August 31, 2014

Italy experience: living Bologna for one year


Bologna, Italy
This is the story of an Emotional, Life-Changing and Blurry experience as Ben Hayward defined it, 21 years old guy from London, England, who studies German and Italian at Swansea University, in Wales, and spent his last 10 months, from September 2013 to July 2014, living in Bologna, Italy, where he "studied" German, Russian, Finnish and Polish for the Erasmus program (Cit. "If you haven’t already guessed, I like languages!")

My first impact with Italy and Bologna

I had never been to Italy prior to my Erasmus period.
I was very unsure what to expect as coming from a large city such as London meant that I would need to adapt to the quieter life of Bologna and the slower life the Italians lead compared to the English, however I managed to adapt very quickly to this lifestyle and I like to think that after approximately two weeks I had successfully integrated with members of the Italian panic.
Bologna is a beautiful city and is like nowhere I have ever been to before. The medieval architecture and the closeness of the city shocked me but helped me to integrate better as I was always with in close proximity to other people and the Italian culture. I was surprised about the lack of people that could communicate effectively in English.
Despite studying Italian for two years we are fully unprepared as Erasmus students to find accommodation and set up a life in the Italian language. I found this difficult as I could not communicate with the Italians and they could not communicate with me; however after about three weeks to a month I was able to speak and understand Italian better.
Bologna, Italy

How things went on later

After a short period of time in Italy my suspicions about Italian organisation were proven to be correct as I found the university and other contacts I had to use to be very unorganised as they didn’t reply to me. However I was able to look past this as the beauty of Bologna and Italy as a whole drew me in and the rest of my Erasmus period flew by. I was able to improve my Italian by attending lectures, having tandem partners and speaking to ordinary Italians on a daily basis.

What I discovered and experienced of Italian culture

The Italian people are very friendly and were always happy to help me should I need it. One particular memory stays in my head; I was lucky enough to experience the FIFA World Cup during my Year Abroad and despite all of me and my English friend’s wishes, we were drawn in the same group as Italy. When the evening came we decided to watch the match in a bar surrounded by hundreds of Italian supporters with just a group of eight of us supporting England.
Despite my initial fears the Italians were very friendly and there was not any animosity towards us at any point of the match. During my time in Italy I was able to expand my diet as I adapted to the Italian cuisine. I was aware that the Italy is famed for its cuisine however it blew me away as the menus were much more expansive than I thought they would be. The transport system is also a lot better than I expected, and also a lot cheaper than was expected, especially compared to England.

My DNA has been a little affected by the Italian style...

I do not think that I became Italian however some of my mannerisms have changed throughout my time in Italy; I now walk a lot slower than I did in London and I have become a lot more studious. I also talk a lot more with my hands (an English stereotype of Italians) and have learnt a few colloquial phrases used by the public but not taught in our classes!

My Bolognese daily routine (more nightly than daily...)

There was very little I didn’t do on my Year in Italy. I was a regular at nightclubs and the Pizza take away restaurants afterwards. I would go out at least twice a week, and if I wasn’t dancing the night away then I would be in a bar sharing a bottle of wine with friends. I really enjoy travelling and I was fortunate enough to be able to do a lot of it during my Erasmus Year. I visited fourteen different countries and over thirty fives towns and cities within Italy including Naples, Perugia, Genoa and Trento.
This was made possible due to Bologna’s location on the train routes as well as having an airport. Of course I did spend time studying between my travels and my nights out, however this year did not contribute towards my final degree grade so I was able to relax and choose any subjects I desired. As I said earlier I studied four languages in Bologna, three that I had never studied before. Although it was challenging I would not change it, as I was able to push myself to achieve greater things, and I hope to continue this into my final year at my home university.

My travels in Italy

I love travelling, it is my favourite hobby. I would travel for the rest of my life if I could. I had time to visit many countries far and wide across Europe. However I much preferred travelling around Italy as it did begin to feel like home. In fact I began to not call myself a tourist as I felt so comfortable around the towns and cities. Italy varies so much that you could spend your whole life here and still manage to miss places.
I managed to travel around for events adding an extra dimension to my travels. For example I managed to visit the Christmas Market in Trento and the Italy v England Six Nations Rugby Match in Rome. These were truly amazing as they gave me the opportunity to see how Italy and its people can get into the spirit of everything, something I was not expecting.
Trento, Italy
Christmas market in Trento

3 places all foreign travellers should visit In Italy

1) Bologna; Not many foreign travellers are aware of Bologna and its stunning beauty. The medieval architecture, the oldest university in the western world and the people make it different to anywhere I have ever been to. Bologna always reminded me of a better preserved, older version of Berlin as the culture is similar in my opinion. The ‘Seven Secrets of Bologna’ add their own little twist as well. It is most definitely worth a visit.
2) San Marino; Although its own country I’m cheating and including San Marino anyway. Despite the difficulties in travelling here San Marino is another destination that will surprise people, close to Rimini geographically it seems a world away culturally. The calmness of the Sammarinese people surprised me, even compared to Italians! The view from the towers is breathtaking, despite the walk up to them. In fact when I was showing some friends around they much preferred San Marino to places such as Firenze.
San Marino, Italy
Ben in San Marino
3) Cinque Terre; Hidden away on the Ligurian coast is the Cinque Terre National Park and it took my breath away. Every village has its own characteristics that make it different to its neighbours and every village is unique. The scenery is stunning and the walks, although tiring, are definitely worth doing.
Cinque Terre, Italy

3 things you shouldn't miss if you live for a period in Bologna

1) Momus Cafe; During the day this cafe is almost unnoticeable however at night it really comes to life. It is the home of the infamous drink ‘Magic Sam.
This drink is notorious throughout the city and is a must-have. I spent many evenings in this bar and the staff were always friendly, they never turn anyone away and try to be everyone’s friend.
2) Piazza Maggiore Film Festival; In the summer months a large screen is places in Piazza Maggiore showing films in an outdoor setting. The viewings are free and can be enjoyed for the whole evening or just for twenty minutes if you are passing through. I watched ‘Cabaret’ here and despite my initial scepticism, I had a really pleasant evening with bottles of wine, snacks and good company and it turned out to be one of my favourite nights of my Year Abroad.
3) Piazza Verdi; Piazza Verdi has to be seen to be believed, on a nice evening in the summer up to five hundred students and locals gather to drink. People bring along musical instruments to entertain the gatherers and everyone is very friendly. Despite not looking like much when it is in full swing you would be hard pushed to find a piazza in Italy with a better atmosphere. I had many a good night here as I never felt threatened and was able to relax and unwind with my friends.


Thanks a lot to Ben for sharing his story with Gadders Blog!

And if you are planning a trip to Bologna soon,  click here to start looking for a cheap accommodation!


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