NE’s Konnor Porter wrote about the three weeks he spent in Milan as part of a mini-term study abroad course.
Italy has been many things for me, but more than anything it has been an adventure. From the daily treks through Milan to the discovering new places to eat and to the trips to other towns, each day had its own gems. Through this I discovered many of the customs and habits of the locals, and some I enjoyed doing myself. From figuring out how the locks, trains, washing machines, grocery stores, tips, etc. worked, to the daily doses of gelato (sometimes more than one a day…) it was a lot of fun living in Italy. Also, it was very nice going to local shops to buy fresh baked loaves, pasta, meat, vegetables, etc., often making me wish that places like those were more common at home.
Our class was a lot of fun as well. The classroom we utilized was only a few blocks from the city center (the Duomo) of Milan, so every day the walks to and the breaks between class allowed us to walk around much of the city center. Although the focus of the class was material science, the lens was bike manufacturing, which made the class a lot of fun. We would often learn about a topic in class (i.e. composites) and then at one of the manufacturers, see it in use (i.e. carbon fiber frames). By the end we could see a bicycle and be able to know what it’s made out of and its advantages and disadvantages to the material.
Of the smaller towns I visited, my favorite place during the trip was the small ancient city of Siena. I was very, very happy to get out of the giant metropolis of Milan, and Siena was the perfect place to do so. Situated on top of a large hill, from the town you get many beautiful views into the Tuscan countryside, and although it is still a “city,” in many ways it feels like a small town. For the two days, I stayed in a house just outside the old city walls and spent all day inside it. I chatted with the locals (I found out one was a world-famous shoemaker), explored the medieval-feeling streets, learning the history and culture, and ate very tasty Tuscan food. (The first night I ate a pasta dish with boar stew—the best food I ate the whole trip!!) In the evening I visited the valley called “Orto d’Pesci,” and it was like stepping into the countryside. It was originally a space reserved for farming within the city walls to protect the food from attacking armies, but the town preserved it as a nature reserve to this day, and it was amazing.
In conclusion, I had an amazing time in Italy, and I would recommend it to anyone pursuing an engineering degree, because a basic understanding of material science is helpful to almost any engineering occupation (and many others as well), and Italy is an amazing place to visit and spend some time immersing in the culture.