Bachelor of Architectural Design
Bachelor of Architectural Design

Academic experiences

I’ll start with the application procedure which is quite representative of the overall organisation of Italian universities. It is here that you should learn that things will eventually work out, slowly but surely. The application online is the first time you will encounter “Polimi Online Services” and for me it was broken for weeks which left me slightly stressed about getting my application in on time but it was all good in the end…just like everything else. The Online Services system becomes your hub for sorting out everything to do with your semester - study plans, email, exam registration etc. My advice, be patient with responses to emails, this is Italy - maybe email two, three, four times…maybe hunt them down in their office - you will find out what works best…eventually. With regard to study plans - if you’re enrolled for one semester do not pick courses that run annually… you will get kicked out of the design studio in week 4, they will try and put you in any available studio (including a Masters course taught in Italian - no thanks). Also you can pick any course from any year from any degree (planning included) as long as UQ approves it - Pedro at UQ is an amazing advisor he replies very quickly with detailed advice. I went in second year but ended up doing third year and Masters classes at PoliMi - it was very enriching and allowed me to explore other aspects of architecture such as planning and computational design. The courses are taught in English and the teachers are overall very helpful - good experience here but VERY different to UQ.

Personal experiences

Onto more exciting things: language. English speaking people are renowned for not learning other languages and being ignorant to accepting new cultures. This is the perfect time to really try to take on a new language and break free of the stereotype - you start to feel proud when people reply in Italian because they actually understood you. PoliMi offered a two week intensive course before the semester in Lake Como, of which I was notified by email after acceptance. The course was free and was absolutely one of the best decisions I have ever made. Here, around 120 exchange students came and stayed in Lake Como for 2 weeks taking Italian classes for 5 hours a day. I arranged with 4 other girls on facebook to share an Air BnB in Como which worked out very nicely. I think I actually made ALL my friends here and during the two weeks we did many things, music festivals, hiking, swimming in the lake and of course a bit of partying too. These people stayed my friends for the whole semester and hopefully will also be friends for life. I even managed to fit in a bit of travelling with them to Cinque Terre & Pisa in the weeks before the semester. What was especially nice was already having a close circle of friends as soon as I arrived in Milan which meant I was able to stay on the couches and floors of these friends whilst I looked for my own accommodation - it meant that I felt immediately in place from the first day I began living in the city.

Accommodation

Accommodation was a tricky one to overcome. Leaving it 6 days until the start of semester before you start looking for a house may not be the best idea but with my best Italian I called number after number, visited several apartments, considered living with a 70 year old architect with a blind dog before I found the perfect place with an awesome French roommate. I was lucky to live in a perfect location - for me this was vital, being able to get to uni easily by metro and walk all around the city with ease made life so much more pleasant, especially when you need to get back at night - however a central location = more euros. I never signed a contract with my Landlady and this seems quite common in Italy; it is a matter of seeing what feels right and making sure you learn from other people's experiences also.

Budget

 

With regard to a budget, I think this is something I should have made and stuck to but in the end I was fine. My rent was 570 EUR a month including all bills, my phone 14 EUR/month, transport card (unlimited metro, bus & tram) 22EUR/month, then roughly 20-40EUR/week on groceries and then whatever else I had on party and travel. There exists in Milan a very popular evening option for eating and drinking which goes by the name on an 'Aperitivo', here you pay 5-10EUR for a drink and an unlimited food buffet is included - these are dangerous and I guarantee in the first few weeks you will discover many good places.

 

Luckily, I managed to fit in a lot of trips within my exchange semester, mainly because Ryanair had ridiculously cheap flights, for example 15EUR return to Copenhagen. I also managed to see Paris, Bucharest, and do a few trips to the UK. To save money we also used couch surfing, and airbnb between big groups. Making friends with cars is also great - nothing beats a weekend road trip to the local lakes. TIP: don’t forget to see Italy too I regret not seeing more of the south however I did discover a lot of the north (Lake Como, Lake Maggiore, Torino, Verona, Pisa, Cinque Terre, Bolzano) which was brilliant. For travel around Italy use Trenitalia or Trenord websites for trains - booking in advance does save you money!

 

Academic development and employability

What I gained most from my exchange was becoming more confident in my decisions both academically and personally. Studying something like design means you are always comparing yourself to others and changing environment and seeing how people of similar ages and experience work in a different country gave me more confidence in my own approach. Also, making friends from all over the world has allowed me to see different paces at which people are living their life which made me realise that it's very important to take these years to take risks and find opportunities that may not be so easily available later on. More specifically, PoliMi had many internationally renowned guest speakers and teachers come to talk about Architecture and Design which allowed me to learn from some of the best in the field.

Highlight

The highlight of my experience was definitely the friends I made. I really never expected to make such close friends so quickly. It just allowed me to live a more normal installed life in the city with a consistent group of friends that were always there to support you. Also having freedom in course choice really cleared up some personal questions regarding my future and the route I may like to take with regards to specialisation.

Top tips

My top tips would be:

1. Go to the country a few weeks before the semester starts (if Visa's allow it) - it gives you time to settle, explore, have FUN before the stress of uni kicks in.
2.The courses at PoliMi are quite hard and you never really know the standard to which you must work so pay attention to any hints your teachers give you about the requirements.
3. Write everything down, not necessarily a diary but just funny things people say, the way you feel etc - I know people are jealous that I did this and I'm very glad I did.
4. Try at least to learn a little bit of the language - it's so fun speaking with the locals!

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