- The Immigration Process: Anyone who knows me knows how much I struggled to get my student visa for Italy. Upon arrival, there were several other steps to complete including getting a fiscal code, a permit of stay, and a local sim card. My host mom helped me with all of this as soon as I landed, making sure that all of my paperwork was organized and that I was not paying any unnecessary fees or having to try multiple times to get the permit of stay (as I had to with my student visa while in New York).
- Sightseeing and Immersion: One of the factors I underestimated in coming to Milan was how hard it would be to choose the best local spots to eat, shop, and travel. As great as the other exchange students are, we all came in with practically no knowledge of the city. Within my first week here, my host family had shown me a variety of grocery stores (and did I mention they get our groceries delivered so I just have to ask them to add my groceries to the list?), both luxury and more bargain stores, as well as brought me to nearby Lago Maggiore for a day trip (pictured). Seeing this local side of Milan has definitely made me fall in love with the city more and I’m so thankful I didn’t have to do all the research myself!
- The Food: You probably already guessed this point was coming. My host mom comes from Puglia, a region in the south of Italy known for its amazing food. Every night we have at least a pasta and an entrée, often with sides/drinks/dessert. For my birthday, my host dad made my favorite pasta (pasta alla norma – a Sicilian dish) for our whole family and a couple of friends (pictured). Although I like to think I cook decently, I have nothing on these nightly dinners. I also have been encouraged to experiment more with foods we don’t have in America and have gotten to learn about their specific regions as a part of this important education.
As I mentioned above, I’m living with this family with the objective to help their daughter learn English. I’ve never been a teacher before, and have very little experience with children given that I am an only child. This meant that when I arrived, I had to quickly get creative about finding ways to engage my host sister so that learning English wasn’t just more schoolwork. At night, we either do her homework for her English lessons, listen to English songs and talk about them, or just talk about our days in English. Although she sometimes still protests, I think that being able to explain that I had to do an equal amount of work to learn Italian has helped significantly.
Finally, living with a host sister has been an adjustment but not in a bad way. My host sister leaves for school by 8:00am each morning and has activities after school Monday-Thursday which means the family is always quite busy! When it works out with my class schedule, I help with picking her up and we hang out at night. If her parents are home, they cook dinner for all of us, and on other nights we go out to meet friends visiting Milan, see local exhibitions, or enjoy Italian cinema. It’s a huge change from living in New York where I was only responsible for myself; now, I have less school responsibilities to focus on and my time is spent much more with my family. They also love to travel and spend most weekends outside of Milan which means I can choose to enjoy the time alone in our apartment or join them in the mountains or countryside. I initially was quite hesitant about living with a family as I was unsure how strict they would be about my time or my life away from the house, but they are very supportive (and even encourage) me to travel, to go out to aperitivo and to spend time with friends (so much so that they now consistently plan dinners for my friends at our apartment).
Overall, I have absolutely no regrets about my choice to live with a family while on this semester abroad. I’ve been exposed to so many new experiences and people, not to mention food, and I couldn’t imagine being any happier!