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Erasmus experience: is it only about getting drunk?

Quite many years have passed since I have done my Erasmus (Erasmus is an International exchange programme for students in Europe), and now I have decided to share some thoughts about it. Why now? Because after these years I feel that I can share and evaluate much better than at time when I finished it. Erasmus logo, taken from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Erasmus_Programme

I did my Erasmus in Trier, Germany. I had to undergo a competition and I was among a few ones, who got the places in this exchange programme. It was not an easy process:I had to write an application, explaining why I want to do this experience, how am I going to compensate the courses I miss at my university, I had to undergo the interview and after a tough selection process I secured my place to study at the University of Trier for one semester. I had a feeling similar to what you feel when you buy your first car: great excitement, butterflies in your stomach….Mmm…

The first day was probably the most difficult one. I arrived to the main train station and was not sure where to go, which bus to take. I did not want to spend money for taxi, so after some attempts to find the right bus, I decided to walk, as the distance seemed to be not too long – ca. 1,5km. It did not help that people I asked showed me different roads, so in the end, when I arrived to my residence I was quite exhausted, as obviously I took the longest way possible.

Ok, what about the Erasmus experience? Was it only about getting drunk? Well, it definitely was not my case. I do not drink alcohol, so it never was my goal. Having fun? Partially yes, but again, it was not my primary objective. You might be surprised, but Erasmus students do study. Of course, it depends on the particular course, university etc, as requirements differ, but in my case  we studied quite hard.

Is it difficult to study? Many say that Erasmus students get more privileges than local ones and for them it is easier to study, pass exams etc. You might see it as unfair. And it is unfair if you get “pass” just because you are exchange student and professors do not take you seriously. However it is not always like that. Our professors, for example, closed their eyes when we spoke in German with mistakes, however we had to give the correct answer to the questions of the exams, otherwise we could fail. My roommate inItaly, a girl fromPortugal who did Erasmus inSiena, also had to study hard to pass her exams.

What did I gain? Now, looking back, I can say that my gains are probably different from the ones I expected, but I am still very happy about them:

  • Fell in love with latino dances, learnt to dance salsa.
  • Improved my German. Living inItalyit might be not the most useful language, but it does help me to communicate with my brother.
  • A friend, with whom I used to share a table during French clases (I still do not speak French tough); we write to each other very very long letters 2-3 times a year.
  • Realized thatGermanyis not the country where I would like to live all my life.
  • Took part in the Language exchange and got idea to organize similar events in my country.
  • Understood that sometimes people can hurt you, but this experience is given only to make us stronger.
  • Learnt how to cook using limited amount of appliances and space.
  • Realized for the first time, that the universities inWestern Europemight be better in some aspects (such as library facilities etc), but they are not the best in everything.

Thus, I had a very valuable experience. It was not always full of excitement and fun, there were also tough, and sad moments, tears, but overall it definitely was worth it! I would like to thank all people who were part of this experience, the EU for giving this chance via Erasmus programme, and last, but not least my family and friends for the support!

What to bring and what to leave behind?


Sometimes this question becomes also “To be or not to be?”.

When you are moving to a new country, especially the one where you have never been before, it is hard to imagine what is there and what there is not. Therefore some preparation could be useful:

What to bring?

  • Ask your friends who have already been there (ideally have been living there for some time), what are they missing from home, what is important to bring. May be it is a special plug to make your electrical appliances work or some particular spices without which you cannot imagine to cook?
  • Check in advance the supermarkets and stores which you will have around and their working hours (once I arrived to my new place on Saturday night and found out that there is no blanket, but on Sunday most of the shops were closed…and it was in January…).
  • Make a list of all items you would like to take and mark them (with markers, for example) in priority order. For example, red – extremely necessary, yellow – should take, green – can take if there is space in luggage. This will also help you to pack.

Probably if you are moving to a city, there is no necessity to bring all your utensils, cosmetic products (like shower gel) – you can easily buy them (and in the end it will be cheaper than paying for the extra weight in your luggage). So evaluate well the situation. My advice, even if you are moving for a long period of time, take with you only the items you really need for the first couple of months. All other things you will be able to bring later or to buy/find/get in a new place. Good luck!

Internationals

Expat, Cosmopolitan, International, Globalised – whatever you call it, the meaning always remain the same: a person who is not focused on one country, nation, language, but is open-minded and always ready to get to know different culture, people from other parts of the world.  Here the term “international” will be used, as it has a broader sense.

It does not matter how you have arrived there… whether you came from a multi-cultural family, have lived in several countries while you were a child, or may be you studied or worked abroad, or it could be also that you are working in an international organisation… it makes no difference… the difference is inside you and you know it, you feel it.

You do not have to be an expat to be an international, you could also live in your country of birth and have a single-nation origin, but you will feel different from your schoolmates, colleagues. Well, if you are an international, you know what I mean.

Where is your home? After living/having experience in several countries, it might be difficult to answer to this question. You know very well your country of origin, you might have there your family’s home, but deep inside your heart you actually have doubts where your “home” is – is it where your family is? Is it where you are at the moment? Or is it somewhere in the uncertain future?

You know more than one language and one of your hobbies include travelling and meeting new people. For sure your partner also should be an international, as only international will be able to understand your deepest feelings and emotions, what makes you “tick”. It does not mean that international is better than others. No, we all unique, but internationals can understand each other better, it is like being able to speak the same language, even without words.

International is ready to tell his story again and again – where he is from, what does he do, how he came here… it does not disturb him.  But being international also hurts…. feeling that you belong to the whole world or at least to a continent is great, but at the same time you might feel that you do not belong anywhere – neither to your country of birth/place where you grew up, nor to the place where you live/used to live… It is scary.

Most of your friends are also internationals. You might have some “normal” friends from your childhood, neighbourhood, work etc., they could be even your best friends, but you always will feel that a bit strange look from their side, like you were an unusual species in the zoo.

You are used to have changes in your life and whether you like it or not, you cannot live without them. It could be change of countries, international jobs, projects… You know you are different; sometimes you would like to forget about it, be as others, do as others do, but it won’t last long. You are who you are. Accept it. Your differences are your strengths, not all might like them, but not all like Marmite, right? So be happy being yourself, with yourself and within yourself!

Vaccine for foreigner girls in Italy: Part I, Strategies

So you are a female and new to Italy, right? How long you have been already staying on Italian land? Couple of hours? Days? Weeks? I think it is enough some hours, if not minutes, well, maximum one day to get first portion of the attention from Italian men. Have you already received your portion? It made you smile, right? Or may be you got angry? Or confused? In any case, it seldom leaves you indifferent.

Why do I write this article? To help to foreigner girls- newcomers to Italy to get used to the local “unspoken” rules as fast as possible, and to help them to avoid negative experiences. And my dear men, I am not a feminist and neither I am lesbian, before you ask 🙂 If you are reading this article and found there some tricks which you tend to use – then may be it’s time to stop and think, and may be to check your tactics and become more honest, what do you think?

Here are the seven main strategies the men in Italy tend to use:

1. “Sei belissima!” [you are very beautiful] The most common phrase. You will hear it almost as often as “ciao”. After a while you get used to it. No matter whether you consider yourself pretty or not, whether you put make-up or not etc, you will hear this phrase time to time, just because you are a female. Just learn to react to this calmly.

2. Directions, time, help. Often you can be stopped on a street by a man asking you for a specific street, time or other kind of help. It is actually hardly possible to know in advance whether this person really needs help or is just trying to hit on you. After you helped out (showed the street, told the time etc.), there are two options: person thanks and goes further (less likely). Or he will try to continue the conversation by asking personal questions (more likely).

3. “Parli bene Italiano!” [you speak Italian very well]. It does not matter what is your level of Italian, whether you are complete beginner or fluent in this language, you will definitely hear these words. Well, it is a nice compliment if your Italian is actually quite good and you had a discussion with the person. But usually happens the following: a man sees a girl walking on a street, and starts conversation:

Man: Ciao! / Buongiorno/ Buonasera (depends on situation)
Girl: Ciao
Man: Sono Marco/Francesco/etc. Come ti chiami? Or come stai? (or some other very simple question)
Girl: gives the response
Man: Di dove sei?
Girl: Gives name of her country
Man: Wow! Ma parli bene italiano!
– well even if this girl is really fluent in Italian, it is clear that you might need some more sentences to understand the actual level.

4. Actress. “Hmmm I think I have seen you somewhere…ah, yes, that movie/show etc.” and then comes the name of an actress. Most of the girls would like to be similar to a beautiful actress or a singer, so often this trick works well.

Here I can tell you funny story: there was one man, who told me the same story – that he thought that I am an Italian actress, TWICE, in the same place – in a bookstore at Termini. 🙂 It was completely wrong tactic for me, as I do not know any actresses at all.

5. “We have met somewhere”. This is similar to the actress trick. Man comes and tells you that you have met somewhere, could even provide the name of “a friend” (there is quite a big likelihood that you know someone called Maria or Alessandro). You try to remember where you could have met, when in reality you have never met before.

But be careful, sometimes, in an international circle, you really could have met the person previously, even in different town/country,

6. Tandem. “Could you, please, teach me your language?” Men will try their best to find an excuse to see you again. As an option, it could be an excuse to learn your language. Works especially well if you are native English/French/Spanish speaker.

7. “Sei italiana?” Usually foreign girls in Italy see this as a compliment, as they think that it means that they have integrated into society so well, and that they now look/behave like Italian women. Be careful here, this question has nothing to do with your look, especially if you are tall blond girl with blue eyes 🙂

To sum up, men in Italy are using tactic of compliments. Why? Because it makes the person forthcoming, wanting to continue the discussion. This is neither negative nor positive, just be aware of it 😉 Compliments are nice and positive if they are appropriate. So before melting like an ice-cream after being praised, think twice whether what they actually say is the truth and think what are their the real intentions.

For men the most important rule is to make you talking. So if you do not like the person and do not want to talk, just do not answer. Yes, be silent. Even the negative response will make them to continue the conversation.

To conclude, I should tell, there is nothing bad in meeting new persons, including men in Italy. They are actually quite nice and can be very helpful. But it is always better to control the situation and to know the water in which you are going to get in. Good luck!

I would like to thank all my friends whose experience and interview answers helped me in writing this article! If you know some other tricks, please share them in the comments 🙂

Death

Death. It is one of the ‘taboo’ topics, which usually is being avoided. It is not as sweet and nice as describing best restaurants in the city or talking about children or relationships. Still, death is part of our lives, like a birth. When we born, we can be sure only about one thing – that sooner or later we will die.

Death comes whether we want it or not, whether we are living abroad or in home country. Thus, like for any major event in the life, such as birth, wedding etc., it is good to be prepared, and when you are living abroad there are some “extra” issues to keep in mind.

What is important to understand regarding the death when you are living abroad and in general?

Now:

  • Use the moments while you and your beloved ones are alive – we often underestimate the value of life, time together, so think twice when you choose to play computer game instead of spending some quality time with your family and friends. Make that call now, rather than postpone it for later.
  • Be prepared – death can occur at any time, therefore it is better to make some provisions, which will enlighten the sorrow, for example:
    • buy travel/health/life insurance;
    • write a testament: even if you do not have any properties of great value, this could help your family to understand better your last wishes;
    • plan, how will you act in emergency situation, for example, put some money aside to be able to react/travel fast if needed, check whether your work contract or local legislation provides days off in emergency situations – it would help in case if your family member/close friend who lives in other country suddenly dies.

In case if your beloved one died:

  • Spiritual practices can enlighten the sorrow. Try some of them. If you are religious, read what your religion says about the death and life after it.
  • Your life after death of the beloved person continues, make the best of it. Of course there will be tears and sadness, but you should also think of what the deceased person would have wanted for you. Most likely, they would have wanted to see you happy, right? So after a sorrow time you should come back to the normal life, you should enjoy the moments the life gives to you. Keep love in your heart, and positive memories in your mind.
  • Think about what are the positive things you can do in the name of the deceased person.
  • Cultural differences. If you have to attend funeral, be prepared that there could be cultural differences, which important to understand and know, as if you do something wrong, it could hurt feelings of the family of the deceased person. So before going there, check with the friends/colleagues, how funeral is organised, what you supposed and what should not do, how you should be dressed, should you bring flowers or not, if yes, what kind of flowers (in some countries one flower can be used for funeral, whether in other country the same flower can be used for the wedding, so be careful!).
  • Keep in touch with your family/friends, as it is the time when you can support each other the most.

Being prepared for the death does not mean waiting for it to come, it rather means the acceptance that sooner or later it will happen and the provisions which were done will help to get over it.

Remember, the death is not the end in itself. It is part of a natural process. When a person dies, it is up to us to keep him/her living in your hearts. Use the moment you have NOW.

How to find a hobby when you are living abroad

You have settled down in a new place. Have everyday routine, like work and/or studies and now feel that something is missing. There was something, what brought you fun and joy while living in your home country. What was it? May be it is your hobby?

Question yourself

Think about what you have done during the free time previously? Did you play some sports? Musical instrument? Or you were collecting dried flowers? What made you tick in the past? What are you waiting? Write down the answers now!

Something new?

Or maybe there was always something what you wanted to try, but never had a chance? For example, you lived in a country, which has no sea, but always wanted to try surfing and now, in your new country you have this option. Think about your childhood dreams, may be now is the right time to make them come true! Make a list of possible hobbies, include there your previous ones and possible, dreamed ones.

Where to start?

Now, look at your list and evaluate whether it is possible to do these hobbies here, in your new country. Issues to think about are: do you require any special materials, uniform, objects, other people? I would recommend to start with a hobby, which does not require you to buy many new things, because could happen that in the end you decide to do a completely different hobby in your new country.

Look around

Another step is to look around – ask your colleagues, what do they do in their free time, or may be they could suggest you a place where other people are practising your hobby; check local newspapers, stands, walk in your neighbourhood and see what is going on there, also do not throw away advertisements, which get into your post box – check them first, some of them might contain interesting ideas like yoga classes, cooking courses or local soccer club.

Why?

All these tips will not work, unless you know why it is worth to get a hobby in your new place. Think about this: hobby not only enriches your life, but also helps you in meeting new friends and at the same time creates a link between your past, present and future, and may be even help you in earning some extra money. For example, one my friend, who travelled a bit and changed quite a few countries, always brought a tennis racket with her, because she just loved tennis. Definitely this made the process of settling down easier, as hobby allows you to meet more local people, who share similar interests to yours. So just try!

And now, in order not to leave it for later, write down in the comments your possible hobbies in a new place. Share them with the world! May be you will find some new friends who share the same interests? Your ideas could help other people to choose their hobbies!

Accommodation in Rome


Finding an accommodation might in the beginning seem to be an easy task. If you open a website or a newspaper you will see many advertisements, which seemed to respond to your wishes. However after you start calling, viewing the properties, you will realise that this process is not as easy, as it seems.

First steps

Ok, let’s start. You want to find an accommodation. What should you do? The options are approximately the following: you can search online, use local newspapers, advertisements or ask an agency to do this job for you.
Agency (agenzia immobiliare) is a good option if you do not have time and/or wish to get into details of the advertisements and you have enough funding available. An agent will find the appropriate options for you. Some are really lucky with the agency – for a little fee (less than a monthly rent) they got very nice places. Experience of others could be not so positive and the options found for them could be divided into two parts – 1) beautiful, exclusive and expensive, and 2) problematic accommodation (= apartments which have some fault because of which they cannot be easily rented).

WWW

If you for some reason do not want to use the services of agenzia immobiliare, try local newspapers and websites. In case you are still abroad, then most likely you will use internet. The main websites, which can be used throughout Italy, are: http://www.subito.it, http://www.easystanza.it, if you are searching for accommodation in Rome, then valid also http://www.portaportese.it. Wherever you are looking for an accommodation, check whether there are local websites, they are often better (i.e. have more advertisements for your specific zone) than the national equivalents. Advertisements in English language for accommodation in Rome can be found under http://www.wantedinrome.com, http://www.craiglist.com and of course http://www.friendsinrome.com. These are only some of the examples. If you know some other good websites, you could add them in the comments.

Local press

The other option is to go through local press. The differences from the internet is that in press you see at once all the options, which is not always possible online. So there is a higher chance that you will find an advertisement of your interest, however it will take you more time to go through all of them, as usually the advertisements are divided comfortably into subcategories to ease your search. Thus, in the newspaper you cannot use “search” button and almost always there are no photos.
Most likely you will try different search options and find the most suitable for you. Whichever it is – good luck!

After you found an accommodation of your dream, or at least somewhere to live for a while. 

What you should do and know before getting in?

One of the most important steps is to find out all the details of your deal. Contract – whether your landlord would like to make a contract (it is a legal must, but it is being avoided by many), how much is the monthly rent, whether the landlord asks for caparra (deposit), whether it includes condominio (i.e. rubbish collection, cleaning of staircases, portineria etc.), electricity, gas, water. Check whether your water is being heated by gas or electricity (electricity tends to be more expensive option, but not always); in case if you are planning to stay for winter check also what kind of heating you have (yes, Italy is a warm country, but still you most likely will use heater during winter months). Ask landlord about the payment procedures – how much, when, how, what (whether the bills are included in the fee or not). Normally the landlord should show you the bills and in the best case – give a copy, otherwise he could charge you an amount he wishes.

Be careful when you get the contract – reread it, even if your landlord is very nice person. He/she might change dramatically when you decide to leave the property. If you have a contract, it should be registered – this should be done by your landlord and costs for that normally are shared between the parties. There is a possibility, that you will have a contract, but not registered. In any case – whether you have a contract or not, whenever you give money to your landlord, make sure that you will receive written statement that he/she has received them. This is important in case of disputes, which could arise when you decide to move out.

When you want to leave…

Finally, your stay in Italy came to an end or you just have decided to change the place and you would like to leave your apartment. Make sure that you inform the landlord about your plans in advance (1 week or 3 months – whatever is written in a contract by sending registered letter), because otherwise they might not give you your caparra (deposit). Caparra officially is taken in case if you make any damages to the furniture, but this rule often is being abused and landlords are taking caparra also in case if you want to leave earlier than the planned date.
These are the main points you have to be careful about when arranging accommodation in Italy. If you have anything to add, comment or would like to share your experience – you are more than welcome to use comments section below. But for now – have a lovely stay! 🙂

*this article is also published in http://www.friendsinrome.com