My name is Sergio Fernández Giraldo, and I am originally from Bogotá, Colombia, but currently live in North Carolina. I go to Haverford College, and I studied abroad in Milan, Italy, during Spring 2015. I enjoy soccer, snowboarding, hiking, and exploring!
After studying abroad for a semester in Milan, I wrote this article to share what I loved most about the city and what future students can look forward to.
Middle school…not really a time when students think about anything college-related; however, seventh grade was when I decided I wanted to study abroad in Milan, Italy.
Why Milan, Italy? Well, I have been an AC Milan fan since I began following professional soccer as a kid. In 2007, when I was in 7th grade, they won the UEFA Champions League, and that prompted me to Google search “Milan, Italy.” As a 7th grader reading articles was not really my thing, so instead I went through several pages of the Google images results, and I fell in love.
Eight years later, on January 12, 2015, I found myself boarding the train from Milan-Malpensa Airport into the city. It was around 7 a.m., and the air was frigid. I hopped in a cab and headed for my host family’s apartment. My face was glued to the window the entire ride. I had been anticipating this moment for years, so it was hard to grasp the fact that studying abroad in Milan was suddenly a reality.
Normally, when you anticipate something for so long, it fails to reach the expectations set—I can say with complete conviction that Milan surpassed any expectation that I had built-up in the previous eight years. Its unparalleled blend of ancient and modern, the diversity of cultures one can stumble upon, and its geographic location are all features that make Milan, in my view, the best city in Italy.
Like the rest of Italy, Milan has a profound history, featuring different periods of rule by the Spanish, French, and, of course, Romans. These influences manifest themselves in the city’s structure, its architecture, and its unique Milanese dialect. Arranged like a spider web, each time Milan was conquered by a different empire, it acquired a new outer ring with a wall to protect it. Today you can see remnants of these various walls and rings when you walk around the city. Another clear remnant of these walls is the immense Sforza Castle, which dates back to the 1300s and now rests in the center of the city. The Navigli (Italian for “canals”) district, which features two large canals, provides another glimpse into the city’s past—when canals twisted through the city, serving as the main transportation channels from the Ticino River to the Po River and out to the Mediterranean.
Another sign of foreign influences, especially French, is the Milanese dialect. Throughout the ages, the regions of Italy (that were previously not unified) developed their own unique dialects that vary slightly from what is known today as Italian. Milan’s dialect incorporates a lot of expressions and terms from French and Spanish, displaying its complex past. The city offers plenty of other historical artefacts, with Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper being the clear standout. But, don’t worry, the city offers much more than its enduring history.
One of my favorite characteristics of Milan is its compromise between antiquity and modernity. The historic center, with cobblestone streets and stunning architecture, is vibrant and teeming with boutiques, restaurants, and parks. It encompasses the astounding Milan Cathedral, simply referred to as the Duomo, which towers about 350 feet over the central square and offers gorgeous views of the city. Milan also proudly displays its modernity with the country’s two tallest skyscrapers: the UniCredit Tower and the Allianz Tower. The UniCredit Tower, with its curved, glass structure and giant needle, stands out as an architectural marvel.
Skyscrapers continue to sprout up around it, indicating the city’s constant advancement. The state of the art Allianz Tower, located in a different zone, is part of the “City Life” project that aims to create a contemporary residential and business district. Additionally, the city has a comprehensive public transit system comprised of five metro lines, buses, trams, and regional trains. This makes the city extremely accessible no matter where you may be or where you may want to go.
One of my favorite places to go was the aforementioned Navigli district. The two canals are lined with cobblestone streets that are packed with restaurants and bars offering outdoor seating.
This is the best place to head for aperitivo, an Italian tradition (started in Milan), where you meet with friends to have a drink accompanied by traditional Italian finger foods. It started as a pre-dinner event for friends to socialize, but it now often replaces dinner. This area also houses Via Tortona, which showcases a variety of unique events during Milan
Fashion Week and Milan Design Week. It is the center of Milan’s fashion and design industry.
From the canals, a 10-minute walk toward the city center will take you to le colonne. Translated as “the columns,” this plaza, lined with ancient columns, has become a popular spot for college students to go and meet up with friends. It’s a great spot to meet and talk to locals!
Another great nightlife area is Porta Garibaldi, near the UniCredit Tower, which has plenty of restaurants and shops, and is home to Eataly. Eataly, a type of supermarket, focuses on exhibiting Italy’s rich culinary culture by offering food and drink products from around each region, also including several restaurants.
For those who like fashion and design, keep in mind Milan is a world capital for fashion and design. Milan Fashion Week takes place in February and September, with the even bigger Milan Design Week happening in April. No matter which semester you choose to study abroad, you will find plenty of opportunities to explore the fashion world. Milan is a very international city. You can meet people from all parts of the globe, some who live in the city permanently and some just visiting. I thoroughly enjoy speaking with people from different backgrounds, so this was one of my favorite aspects of the city.
IDEAL EUROPEAN LOCATION
I love going hiking, snowboarding, and exploring the outdoors, so I was thrilled that Milan is only two hours from the Alps and two hours from the Italian Riviera. During my time abroad I got the chance to go snowboarding in the Alps twice, and I got to hike around Lago Maggiore in the foothills. There are several glacial lakes, including Maggiore, that are all less than an hour north of the city and easily accessible by train.
As it gets warmer, you can also hop on the train and head to the indescribably spectacular Cinque Terre National Park on the Italian Riviera. If you feel like traveling somewhere further Milan has airports that service both Ryan Air and Easy Jet (budget airlines), and its location means you can reach most popular destinations within 2 hours.
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