Commencing a 5-year degree at ANU was a long-barrel to stare down. From the beginning I saw the Exchange program as the perfect opportunity for a pit-stop. I’m currently three months into my Italian experience and am sitting at the table of my apartment here in Milan.

Outside of the classrooms at Bocconi University, I’ve had two main goals. Firstly, to learn everything I can about my passion for food and cooking. For dinner tonight I cooked spaghetti vongole for my three Italian flatmates, Walter, Marco, and Alessio. The fresh lemons we used were sent in the mail from Marco’s nonna in Sicilia. For desert, we ate ricotta cheesecake, which was home-baked in Napoli and couriered to Milan by Marco’s mum. I learnt the pasta recipe during my ‘work-away’ experience with an Italian family on a farm in Tuscany. For one month before university began, I worked alongside a beautiful father and farmer named Mario. Mario doesn’t speak English, and I didn’t speak any Italian when we met. We did manage to communicate though and we did everything together. We prepared and served breakfast each morning to the ‘agriturismo’ guests that were staying the night. Then we would feed the goats, collect fresh eggs, and check on our olives used for making oil and red wine. My favourite afternoons were spent driving with Mario in his yellow fiat panda to different beaches on the Tuscan coastline. Most mornings during work we passionately discussed, sometimes singing, our favourite meats and cheeses that we wanted to take on our picnic. The words Mortadella and Pecorino made us dance. Wearing the work-boots of Mario, adopting his pallet, and learning how to enjoy leisure the slow way, was an experience I treasure. Mario is now one of my best friends. Last week I rented a car and drove to his home for the weekend. I cook every day here in my Milan kitchen and am understanding more about food every day.

Secondly, I want to return to Australia speaking Italian. I’ve never known another language. I’ve failed in the past with other languages and find the learning process extremely difficult. I’m trying everything from formal lessons at Bocconi, online podcasts, to madly scribbling new words in a little note-book everywhere I go. Earlier this week I had training with my club rugby team here in Milan. After a very fun night-session in the freezing fog, my team-mate generously gave me a lift home across the city. We managed to hold an Italian conversation the entire way. I attribute my progress to putting in lots of effort to make friendships with Italians rather than fellow internationals. Language learning aside, these locals are the people that will make your Exchange experience authentic.

As for inside the classrooms at Bocconi, I’m feeling privileged to be learning from a few world-leading professors in venture capital and entrepreneurship subjects.

So to ANU’s departing exchange students, my tips are: course selection really does determine a big portion of your time so give it proper thought, do a ‘work-away’ experience before or after your semester (, and do your best to prioritise spending time with locals. Safe and happy travels to you all!