My flight home is now booked, so what seemed like a distant concern 10 months ago is now just around the corner. Today marks the start of my final three weeks here in Italy, and the end of an incredible experience. There’s been highs and lows along the way, and I’ve met so many people I can’t keep track. Studying here has been tough at times, particularly the course I took in Italian, but I’ve managed to come out the other end having passed all my courses. Not everything has been easy about living abroad, but moving to a different country never was going to be a walk in the park. This is a final reflection on some of the key experiences and moments of my year here in Padova.
Living in a residence
One thing I can’t say I’ll miss is the place I’ve been calling home this year. Residenza Nievo is a university residence which seems to be slowly falling apart. There’s a lot of old buildings in Italy which could do with some love, but this one so much so that I think it’s due to be closed next year for refurbishment. Naturally, it makes little sense for the accommodation service to spend money on anything right now if it’s only going to be torn out in a couple of months, so we’ve had a lot of problems which have remained unresolved or have been temporarily fixed. The attitude to this kind of stuff seems really different in to how it is in the UK. Sometimes we can be a little over-obsessed with health and safety in the UK, but here it seems like that’s not really a top concern.
The main problem with this particular residence is that there is just one kitchen for 72 people, and this has been a rub for most people living here from what I gather. Cooking at a normal time is often a challenge because you’re rubbing shoulders with often more than ten other people all trying to cook at the same time. There’s also a lack of fridges, shelf space, and consistently functional appliances, but it’s OK because we have a new microwave now (5 months late, but better late than never).
I’m not sure if I’d change my mind about living in a residence, even knowing everything I do about it now. At the price I paid (€205/mo.) it was never going to be The Ritz, and I’ve paid less than half of what some of my friends pay per month to live in an apartment. I’d also not have had the opportunity to make so many Italian friends had I chosen to live in an apartment, so I expect my Italian wouldn’t have improved nearly as much as it has either. There’s been a lot of bad things about the residence, but it’s too easy to forget the positive parts of it as well. I think I’ve really benefited from sharing accommodation with so many people, and it’s been a contrast to living at home since you rarely have a moment alone here. You’ve got to take the good with the bad, and I’d say on the whole it’s been a good experience.
Fencing with A.S. Comini
The gym has closed its doors for the summer now so training for this season has concluded. The difference in the level of fencing was staggering at first, but over the course of a year I’ve come to think of this level as standard. I can’t wait to get home and see how much of a difference training here for a year has made for me. It’s not been quite the experience I was expecting it to be, and some things were really different to how they are back home. The social aspect of the club here is not quite the same as it is in Southampton, but then again this is a competitive independent club, so each club serves a different purpose. More broadly speaking, the sport seems to be more well acknowledged and accepted by people outside of the fencing community, but I thought it would be a lot more popular than it turns out to be. I’d say fencing is as popular in Italy as cricket is in the UK, though I imagined it would be more the size of hockey given how highly accomplished Italy is in the sport.
I’ve managed to largely correct a few bad habits I brought with me to Italy, and am aware of a lot more things I could or should be focusing on. Any weaknesses in your game are really exposed when you train with such a high level group, so there’s plenty for me to take away and continue to work on. I think the hardest part was not so much the training but the communication with both the coaches and the other guys and girls at the gym. This got a lot better as the year went on and my Italian improved, but I imagined I’d be further along by the end of the year than I was.
I think this will probably be one of the parts of my year abroad that I will miss the most, as it’s been a really defining feature of my time here. It’s been really inspiring to train with such a talented group of athletes, and I’ve learned a lot from them, and the experience I’ve accumulated in my time here has been invaluable. I can’t wait for the next time I’ll be able to come back and train again, and I really can’t thank the club enough for having had me for the year.
Italian Improvements and the Future
My Italian has come a long way since the start, and this was one of the things I really wanted to work on since before coming to Italy. Taking the language in the first semester gave me a real boost in progress, and though often times I would find the level quite hard, I think pushing myself to learn was really worthwhile.
My idea of what it means to be fluent has changed throughout the course of the year. Initially, I very much felt that being fluent meant you could conjugate 85% of the verbs, handle any conversation, and have a ton of vocabulary to draw from. This is probably something non-native speakers would dream to be able to do, but I think being fluent is less complicated than this. I think fluency means that whilst you may have some limitations on your grammar and vocabulary, you’re able to adequately explain whatever it is using what you do know, in a way that’s not too circuitous. For me, this means I’ve still got several hundred more hours to go before I can consider myself fluent, but there’s an enormous difference between what I can manage now, compared to me not even being able to talk to my taxi driver on my first day in Padova. I still can’t hold a conversation on the phone that well, but I can communicate the information I need to and understand them just about.
In the UK, I’d like to continue conversation regularly with Italian Erasmus students in Southampton if I can find them, with a view to eventually passing a B2 or C1 language exam. This was something I wanted to do before leaving Italy near the start, but in hindsight I think this goal was overly ambitious given all the other things that have been going on this year. I’m not sure if it’s possible to consider finding a job in Italy given the current employment situation for young people looking to start their career, but working in Italy is certainly an option I’d like to revisit in the future, and having the language certificate is going to make that all the more possible.
It’s also been really nice to finally be able to hold a conversation with my family living in Frascati. This is a connection I definitely want to keep alive, and I think by me being able to speak in Italian it’s going to make things in the future so much easier. There’s a lot more history I want to dig through yet, but having Italian will give me greater access to a lot more information and records I’d otherwise not be able to translate. I’m still not sure quite where to begin my research, but I’m moving in the right direction.
I think the best part about this year has been the people that I’ve met and spent my time with. It’s nice to know that I’ve got a network of sofas all over Europe and some further afield that I’ll be able to sleep on during future adventures. I like to think that even if I’m not in touch with the friends I’ve made here for several years, we’ll be able to pick up where we left off. It’s hard to find a way to wrap up this blog without sounding clichéd. It’s been great to share all of these experiences with the people that I have, and I think the friendships will be the most valuable takeaway from the whole experience. I also owe a thank you to the Erasmus coordinators in both Southampton and Padova, since without their help and hard work this experience would not have come to fruition. I hope the relationship between the two universities continues to develop in the coming years, and that many more students get the opportunity to have the same experiences that I’ve had.