One more week to go and then it’s over. You could say that not all things reflect well.
So it has been nearly four months now living in Milan. This time next week I expect be on a flight to Melbourne via Doha, trying desperately to reset my body clock. It’s a long voyage back, 6 hours in the air from Milan to Doha, followed by a 7 hour stopover, then a 13 and a half hour flight from Doha to Melbourne arriving at 10:30 at night. It’s going to be epic, but it’s hardly the first time I’ve pulled the Europe-Australia route, so I guess I should be used to it.
The biggest issue is that there will be little to no chance for prelagging, since I am in the middle of exams right now. I’ve already gotten through two of the seven exams (and miraculously passed my Italian language course as a result), but still have five exams in five days to get through. There’s lots of study in my near future.
Still, I am trying to take a little time to reflect on the semester here in Milan. To be honest, I can’t say that this has been a great experience when taken all together. Don’t get me wrong, there have been some fun times, great people, and amazing places. However, there were also a lot of negative experiences that on balance, outweighed the positives.
I’ll try and separate out the issues.
Firstly, there’s the reason I came to Italy (no, not the coffee); to study. And I won’t lie, I was not impressed with the quality of education. Whether it was the bureaucratic but terribly inefficient and disorganized approach, or the lack of student support from administrators, it was not enjoyable having to deal with the university on a daily basis. When it came to the courses, I felt there was a lack of direction and guidance as to expectations. It led to all of us being simultaneously overworked and understimulated. There were plenty of other issues, ranging from the quality of teaching in some courses, to some of the attitudes of students, but I won’t dwell, except to say that it doesn’t feel like I got a good return on my financial and intellectual investment, which is a sad outcome.
Then there’s Milan itself. Don’t get me wrong, it has some beautiful areas, a rich cultural heritage, and the ability to walk everywhere has been liberating. But living here on a long term basis has been a trial. It’s generally dirty, expensive, and whilst as individuals most people are nice, collectively I feel the culture and attitude of the city and I are incompatible. I’m too impatient for a place like this.
Now there have been some immensely positive things about living in Italy. Firstly, the opportunity to travel has been amazing. Milan makes for an excellent base camp to see the rest of the country. Italy as a country is beautiful, and the near omnipresent railway system (strikes notwithstanding) is reliable, easy to use, and remarkably affordable.
In terms of actual destinations, there are the obvious big cities (Rome, Florence, Venice etc.) and they have been justifiably beautiful, but what really stood out was the lesser touted parts of the country. Cities that don’t make the “must-see” list because you have to cut the list off somewhere, like Bergamo with its “high city” on the hill, Varese and its Sacro Monte, Genova with its labyrinthine streets… mere examples among many. The density of culture is unbelievable, with every small town having stunning architecture and art, not necessarily in the best state of conservation, but present and available.
And then there’s the food. Now, being Australian I was raised on food with a strong Italian influence (even if we have bastardised much of it over time), but having the real deal was incredible, and to taste the variations in cuisine from across such a small country (even between neighbouring cities) was incredible. There will be pesto withdrawal symptoms happening in the next few weeks, that’s guaranteed.
Oh, and we cant forget the coffee. Oh god the coffee. Ubiquitous, cheap, and consistently good. When even the vending machine stuff outstrips the coffee in most parts of the world you know you’re somewhere special.
But I can’t help but feel I could have experienced those things without the simultaneous burden of university study. And given that study was my primary focus, I felt that the negatives of that experience outweigh the positives gained from everything else. Ultimately, I can’t help but feel that the Italian system of education and I are mutually incompatible. It’s a lesson, and a valuable one, but like all harsh lessons you wish you didn’t have to take them. Sadly, sometimes it’s the only way.
It’s time to study some more. I’m positive as possible given the circumstances, and know that I’ll make it through the week. But I’m looking forward to recharging in Australia, seeing my family, and getting some summer sun in the country, all before heading back to Dallas for the final stretch of the MA/MBA program.
Observations on music, coffee, and the occasional controversial thought.
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