Pre-flight enthusiasm (naïvety?)

So, if you’re reading this, you’re clearly wondering – how does it feel to be an Erasmus student in 2010/11, living in another country for a year, exposed to a new culture, new people and possibly a completely different way of life? Well, you might not get any clarification from this post, as I’m wondering that too. As a (now 3rd year) student of Italian and English Lit at Edinburgh, I, Sophie, am about 12 hours away from flying to Bologna and starting a year living, studying and partying in a city that has been described to me as ‘the foodie capital of Italy’. Awesome.

My decision to where to go in Italy was largely based on what previous Erasmus students told me about their year abroad. After hearing an overwhelming number of hilarious stories about Bologna, I had practically packed my bags ready to go. No-one had a bad word to say about it – after all, Bologna seems to have everything: a large student population, decent nightlife, food that is renowned throughout Italy, the history and beauty tourists associate with il bel paese¸ all while managing to keep everything worth seeing within walking distance. And what to do there wasn’t a difficult choice either: nearly everybody I know from my year is going to university, for the convenience, the opportunity to spend all our time hanging around with students and (though many won’t admit this) the challenge of having to go to tutorials and sit exams in a foreign language. Not only that, but Bologna boasts the oldest university in the world, which is a bit of alright.

Right, what have I done to prepare for this up-coming year? Most of my time has been spent trying to find a flat to live in. Previous students at Bologna didn’t recommend going into university accommodation, because most of the people who live there are other international students (boo…) and your common language is inevitably English (hiss…). So they all advised to do the frankly terrifying option of waiting until you turn up in Bologna, armed with a huge suitcase and possibly a room at the one hostel miles out of the city centre, and then trawling the streets, answering adverts pinned up on walls, going to visit apartments and eventually choosing one you like. While I’m sure this is a great option, it wasn’t for me. Always wanting to be the girl with the plan, I started my summer by signing up to a couple of ‘flatmate hunter’ websites and responding to adverts I saw there (I used postoletto.it and easystanza.it, but there are many others). This was much easier than I expected – there are new rooms being posted every day, and while many are being advertised by people who work in Bologna, there are some students on there too. Eventually I met a girl called Chiara, who was offering a lovely room in the centre of Bologna, and after a long email exchange with her and her flatmate (including some Facebook stalking on my part to check she was a genuine Italian student and not a mafioso) I accepted the room and wired over my 400 euro deposit. Confusingly, she won’t be staying in the flat anymore, so my new flatmates will be an Israeli guy and an Albanian girl – and although they aren’t from Italy, they are fluent in Italian, so we’re still good for the language practice.

Other than that, all I have done to prepare is order a Lonely Planet to Italy and a phrasebook of Italian slang (so I can be down with the kids yo), and get a different bank account to use abroad (Nationwide – though they’ve hiked up their charges for withdrawing cash abroad now – to stop people like me I suppose). Most of my time has been spent excitedly thinking about all the pizza I’m going to eat, all the fantastic places I’m going to travel to and how one day I might be able to convince an Italian that I am also Italian because of my wonderful language skills. Any anxieties I have about going are being over-ridden by my determination to ‘go with the flow’ once I get there – and I can’t wait for my year of travelling, making new friends and living an entirely different culture to begin! Which it will do in less than 24 hours!

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