Having never been outside of contiguous North America, my freshman year summer mini-term in Milan, Italy was an enlightening experience that I will remember forever. To say the least, Milan was a beautiful city located in the Lombardy region of northern Italy; with its elaborate cathedrals, scenic vistas, and gorgeous architecture, the global hub of fashion and textile design felt quite different from the atmosphere of my home city, Nashville. However, the cultural divide that enveloped my senses at the start diminished over three weeks of exploration and class, proving to be an elegant and refreshing start to my summer break.
What I loved most about my time in Milan was its location relative to other regions in Italy. With the stunning ports of Cinque Terre to the west, the docks of Venice to the east, the history-rich cities of Rome and Florence due south, and the Swiss Alps visible from our north-facing hotel balcony, Milan’s network of railways made traveling easy and very rewarding. In addition, and not necessarily pertaining to the more rural areas of Italy, our city life was made easier by the familiarity of most urban-dwelling Italians with the English language. Without knowing any Italian whatsoever, our party found great ease discussing food orders, directions, and general cultural questions with strangers wherever we went – with help from some makeshift hand signals of course.
The Materials Science course itself was taught in English, and our professor did a fantastic job tying the Italian culture in with the course material. For example, we traveled north for a weekend on an inclusive trip to see the Giro d’Italia bicycle race on Lake Como (now my favorite place on Earth). This was at the end of the trip, and we had already taken our last test – which covered materials science class information as well as bicycle related materials science.
I am already making plans to visit Italy and southern Europe again with friends and family in the near future. I absolutely recommend this course or another located in Italy (which counted as a technical elective towards my Biomedical Engineering major). Most importantly, I feel as though I have gained a better understanding of a foreign culture that I had only seen in movies and television shows prior to my visit.