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Episode #178: Living La Dolce Vita on a Study Abroad Program in Italy

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Studying abroad in Italy is an incredible opportunity for people young and old, to spend time and get under the skin of Italy. With many universities now offering study abroad programs, it is an amazing chance for students to spend a semester or a year at an Italian university. This rite of passage will be an experience no student will ever forget.

Show notes

Studying in Italy is a unique opportunity for students, especially from non-European countries, to spend time in Italy and become emersed in the culture and get to understand everyday life and is a great way to increase language skills. In this episode, we talk to mother and daughter Barbara and Tyla about their taking the opportunity for Tyla to study abroad, including a mother-daughter trip as part of the process. We learn how this experience can build confidence and lead to unexpected and magical experiences, as well as learning to deal with the mundane obstacles life can throw at you. We also hear how as a parent, you can get involved in your child’s journey (maybe even becoming an unofficial travel advisor!)

What you’ll learn in this episode

Planning & Expectations

  • Tyla and Barbara are huge advocates of the study abroad experience and encourage that if you’re someone who’s curious to travel, to learn a different language, to learn about different cultures and especially if you have a country that you particularly adore (in Tyla’s case Italy) it’s an amazing opportunity to be able to go and live and soak up and absorb life in that country
  • Barbara first went to Rome in 2011 and even as a child Tyla was very jealous. Then when the opportunity of a school trip to New York came up at her Australian school, which all the kids wanted to take part in, Barbara told Tyla she could go on that or do a graduation trip with her to Italy. Tyla jumped at the latter and this was her first trip to Italy. Having time spent in Italy just after high school, this only increased her desire to spend more time there
  • Tyla started her degree with the firm intention of going on exchange as it was always just something like from a young age.  After starting my degree, her first week was orientation then on her second week she went straight to the International student’s office to ask where she could go. With Italy, the only place they had was available was Milan. She’d only been to Milan 24 hours previously and it wouldn’t have perhaps been her choice but it was her only Italy option so she went for it (something she doesn’t at all regret)
  • Tyla found that it’s very easy to get caught up in all the excitement of trip planning but in her case things were a bit unusual as she ended up having everything delayed because of Covid. They didn’t know for certain that she would be leaving until about three months before (and even then there were some doubts). So it was all a bit rushed at the end. There was a long period of waiting and twiddling her thumbs and having to accept that it will only happen when it happens –  but then suddenly it happened with just 3 months to prepare – to organize visas, flights, accommodation and all the logistics. That initial phase was both exciting but also quite stressful – particularly as they were the first group to go overseas after the travel bans, so were finding themselves as guinea pigs
  • They planned to travel together a bit before Tyla started her semester and planned to go back to some places they’d loved the first time as well as explore some new ones. When the whole thing was delayed in 2020, their plans changed a lot as they had more time to think about it and research (not least listening to the Untold Italy podcast)
  • Travel bans and access to Italy aside, her biggest concern was that she’d never lived alone before. She was going from living with a group of people and having a community to being completely by herself, in a foreign country, where she don’t know anyone. For Barbara it was the same concern – who can she turn to if anything goes wrong, being that she’s the opposite side of the world
  • On the plus side, Tyla was 21 when she did the exchange but she met lots of people who were 18/19, so she was a little bit older and she had also spent a fair amount of time in Italy already so was familiar with the county, the culture, and how to get around, but it still felt quite overwhelming at first
  • Barbara was excited for Tyla to have this opportunity and it seemed like a fairly short time because it was only one semester.  As a family, they had moved around Australia and lived in lots of different places so moving to the other side of the world didn’t seem an issue. Culturally, in Australia, there is a strong drive to travel – it’s very normal. Generally not so common in the US/Canada – in Australia and New Zealand, it’s very common for them to leave when they turn 18. You’ll find them everywhere across Europe
  • When Barbara was about the same age, she’d moved to the other side of the country and this was back when there was no internet or email and with the expensive cost of phone calls, she’d only ring her parents a couple of times a month to check-in
  • Although it is a very long flight to Italy, they put enough things in place and Tyla had the confidence to do it, so Barbara was happy to let her go for it. And with the ease of connections nowadays, they call or chat most days
  • As a lover of Italy Barbara was excited that Tyla chose Italy and the fact that she had been there before also made her more comfortable. She was excited for her to get to know the country on a whole new level as opposed to just traveling through. Although they were limited to Milan being the only option, it turned out so well and they found it to be such an exciting and progressive city
  • To move to another country and not speak the language fluently is a big undertaking and it takes a lot of energy

Travel time before study begins

  • Tyla went traveling with her mum before her semester started, whilst some people flew straight into Milan and started studying. A lot of people did travel beforehand because it was summer with the semester starting in September. They traveled around Switzerland and in Italy they spent time in Florence, Verona, Bologna, Lake Garda and Lake Como before heading to Milan at which point they stopped being just tourists
  • When they arrived in Milan it was to set up home for Tyla. They had to figure out where the closest grocery stores were and the route from her apartment to the university and work out what you do when there’s a public transport strike (which happens quite a lot in Milan and Italy generally)
  • Tyla felt it was quite emotionally jarring as the time neared for Barbara to go – not least because they had spent all day every day together for 4 and a half weeks. Tyla distinctly remembers crying into a bowl of pasta a couple of days before her mum was due to leave – being overwhelmed with a feeling of What am I going to do? I don’t know anyone here! She’s since talked to others on exchange, who had very similar experiences
  • Barbara reassured her not to worry, that she’d meet people at orientation, that things would be ok and that Tyla would be pushing her out of the door. Tyla didn’t really believe her but cut to a few days later, and she’s made an amazing group of friends who she’s been out with and she’s putting her mum on the train to the airport while she’s heading off to Venice with her new friends!
  • Barbara was happy for Tyla and was delighted to meet all these lovely girls from all different countries – as they’d met in Tyla’s apartment before they went out to the orientation party
  • Having only gotten back in the early hours of the morning, Tyla then regretted the Milan-in-a-day plans that they’d made for her mum’s last day – starting with a Duomo climb at 9 am. They finished their day on the Last Supper before heading to meet Tyla’s new friend in the Navigli neighborhood for aperitivo – with the girls (who had met less than 48 hours before) planning a trip to Venice
  • The university Tyla was at, Cattolica in Milan, did a fabulous job at organizing events for people to get together and meet. There’s also the Erasmus network that organizes a lot of things. Basically, every city that is a university city has an Erasmus group that you can join and just get access to all these events. In Milan, there was a get-together or social activity every single night of the week. However, Tyla had heard from people in other cities in Europe where they didn’t necessarily have that network
  • For Tyla, on the first day at university, there was a half-day introduction. Everyone was sitting around nervously and no one was talking to each other. Tyla just turned to the person next to her, asked their name, admitted she was nervous and then the person behind us was like ‘Oh, me too’. Everyone is in the same boat in terms of the emotions and nerves they are experiencing
  • Tyla advised to just go out and be part of any activities on offer and meet people. You’re not going to love everyone, that’s life but you will make some amazing connections because you’re all in this experience together. It’s a very unique time to form those friendships with people from all over the world

The Experience

  • Tyla’s feelings on the experience would swing between highs and lows. You have moments of feeling ‘Oh, my God. I can’t believe this is my life. That’s the Duomo in Milan, or that’s the Ponte Vecchio in Florence – wow!’ To then feel ‘What do I do if I get sick? Mum’s not here to make me soup’
  • You’re in this weird in-between stage of a childish dependency starting to live in an adult world. You’ve got the freedom of an adult, but you don’t have the responsibilities. You’re catching up with friends, going out and traveling on the weekend, exploring all these places
  • For Australians being in Europe, it’s not a big thing to go and visit lots of countries because everything’s so close. Though others, particularly Europeans thought find that crazy. They can’t understand why they are traveling so much. But they know they’ve got limited time so are making the most of it and compared to the size of Australia – it seems like everything is so close!
  • The size of Australia and where Tyla has lived also put her in good stead. Her current home is 2 hours flight or a 2-day drive to the capital city of their state. They’ve lived remote from their families for Tyla’s whole life with just a small network of support around – not lots of family members around the corner like some grow up with. One set of her grandparents lives a 2-day drive away and the other a 3-day drive. So Tyla was a little more prepared to be far from access to people than others might be
  • In terms of everyday life, her little town Townsville and Milan could not get that much different. She’d never even used public transport before. There are no trains and she’d never been on a bus – in Milan, the only way you’re getting around is the metro. 8/9 months later and Tyla has used all sorts of public transport all across Europe. Things that were challenging in the beginning, she is now quite blase about. You learn through experiences and grow up when you’re studying abroad

The Studying

  • Tyla’s degree was a Bachelor of Business in International Business, though she did not do any business electives when she was in Milan
  • For a lot of American and many European students, their grades are counted and translated directly. For Australian students, however, they are on a pass/fail system, which is probably why we travel a lot when we’re on exchange
  • Tyla ended up doing a lot of fun subjects. She had done the main required subjects in Australia so she just had electives. There were more strenuous options – finance, accounting etc which at first she thought she should do but, with Barbara’s encouragement, she chose subjects like Cooking 101, Italian luxury and fashion and publishing. These were all enjoyable subjects that did require engagement and learning, but not necessarily strenuous study. Rather than an academic experience it was more of a cultural study. Most importantly, she got the required points
  • The cooking and cultural class was a very popular choice and and applications closed really quickly – so if you want certain choices, you have to get in quickly

Mindset

  • The pressure when studying for a degree and planning your future can be immense, so this time also got Tyla away from that and into a different mindset. She and Barbara, the whole time we were traveling through Italy, would talk about it being a very special time and that Tyla should just enjoy it and soak everything up – because it will pass and you’ll get to the end and you will have just the memories – so make them good. Have fun, laugh, make mistakes, fall on your face, but get back up again. It’s an incredible time for learning and growth as well as having fun

The challenges

  • In Milan, accommodation is extremely difficult to come by and is generally something you have to organize before you arrive in order to get the visa. But the thing with Italy is most things are done offline – so in terms of finding accommodation, it’s really difficult. Tyla ended up with a fantastic place, but it took a lot of stress to get there. If she’d had someone that she could have contacted or asked, it would have made that process a bit smoother, so if you have any contacts or can make any in Italy – it’s going to get help you a lot
  • She’s had people who’ve had gotten her social media handles through the university page because of a reel that she was tagged in, and have reached out to ask about the situation with housing. She realizes she could have done the same and might have found people that could have helped make things easier
  • Sometimes we think we have to figure everything out on our own, but remember that there’s usually someone that’s done it before
  • Tyla did not find the university very helpful with housing – though that may not be true of other universities across Italy, because Milan has a particularly competitive housing market. There are many students (there are four or five different universities in Milan), and you’ve got business people because it’s the economic hub of Italy, so prices are much more than what you’re going to find in other Italian cities
  • There are different rental rules in Italy depending on where you are. Some people might have accommodation arranged for them through the course, which makes things a bit easier. Untold team member Olivia, did some study in Bologna, and they provided accommodation as a homestay. There are different options, but I think if you’re looking for straight out medium term rentals, it can be a bit of a challenge, so you need to get onto it as early as possible
  • Ask anyone that you can who’s lived there before, anyone who has a friend or a cousin who’s lived there before, because just to have that inside of knowledge. I knew people who showed up and didn’t have housing, and then they only found housing through their friends’ roommates’ cousins/brother/uncle – who had an apartment that was free to let. That’s how Italy generally works. When you know someone who knows someone who knows someone – amazing things can happen

Highlights for Barbara

  • Barbara loved watching Tyla literally grow up during her time there. They do FaceTime most days, so although she couldn’t see her in the flesh they’d have a conversation. Because of the time difference and the timing of those daily chats, while Barbara was sleeping, Tyla was having her adventures or problems to deal with. Barbara would wake up to a bunch of messages – sometimes good, sometimes bad. But generally with the bad ones, Tyla had worked her way through and resolved the issue or worked out what to do. So all Barbara would need to do is tell her “well done!” or “keep going!”
  • There are things that come up that are a challenge most adults have had to deal with in new homes or as you move around Airbnbs  – like how does the oven, washing machine or heating work? Some days she’d get messages because Tyla was not feeling so well, a bit homesick, the weather was bad etc
  • Barbara watched her navigate all of these things on her own on the other side of the world and is really proud of her
  • Tyla used messaging Barbara as a sounding board and looking bak on some of the chat threads you can see a whole sequence of events, especially on travel days when crazy things would be happening or going wrong
  • It worked out as a great bonding experience with Barbar involved, but also a little bit detached
  • Barbara also got involved with helping some of the travel planning. Coming home from work, she didn’t have her girl chats anymore as she was now in a house full of boys, so if the girls were heading somewhere, she’d look it up and give them tips about what not to miss.  If they were going to Portofino she’d think ‘the girls won’t have time to find this because they’re too busy doing the uni thing’ so she’d send this stuff to Tyla and they’d often be reading it on their way to the location.
  • Many of Tyla’s new group of friends would be happy to come along on a trip if Tyla’s planning the trip because whenever she was organizing a trip somewhere, whether it be Lake Como or Turin, they knew that my mum was sending me these emails with tips and hints. And so they never missed the good stuff. On Lake Como a bunch of 20-year-olds wouldn’t have planned for Villa Balbianello, but they had a magical time there. Her mum became known as Travel agent Barb!
  • Katy notes that not everyone would listen to their mum so the moral of the story should maybe be to listen to your mum!
  • Tyla and Barbara’s love of Italy has definitely been a bond in their very unique relationship – something they’ve been able to share

Study Abroad – the Parent Tips

  • Barbara suggest being really interested in what the kids are choosing subject-wise. Tyla was leaning more towards all businessy type subjects, but with the mindset that you don’t get your 20s back, she encourage her to choose different electives to be part of the experience
  • Barbara also really enjoyed being engaged with what they were doing, helping them plan and feeling a part of it. But also letting them be. They might change their mind quickly and anything she’d looked up for them went out of the window. Feeling connected and helpful was a game changer for Barbara in missing Tyla

Study Abroad – the Offspring Tips

  • Tyla is adamant that if your dream is to go on exchange and to travel, – make it happen. There are so many ways that you can make it happen – start talking to people about it, ask questions, do research. Go to your university department for international studies or study abroad and ask questions. You may think that it’s not possible, but there are so many ways that you can make it a possibility for you
  • When you’re on exchange, make sure you live in the present. Soak up every moment because everything is going to be over sooner than you think
  • Put yourself out there, make friends, go have amazing trips away and experiences and just savor it
  • Because she was very conscious of being present and when she thinks back now to a specific day or event she remembers being so present and the feeling of soaking it up
  • Her top tips are
    • 1. Do it!
    • 2. Enjoy it!
  • You’ll never have a period of time like that in your life again. There’s a reason why people who go to study abroad never stop talking about their study abroad – because it truly is such a unique and defining moment in your transition into adulthood and whatever you go on to do afterwards. You never know what doors will open through what experiences you have
  • When Tyla finished her course, she decided she wasn’t ready to go home. She’s currently hopping around Europe – spending as much time in Italy as she can (and the Schengen visa will allow)

About our guests – Tyla Craven-Griffiths

Tyla is an Aussie who fell in love with Italy as a teenager and after dreaming of returning to the country that had captured her heart, at 21, she moved to Italy for a semester to study in Milan. Tyla and her mum, Barbara, share a similar passion for Italy and have experienced many magical moments together in this spectacular country. They enjoyed a month of traveling together in Switzerland and Italy before Tyla’s course began in September 2022. 

Tyla stayed in Europe after her semester ended and Tyla offers a variety of Social Media content services. She now heads back to Italy whenever she can! 

You can find Tyla on these channels:

Places mentioned in the show

  • Navigli – canal district in Milan
  • Cattolica – Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore, known as UCSC or UNICATT or simply Cattolica
  • The Last Supper – Leonardo da Vinci’s painting of the last supper in Milan. Find out how to get tickets to this masterpiece here
  • Villa Balbianello – a famous movie location, this elegant villa starred in the movies Casino Royale and Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones

Resources

  • Erasmus – the EU’s programme to support education, training, youth and sport in Europe

Resources from Untold Italy

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