have space to lock your stuff up so you do not need to worry about your bag which is a common concern. Look at Hostelworld and I also like using TikTok to find reviews of different hostels.
Airbnb: Airbnb can be another really good option. I like to use the Airbnb website or Bookings.com to find rental options. This is a good option if you have a big group that will not fit in a hotel or maybe you want more space. It can be nice to have kitchen space if you want to save some money and cook some meals. I think with Airbnb you need to do slightly more research on the location because sometimes they can be located really far from the things you want to do. I also would look at the reviews. The main negative to an Airbnb is that they tend to have strict check-out times and you will have nowhere to store your bag if you have more time in the city. Also, sometimes the fees can add up so just consider that when comparing prices.
IES Abroad will come out with an official class offering list shortly before the start of the program. The Milan program has you “pre-register” to gauge interest so it is not like how it typically works at most universities. They seem pretty good about getting you the courses you need. I would just recommend being really on top of making sure that the classes you take here will still get you credit at your home university. If possible I think trying to get your classes to only be Monday-Wednesday or Tuesday-Thursday would be nice and give you a long weekend but I don’t know that it is super easy to do.
Notes on Partner Institution Classes
So I did not take any partner institution classes so I do not have a lot to say on that. They definitely seem more challenging than the IES Abroad courses and it is very possible they are taught with an Italian course structure which is very different from U.S. courses (there is no syllabus, only lectures, just exams, grades get posted in front of the whole class). IES Abroad does offer some great partner institution opportunities. I have heard great things in particular about the fashion course partnerships. One thing I wish I knew was that the partner courses are offered in English. I just didn’t realize that partner classes were even an option for me because I thought I didn’t know enough Italian. For me, it was easier to just take IES Abroad classes because I wanted to focus on the cultural immersion experience more than class and the courses offered by IES Abroad easily transferred back to my home school.
Notes on Internship Experiences
I have heard great things about the internship opportunities, although that was not something I participated in. It seems like a cool opportunity. Something I will note though is my friends who did both an internship and took a full course load if classes were significantly busier than I was.
IES Abroad Milan actually does not give you every Friday off which is just something to note because my friends in other IES Abroad programs had all Fridays off. There is also no fall break. There is an academic calendar that comes out shortly before your program starts. Do not ignore this or assume not all Friday Ons will apply to you. Most of the time the Friday On classes were just your Italian class and it was an exam day so you cannot miss it. IES Abroad has a strict attendance policy.
IES Abroad offers 3 different housing options for the Milan program: Homestay, Apartment, and Residence Hall. I wrote all about my experience with doing a homestay in another blog post but some things I wish I knew ahead of time were that you do not need to speak a ton of Italian to do a homestay. I also wish I knew all that the Milan program mainly offered residence hall style housing and that the apartments available are very much student apartments. Another thing I didn’t realize is that IES Abroad has community assistants which are Italian university students which act as a great resource to you especially in the residence hall/apartment style housing. There are other Italian university students in a lot of the housing options so you may have opportunities to meet locals if you really put yourself out there.
Money and budgeting can definitely be a stressful part of studying abroad. I know before I left for abroad I was very concerned about having enough money and I wanted to be told a number of how much to save. I think it is really really tough to put a number on how much money you should have as a minimum because people can have drastically different goals abroad and spending habits but if I had to take a rough estimate I am going to say having a minimum of $4000 in spending money is ideal if you want to be able to do some traveling. That is totally a rough estimate and I think you can make less work or obviously have more is nice. I will say though that I honestly feel like no matter how much money I came abroad with it would have stressed me out because I am someone with expensive taste who just knows how to spend money and I think the more money I have to spend the more extravagant I would make everything and would still be stressed.
There are varying levels of help that people abroad will receive from parents. For some students, they may not be worried about money at all because their parents are either very much funding their experience or willing to bail them out of the debt they are getting themselves into. When making decisions abroad about spending just remember to do what is best for you because everyone may be in very different situations.
The other realization I had when it comes to budgeting is that everything costs money and being abroad may make you realize how easy it is to spend. Small expenses can add up quickly and there may be annoying little things you have to pay for. I realized when initially budgeting, I was focusing so much on trip expenses and ignoring expenses in Milan like food, shopping, my metro pass, toiletries, going to the disco, etc.
Two Recommendations I Have:
- Keep track of your spending so it doesn’t get out of control. It is not a week long vacation. Do not ignore your spending. Money started to stress me out the most when I started to ignore my spending. I felt much more in control when I had an accurate spreadsheet of what my spending was looking like and when I could clearly tell how much money I had left.
- Do fun things and have fun abroad but don’t dig yourself into a hole because “you are only abroad once”. It is easy to just keep justifying purchases. I think of course you should do fun things and have as many fun experiences as possible but at the same time I do not think “you are only abroad once” is a good excuse to get yourself into a bad financial situation. I think it is okay to be feeling a little broke at the end but don’t go getting yourself in debt because you are only abroad once. You can travel more in the future and can come back to Europe.
- Always have enough money while traveling that can help you get out of a tough situation. For example, maybe you need to call a taxi because the area you are in doesn’t feel safe. You do not want to be traveling so cheap you cannot afford to get yourself out of challenging situations.
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Hi! I'm Paige Giordano. I am a junior marketing major at Santa Clara University. I am originally from the Boston area. I am studying abroad in Milan, Italy fall semester of 2023. In my free time, I enjoy working out, reading, cooking, and fashion.