This blog was supposed to be the parallel project with my study mobility in Italy. Some kind of an online diary. Man proposes, God disposes. Two years have passed since my first arrival in Bologna and yet, I still do live in this sin city without writing a comma. It’s about right time to recapitulate the first impressions, I assume.
My original idea about keeping a romantic diary on living the dolce vita clashed with reality after the very first week in Italy. The episodes of Tuscan passion learnt by heart played the key role in choosing the ERASMUS+ destination after all! Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine how many culture shocks I would undergo, nor how bumpy the settling down in Italy would be. Oh, c’mon! I’m moving to the promised land. Pizza, pasta, gelato, lambrusco, beards….beards everywhere. Bologna turned my life upside down. All life principles working in my homeland of Slovakia were as useful as bikini in a Muslim country.
So why have I chosen Bologna. When submitting a mobility application, an aspiring ERASMUS+ exchange student is obliged to pick 3 institutions from the list of partner universities. The choice is highly subjective and even more challenging if your department has as rich network in bilateral treaties as that one of mine. My personal appraisal when evaluating the possibilities looked somehow like this:
- Bologna – tortellini, lasagna, mortadella, bolognese sauce
- L’Aquila – earthquakes
- Salerno – organized crime
Don’t regret your choices, they claim. However, going eastwards for ERASMUS+ would save a ton of money. Going west- and northwards for studies would put my family into a bigger debt than it already is. Why not to pick a happy medium. So I went for North Italy, still considered a Southern Europe, as we Centrals keenly distinguish. We have this thing with the definitions and geography. God forbid that you call Slovakia the Eastern Europe! If you do, you learn it the hard way. Just sayin’.
To my surprise, no one even questioned “why have you chosen Italy?”. The enduring stereotypes about Italian culture got me covered. Why would even someone doubt it? 99% of the planet love their cuisine while 99% of the Slovaks adore Ramazzotti. But which practical reasons made me pick Italy as my ERASMUS+ destination for real? It wasn’t for the 450 €/month which was actually the grant for the I.category countries. If you still call it a generous contribution, try to pay the rent for the dorms in the Netherlands and you’ll end up with a lot of a month at the end of money. It wasn’t that harsh in Italy actually, but definitely do not consider the grant covering all of your expenses, but rather pocket money. For more concrete info about my spending in Italy, check out this article.
Participating in the university mobility is always something unforgettable. Voluntarily or not, for many it represents the time of being separated from the warmth of their families for more than two months. If you’re like me and the only time spent at the dorm is no other than eating in the mensa, it’s definitely gonna be a hit.
Distance. Let’s not lie. Italy is within the spitting distance of Slovakia. I dare to say it was a big psychological factor for my family to accept the entire situation peacefully. I remember my auntie stressing over the flightradar when my cousin landed in Iceland at 3 am in the middle of nowhere. Yes, Iceland is the ERASMUS+ destination too. Someone likes it cold?
As mentioned before, the Italian prices are not so fatally astronomical compared to Central Europe, yet the grant won’t suffice for your daily comfort you are probably used to have. However, if you fancy spending money on food, there is no better option than Bologna. This city is literally the gastronomic Disneyland for every foodie. Living in the southern climate, eating your ass off and being supported by the grant? Dream comes true!
Arriving in the crime scene, I was accompanied by one of my university classmates, thanks to whom this entire ERASMUS+ experience redefined my viewpoint on friendship. Healing the broken heart and swallowing one’s pride over the failed affairs, infinite talks in the dark and roaring with laughter at 3 am in the house full of people. Cooking balderdash like linguine with avocado and gorgonzola sauce, schnitzels covered in cornflakes, the very first Slovak staple dishes like filled peppers or chicken broth. All this happened only and only thanks to ERASMUS+. This weird symbiosis had a harmful effect on our wanna-be-Italian-speaking skill. We didn’t need any Italian. Going to ERASMUS+ with a homie predestines you to automatically fail in acquiring any foreign language. Since we’re both linguists, there surely is some secret frequency list of our most common babbles.
I will never forget my first day in Bologna. It was a cold day in February 2015 and it was the first and the last time I saw any traces of snow there. Or rather a greyish mass heaped up on sidewalks and pedestrian crossings. For some strange deviation, I immediately imagined how can any disabled person possibly function here? Or mommies pushing the strollers. You might be asking why this particular detail stuck in my head. Well, you would too if pulling 40 kg suitcase and 30 kg backpack while skating on the ice.
The first ride on the public transport could not be more embarrassing. One had suddenly bumped into the regulations where no one really expected them to be. TPER is well-known for having its own rules for a satisfied passenger. Use solely the front and rear door to get on and solely the middle door to get off. If you please to get off, you have to “ring” so that driver does not stop when not absolutely necessary. Which makes the public transport timetable very ORIENTATIONAL. Manipulating with the baggage of my own weight, the choreography I performed when taking the bus would not put into shame even Circque du Soleil artist.
Travelling from Slovakia since 3 am, the only thing I wished for was stepping to the hot shower and falling into the warm comforter. Who could have known there’s 10 km trip to Ikea ahead of us? Hungry and tired, we entered the apartment, or rather the room of a regular Slovak pantry size, where there was nothing but broken bed frames with yellow mattresses. I suspected ERASMUS+ of putting me into a reality show where someone is secretly recording me a waiting until i burst into tears.
Looking for accommodation was very systematic from the beginning. I had been plowing through all the real estate, dormitories, university and facebook groups Bologna-linked sites a couple of months before the actual mobility. Since Bologna is a university city making a fortune just by welcoming international students, I was lucky to communicate predominantly in English. Finding an Italian house owner who speaks English is not a natural thing though. It’s much more probable that you will become a fluent Italian speaker during your mobility, rather than forcing the Italian to speak English instead. Even those who do speak English will convince you to learn Italian, hey, it’s you who came here! Comparing this Italian behavioral pattern to Slovakian mentality, any regular Slovak would become English speaker overnight just to help the foreigner feel comfy, all the more if that foreigner brings extra money to his pocket. Slovak flexibility to adapt quickly is just another phenomenal side effect of historic tendencies to colonize the country over the ages. But that’s another story. So, coming back to English, which was actually my major at uni, it became the subject of my initial Italian earnings, since I became a teacher at one of the biggest high schools in the region.
My bolognese dwelling changed my life forever. The beginnings were everything, but romantic. The apartment was unbelievably cold and everything stunk of fresh, quickly white-painted walls. My metaphorical self whispered: “Aah, this freshly painted wall is like a new beginning. The blank slate. The empty pages to write your destiny on”. Yet for a unique child with strong tendency towards obsessive-compulsive behavior living in this precise flat was a pure hell. Number of flatmates differed depending on the occasion. Officially, it was a place of 6, unofficially 10+. People comin’, people goin’ every now and then. Privacy became nonexistent, clogged drains with strange hair a daily necessity. Every single day something broke down, fell off the hinges or stopped working. The house owner was a person of miraculous not-giving-a-flying-fig skill in terms of crisis management. He didn’t react to complaints.
Long story short, the apartment from the advertisement photos and the place where I lived my Italian dream were two distinct real estates. The oven was disconnected, the microwave confiscated by one of the flatmates, shower cords were leaking. Finally we ended up purchasing the kitchen utensils, quilts, bed sheets, pillows, mattress covers and last but not least, the new washing machine (this memory still makes me go into a frenzy tho). We have literally seen our ERASMUS+ budget shrunk the very first days of mobility, which was quite a frustrating experience.
Can there be any silver lining to this? YES, that’ the purpose of this blog! If it wasn’t for the den of a downtown flat, I would never stepped out of my comfort zone (I know, cliché AF but…). If it wasn’t for the locals, my top ERASMUS+ experience would only be getting sweaty at the disco with another thousands of international students, without even approaching true and authentic culture of Bologna. It was exactly that untroubled house owner who shared the flat with us for the first two weeks and who introduced me to Italian lifestyle and his friends. Who later became my friends. These people made the ERASMUS+ the way it was. Laid-back, chilled, relaxed. Something I always craved in my anxious self. Somehow, at the end of my mobility, I happened to have, apart from caffeine and Nutella addiction, an Italian boyfriend as well. Being invigorated by the previous long-distance-relationships, I had to figure out the way on how to keep the Slovak-Italian combo under control despite one more and final year of pending studies in Slovakia.
Bologna is the court of miracles. You begin wondering at things that usually remain unnoticed at home. You start comparing. Your mind embarks on spouting the ideas that would never cross your mind without a stimulus such as mobility is. ERASMUS+ is indeed exhilarating experience. It opens up your eyes (and wallets too). Everything hurts and tastes more intensively than when at home. Sometimes you even find yourself thinking how incredibly organized your homeland is. So funny when applied to Slovakia! And for what isn’t, you can definitely copy and implement from what you observe abroad. Remember, good artists copy, but the great ones steal! I am convinced that any mobility contributes to sharing. It’s like a little hub – it recreates social patterns, prods you into your professional and personal rediscovery. Makes your new passions to pop out. Or you will find a way to liberating flegmatism. You’ll get to know your tolerant, flexible and better self. ERASMUS+ changes lives and will change yours too. Are you in?
A presto amici!