Thousands of students from all around the world study in the Erasmus programme every year. It’s a great chance to get to know a new place like Italy, its culture and its people, but the big mistake everybody makes is sticking with the other international students rather than befriending the locals. English is no doubt the international language, and instead of speaking Italian it’s all too easy to fall back on the mother tongue.
Is this really the best way to make the most of your Erasmus experience? While it can be comforting, you may be limiting yourself and the possibilities available to you in Italy. Use these tips to make sure you don’t fall into the same trap as everybody else.
What you can do
Before you head off on your adventure, do some research. Look on the website of the university you’ll be going to and find out what schemes they’ve got for ensuring the integration of Erasmus students. By planning beforehand, you’ll know what you’re in for and can start off on the right foot as soon as you arrive in Italy.
One such scheme that exists in many places is the ‘Buddy Programme’. This is like the grown-up version of when you had to hold hands with a classmate on school trips when you were young. Basically, each Italian student is paired up with an Erasmus student to help orientate them and introduce them to some other Italians. While there’s no guarantee you’ll get along with your ‘Buddy’, it’s an excellent way to start at least.
Also, before you head out there, you might want to think carefully about what Uni you’re going to and what courses they have available. There are many universities that have subjects just for Erasmus students, but predictably they are full of foreign students. Try looking for a Uni that allows you to choose what courses you want to take where you can mix with the Italian students.
Even so, most universities will put on an orientation week before term starts and Erasmus events throughout the year for the international students to get to know each other. That’s all well and good, but if you want to socialise more with the Italians, you can join a sport’s club or other student society – they provide a brilliant opportunity to widen your social circle.
Away from the classroom and campus, where you live also makes a great difference to how you experience your time as an Erasmus student. Many international students live in halls of residence, which makes for a lively multicultural atmosphere, but if you’re looking for a more typically Italian slice of life, you should think about sharing a flat. You can search online for a place to live before you go to save you having to move there a couple of weeks before term starts and live in a hotel until you find somewhere.
Despite all this, there is one thing that may still present a barrier to hanging out with more Italian people, and that’s speaking Italian. You should try to learn as much Italian as you can before you go out there because most Italians won’t want to have someone hanging around who takes five minutes to say a simple sentence. However, your knowledge of English can come in handy here as lots of people are willing to do language exchanges, teaching some Italian in return for an English lesson. It’s another fantastic way to meet people.