SO, here I am in Bologna. And although I intended to keep up to date with this blog and write it every week without fail, I have fallen at the first hurdle – so this entry comes to you three weeks after my arrival in this beautiful city, with a so-called ‘shameless apology’. Why shameless? Well, because the Erasmus life is so fast-paced and exciting that I have no shame in neglecting this blog for a week or two. Only one word can sum up my experiences here so far: MENTAL. Every day there is something different going on, another party to go to, another trip to go on, another city to visit, more people to see, more pizza to eat, more caffè to drink. Living in another country is a whirlwind of new experiences: the language barrier makes everything challenging, but somehow rather exciting. And no, I’m no Indiana Jones (Italy is a Western country, after all), but in the first week even doing something simple like buying a loaf of bread from a market stall gave me a thrill and a definite sense of achievement.
My first few days here were a mixture of bewilderment and excitement. From finding a taxi at the airport (hint: although you might have pre-conceived opinions of Italians being furbi (cunning), they still queue at taxi ranks, and won’t appreciate it if you don’t do the same, as I tried to) to realising that on a Sunday, hardly any shops are open after 1pm (and thus spending most of the day hungry), everything I did involved going with the flow and thinking ‘va bene‘ (a mindset that has proved invaluable). I have been very lucky so far though – while some of my friends trawled the streets searching for a room in a flat, grabbing random leaflets from the street and calling Italian numbers only to be told that the room was taken weeks ago, the room I found online turned out to be fantastic. With a large window overlooking a park, a double bed and a marble-esque floor, it is beautiful, and when I saw our terrace overlooking the little red roofs of Bologna, I was over the moon. My flatmates are all lovely – all foreigners like me, but all speak excellent Italian (adjusting to hearing Italian spoken with an Israeli accent has been a challenge, but one that I am slowly overcoming), so I’m still getting a lot of Italian practice in. The one major downfall of my new home was the bathroom. Being a rather fussy, ex-Chancellors Court girl, I wasn’t used to a shower that trickled out lukewarm water surrounded by a shower curtain that, quite frankly, looked like someone had used it as toilet paper. A trip to IKEA at the end of the week, however, remedied this, and I soon kitted out the shower with a brand new curtain, and my room with all sorts of pretty things. My flatmate Lia and I also made a grand trip to the supermarket, taking an empty suitcase along with us so we could stock up on olive oil, pasta and ridiculously cheap red wine (2 euros for a pretty decent bottle). I also spend my first week trying to register, which isn’t the bureaucratic nightmare that I thought it would be. In fact, contrary to the stereotype, it’s incredibly logical and straightforward. What ruins it, however, is my inability to get up the next day to collect my registration documents at the official time. This does result in some hassle on my part, but as it’s entirely my fault I can’t exactly complain about it. (The only thing that is bewildering about the International Office here are its opening hours. Every day it’s open for about two or three hours, but not at the same time each day. Why?!)
Aside from basic looking after myself, I spend most of the first week having the time of my life going out to various clubs and meeting different Erasmus students. There are people here from all over Europe – I’ve met French, Germans, Finnish, Dutch, Bosnians, Swedish, Belgians and far too many Spanish students (one of them told me that there are over 1,000 Spanish students here in Bologna. Very few of them speak Italian, however, which seems to be a trait amongst other Erasmus students. I have, in fact, been told that my Italian is too good for an Erasmus student…a statement that was equally flattering and bewildering). Everyone is up for a party, and the two Erasmus societies here organise so many nights out between them that you can easily be out every single night. Which, of course, is exactly what we’ve all been doing. After all, the year abroad is designed to “broaden [your] experiences by exposing [you] to new experiences and cultures” (Nocentini, Claudia. ‘Italian Year 3 Abroad’, 2010.), so I’m just doing as I’ve been told. The nights out here are fantastic, despite the limited night clubs so far. Drinks are much stronger than in the UK, as there’s no faffing around with measuring glasses – a mixed drink contains equal measures of alcohol and mixer. ‘Waka, waka’, much to everyone’s dismay, has already become the official Erasmus Bologna song. Communication takes place mostly in English, and I meet very few Italians in the first week, but no matter. Everyone seems to be having a fantastic time, and there’s no sign of it stopping, as classes don’t start here until October. The first week of revelry ends with a night of drinking sangria in one of the city’s many piazze, where at around midnight, the local gelateria gives away all of its remaining gelato for free because it is about to close and doesn’t want it to go to waste. La dolce vita indeed…I could definitely get used to this!