I’m seeing a lot of posts/questions in terms of costs, items, etcera, etcera. I know, I totally get you’re all freaking out, over excitement, anxiousness! I was you less than a year ago, can you believe it?
How expensive is everything? What about groceries, apartments?
It seems one of the largest concerns is in terms of costs, which is completely understandable. I will definitely say, food here; way less expensive. There are a lot of outdoor markets; every neighborhood has one, usually once or twice a week, with really great items that are inexpensive. I will definitely say though, I at least go grocery shopping twice a week, as every thing is much fresher. But believe me, it’s so worth it. If you like to dine out frequently, of course then you will spend more money. The really great thing about Milano is we have what we call “aperitivo”, it’s like a happy hour but with a buffet of food, it’s about 8 to 15 Euros and includes a drink. It’s something enjoyable and fun to do with friends that isn’t too expensive, and is more casual than a sit down fancy dinner.
And in terms of apartments, generally a room is about 400 to 600 Euros a month. It depends on the neighborhood, if you are living in a single or double room, etc. It also may or may not include utilities. However, utilities, which they call “bollete”, meaning gas, light, water, is a bill that only comes every three months , and depending on how many people live in the apartment or the size, could cost you maybe 40 Euros maximum.
I won’t have the Fashion Design Bookstore across the street; will finding supplies be a problem? What supplies from NY should I bring with me?
One really amazing benefit about the program is one does not have to spend money on fabric! Most of the fabric is provided for third year-minus the corset/bustier project. You will need to buy paper/muslin, there’s a store called “3D” right by school, the owner loves FIT students and is so sweet and patient with me. And in terms of what to bring I strongly suggest bringing your favorite sewing supplies i.e. tailor’s chalk, pins, measuring tape. As well as markets, pencils, favorite marker paper. Do not bring a sketchbook, you can buy one here! And also, most definitely bring your favorite pair of fabric scissors!
How do I retrieve money once I’m there? Is joining a bank a good option?
And in terms of receiving money, I have a student checking account with TD Bank that charges me $2 every time I take out money overseas for the conversion exchange rate. By the way, most Italian banks have a 500 Euro limit to withdraw in a 24-hour period. Therefore, when I know my rent is due, I plan ahead in terms of taking out cash from the bank. Also they don’t call it an “ATM” here, which refers to the transportation in Milano, instead it is called “Bancomat”. A lot of my classmates have accounts with Bank of America, which is BNL here in Milano, but I believe the conversion exchange rate charge is $5 every time money is withdrew.
What about banks here I’m sure is another option you’re wondering about. I had been thinking about doing it, but the process had become too complicated, a lot of banks here are completely closed on the weekend, and it’s a bit harder to go during the week since there’s full time class during the week. However, a classmate of mine I believe joined, the Sondrio bank, and had to pay a high amount in taxes, something like 150 Euros over the course of three months, but it is an option if you’d rather the money be wired over directly in the Euro currency.
Will not being fluent in the language be a problem?
Ok, NONE of us are fluent! This entire abroad experience is what you make of it, and for some people, learning the language is not the biggest priority, but in my opinion it is extremely important to have basic knowledge of phrases and expressions. When people hear a group of students loudly on the train speaking in English, it’s kind of like a signal with flashing lights blasting off.
Remember, this is a cultural experience, and part of understanding the culture is becoming familiarized with the language. Believe me, they think it’s the cutest thing ever when an American tries to speak Italian. And when I make a mistake, the response I usually get is “che dolce”, how sweet! It is also a culture about respect, knowing when to address someone in the formal, or informal mode is important.
How do I do this whole packing thing for a year?
I brought with me two large suitcases, and a carry on. I’m not going to lie, to pack for a year is really difficult, and Milano is a city that experiences all different types of weather. Boots are a must, rainboots being the most essential, when you pack them put things like socks or tights in the inside of them to save space. And jackets/coats are a necessity; I only brought one heavy winter wool coat, a durable type of anorak, and a leather jacket. It’s substantial, but I definitely wish I had brought a raincoat. Also, bring lots of warm gloves and hats; it is cold in the winter!
Do not bring large bottles of toiletries, unless it’s something impossible to find in Europe. I brought with me a small set of toiletries for when I first arrived. But if you have a favorite brand of face wash or something, bring a bottle of it if you can make room in your luggage. If it’s something you CANNOT live without for a year-bring it. You really need to think about the essentials, not about the things you won’t be able to bring. Shoes and outwear in my opinion, are probably the most essential things.
And electronics, of course computer-bring it in your carry on luggage. I don't know about for PC computers, but for Macbooks, Apple sells a world adapter kit, best 50 bucks I ever spent. Leave your blowdryers/straighteners at home, usually the wattage is too high to convert with an adapter. There are plenty of electronic stores that sell inexpensive ones. I also left my American cell phone at home, and bought an inexpensive one here. Most European cell phones are prepaid, it's too expensive to call the US with it per minute, but it's free for you when anyone calls, so generally I have my family call me. Another great option is Skype for contacting overseas, you can buy credit and call any number for 4 cents a minute.
Per favore, don’t stress! It’s really nice in the first three weeks you are here, you will only be focusing on your Italian studies and finding an apartment. You have time to adjust and explore for a bit. This is the experience of a lifetime, and don’t get caught up with all the things you will not have here that you once had in NYC. There are positives and negatives about both, but you are going to learn so much about yourself and the Italian culture. Why do you think I decided to come back for a whole ‘nother year? And if anyone has other questions that I haven’t answered, please do not hesitate to reach out, either on my Facebook or email, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ciao, a presto agli studenti nuovi!