Stage 1: Arrival – Lost as a Tourist (January)
When I first arrived in Milan, I was lost, (literally and metaphorically). My phone didn’t have a SIM yet, and I had no idea how to get to my apartment, because the tram I planned on taking (after doing research) wasn’t running that day. I would walk up and down the street, constantly checking my phone for Google Maps to make sure I was where I thought I was still awestruck by the sights of the city.
I felt unfamiliar with the food and restaurant etiquette, I felt unfamiliar with the public transport system, walking on the wrong side of the pavement, all the little things that slowly become second nature once you’re familiar with a place.
Stage 2: Orientation – Starting to Understand (February)
As I became more familiar with Milan, I stopped making simple mistakes. I knew how to order coffee, and how to eat pasta and pizza the Italian way. I could zone out on my way to uni, as it became a more familiar journey. At the same time, I still couldn’t help myself but stare at the beautiful buildings.
I still struggled with communication with people at a basic level, and some little things still were issues, like ordering the wrong coffee at the wrong time of day (it’s a social crime in Italy to order a cappuccino after 11am).
Stage 3: Comfort – Familiarity with the Locale (March)
I noticed how I became more familiar with things in Milan, and started to have favourite cafes, or restaurants and bars. I was able to navigate to most parts of the city with a simple glance at the map, and not needing constant GPS. I was able to show friends who visited around, without being able to give all the insider tips yet.
My moment of knowing I had made it was when I could walk past the Duomo without stopping to stare, and without being accosted by the hawkers selling gimmicks (they don’t bother locals, but always harass tourists). I started to feel more comfortable communicating with strangers, when waiting in line or on public transport, but not ready to try and chat up a stranger in a bar or anything like that.
Stage 4: Relaxation – Unconscious Comfort (April)
I realised how comfortable and relaxed I had become when I was away. While travelling on weekends, I would miss “home” and the familiarity with Milan, and I would be excited when I could just get back to Milan and travel on autopilot, without having to concentrate on public transport or language or anything else. While the travel has been fantastic, I realised I’ve become accustomed to my Milan habitat. I have my favourite bars, and regular orders where I am recognised by staff members who know what I’m having before I say anything. I have my favourite cafes and pizza places, and a favourite spot in the park to sit and relax and eat my lunch in the sun.
Stage 5: Nostalgia – Realising its almost over (May)
As I sit and write this, I look back on how fast it has all gone, and how quickly Milan has become home, just in time for me to start studying for finals and preparing to say goodbye to my exchange semester. I felt like a local in Milan, understanding most of the little things about living in this place, and all the secrets. I can appreciate the great beauty and understand that the Duomo never gets old or boring. I can take in aperitivo in the Italian style, with the right drinks, and order the right coffee at the right time of day. This place has become home in a matter of months, and it’s hard to believe that I’ll be leaving at the end of this month.