I would suggest that you should start making lists of the things that you need as you start thinking of them and buy them as you go along, this saved me the stress of having to pack the day before. Make sure that your suitcases are big enough to fit everything (I know they are expensive, but investing in a good suitcase is well worth it). If you’re going for the Fall semester, then rather pack more winter clothes than summer clothes because the summer months are not that long and there are MANY summer clothing sales in September [Milan is the fashion capital of the world- just saying 😉 ]. I unfortunately can not give advice regarding the visa application because I have an EU passport, but Bocconi University does have a very detailed information list on their website regarding what you need, further the Italian embassy in Cape Town are very helpful and friendly.
Housing was my biggest headache. I would highly recommend that you start searching for accommodation at the beginning of the year if you’re leaving in September. It is NOT a guarantee that you will get placement in the Bocconi residencies so start looking at private accommodation rentals. Bocconi has listed around 18 reliable websites on their website that you can search on for accommodation. Beware of scams – always ask for a Skype call. Milan is a very expensive city so the reasonably priced places go quickly. Navigli, Porta Romana and Ticinese are the 3 areas I’d recommend you search accommodation in for.
You will have to register online for your subjects in August. It runs on a first-come-first-serve basis so when you have your list of preferred subject choices just have more that the required amount in case you do not get your first couple of choices. Be online and ready to register around 20 minutes before the website opens as the website crashes with everyone waiting to register online and just keep refreshing the page. Bocconi has some of the most interesting subject choices! They pride themselves on the creative industries and business combined. Further, Bocconi is a highly esteemed business university in Europe and regarded as the best in Italy so it is a massive honour to get to go on exchange to Bocconi. They are also ranked 3rd in the world for their Economics.
Experience at the Host University:
There are around 1200 international exchange students that go to Bocconi every semester so there is a very diversified student body. Bocconi has got a great international student integration program set up. From the day you arrive there are activities for you to do e.g. tours around Milan and around campus and aperitivo (this is a common Italian thing to do-it’s basically a buffet of food and you get a drink and everyone gathers at a café/restaurant and it’s just a huge social event). Further, there is an ESN (Erasmus Student Network) group that organises socials, parties and even weekend trips around Italy e.g to Rome, Lake Como, Turin and Tuscany! I’d highly recommend signing up to be part of the ESN, it’s very easy and you get discounts for Ryanair (this is a cheap airline that flies to destinations all around Europe). You will be SO surprised at how easy it is to make new friends from all around the world.
Bocconi loves the arts, thus there are often free concerts in the main hall on Thursday evenings and there is always art exhibitions displayed around the campus.
Milan is such an incredible city. You must know though that Milan is more modernised and it is the business capital of Italy thus do not expect the idyllic Italian street scenes, but Milan has its own charm and I have fallen in love with the city and I’m sure you will too. It is dynamic, diverse, artistic, cultured and there are many students around so you really feel like you’re living a student life.
The academic life at Bocconi is intense, but in a balanced way. By this I mean that you would normally have either one test or project and then a final exam for each subject. Thus, the workload I personally felt was less than at Stellenbosch. You must just manage your time well and you will notice that most weekends you will be free to travel and explore! Another really cool thing about Bocconi is that there is an early exit opportunity for exchange students so you can write your exams in December and you will be able to leave Milan and come back to SA just before Christmas! I found that my lecturers were very passionate about the subjects that they were teaching and the classes are far more interactive than at Stellenbosch. Class group work, case studies and presentations are very common teaching ways at Bocconi. I loved being exposed to the different forms of teaching.
Public transport is obviously something that is very different to what we have in SA. The trams and metros are Milan’s main form of transport and you can get anywhere and everywhere with it. You can buy a 4 month transport card for 120 euros- which I’d recommend because buying a single ticket to travel every time adds up and can get very expensive.
Eating out is very expensive in Milan BUT the coffee is not too bad 😉 (count your blessings because in the rest of Europe it is very expensive). Esselunga and PAMs are the 2 cheapest grocery stores and most students would just buy food to make it at home. Pasta is a real thing in Italy :D.
Take lots of pictures or journal because you’re experiencing so much every day that you don’t want to miss out on anything. It’s nice to go back and see your thought process and your growth- emotionally and mentally.
Return to Stellenbosch:
I think that one must always keep in mind that some people will not be able to relate to what you have just experienced because they have not been through and experienced all that you have. So do not get frustrated when people maybe don’t show interest in asking about your time abroad. Try and get into a routine as fast as possible when you get back to South Africa- this will help to ease the post exchange blues (it’s a real thing). Also, remember to keep in touch with the people that you’ve met abroad- the network that you’ve built is very valuable and they can be a source of comfort when you need someone to talk to that can relate to your experience abroad.
You certainly grow a lot during your time abroad. It is a time where you are really pushed completely out of your comfort zone and where you really have to stand on your own two feet. It is daunting, but to be honest it has been the greatest adventure of my life so far. The people that you meet, the experiences that you are exposed too, the things you learn- academically and generally- all these factors contribute towards a very enriching part of your life.
I’ve learnt to appreciate the culture AND the weather that we have in South Africa. Yes, we may have many problems in our country, but it really is our people- the diversity, the liveliness, the sense of hope and joy that our nation has- that make South Africa so wonderfully unique.
I have learnt and from speaking to professors and directors of companies that yes academics are important, but it is not everything. The people that will employ you one day are actually more concerned about what it is that you do in your free time, where your passions lie and what your hobbies are. So, I’ve realised that I need to manage my time better in Stellenbosch to be able to have time for other things and not just my academics.
The world really is your oyster and that with globalisation it is so much easier today to be able to work, intern or study abroad – it’s just up to you to go and find the opportunities and believe me there are MANY out there.
I would love to do my masters oversees and I have found a few schools that offer masters programs in what I would like to specialise in. Thanks to Bocconi and the subjects that I took there I have realised where my passion lies, and I have got a clearer idea of the direction I’d like to specialise in.