Bachelor of Architectural Design
Bachelor of Architectural Design

I travelled to Milan for an exchange at the Politecnico di Milano in the first semester of my third year of the Bachelor of Architectural Design; however, as the academic year is set-up a bit differently in Europe, I enrolled in second year, second semester courses. These included subjects on the History of Contemporary Architecture, Building Technology Studio, and Historical Building Preservation Studio. Most of these courses’ themes aligned with the ones I would have completed at UQ in the same semester; however, there was a different focus. It was interesting to explore a new perspective on architecture through learning ideas of building preservation for the first time, as well as examining more closely the architecture specific to Milan throughout different eras. All of my subjects related, in some way or another, to Milan – whether it be through understanding the historical city centre, or exploring peripheral communities on the city edge; even day-tripping to the site of a design project at one of the many lakes outside of the city.

There were of course some challenges. My courses were in English; yet, the language barrier proved to be a bit difficult (as well as hilarious) at times. Also, the organisation at the Politecnico was quite different to that at UQ. We generally never received written assignment task sheets; yet, the lecturer was always at hand to talk to, and all of my lecturers were always willing to provide clarification or to accommodate my needs as an exchange student. The last major complexity was the exam and grading system. We gradually discovered that grades for each piece of assessment, and also for the overall grade, are out of 30. An 18 is a pass and a 30L (laude) is an extra congratulations. Generally, you have to pass each exam to sit the next; but there are many chances. The mid-term exams are completed during the semester, after these come the oral exams in July, and then even more oral exams in September (if you’re around for that long…).

For the small number of challenges I encountered, there were so many positives to outweigh them. The people I met were all wonderful, and all very different. I made some friends from Italy, as most of my courses were attended by Italians trying to improve their English. They were kind in helping me understand the system and get to know Milan. I also happened to meet a number of Australians, from Brisbane, Sydney and Darwin, and some more exchange students from the U.K. We often caught up for a beer, or to watch Italy play in the World Cup. I was fortunate enough to have gone on my exchange with two friends, also from my same course and year at UQ. We shared an apartment in Porta Venezia together, which worked out well for communal cooking and also for group assignment work.

One of the main motivators for choosing Milan as a place for exchange in the first place was that I have family that live not far from the city. Although I didn’t know them too well when I first arrived, they were beyond welcoming; organising big family get-togethers and home-cooked lunches. I was overwhelmed by their kindness. Although in fact barely any of my family speak any English, we found a way to communicate. It would have been invaluable to pursue the free language courses offered by the Poli. I went to the beginner classes for a couple of weeks, and these alone significantly improved the background knowledge of Italian I had. Unfortunately, it was unsustainable to keep attending the classes as the uni workload increased over the semester. Still, it’s inspired me to start learning again once I’m back! I’d love more than ever to come back to Italy and to be able to speak Italian with my relatives.

Lastly – my top tip for those going on exchange is to travel! Small trips (especially within Italy) were so easy to do at least one weekend a month. I visited Lake Como, Rome, Florence, Verona, Vicenza and Venice – all an easy distance from Milan by train, and all a nice break from uni. I’ve also had the European summer holiday break to do some more extensive travel, which has been great. It’s worthwhile getting a good grip on uni work to allow the time to do both kinds of travel.
All in all, the semester abroad was a great experience, and of course I highly recommend it. It wasn’t ever something I envisioned doing when I started my degree at UQ, nor something I was completely sure about up until a couple of months before; but I’m so glad I applied and saw the semester through. If you’re in the same position, don’t think twice about it!

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