Booth Study Abroad Stories: My Winter Quarter Exchange in Milano

Booth Study Abroad Stories: My Winter Quarter Exchange in Milano

Writing an exposé such as this, personally, reanimates joyous emotions; I’ve been tasked with recollecting fond experiences while providing sound advice to prospective students and my fellow Boothies who may be considering studying abroad. It is my hope to bring you on a journey that showcases my experiences, starting from my arrival in Italy and exchange at SDA Bocconi School of Management, to where I am now (on a train to Roma). I’m also aware that this piece may come at a time when the weather in Chicago isn’t as favorable, so trust that it is not my intention to embellish the near 60-degree temperatures and sunshine-ridden environment I am “forced” to endure during my stay 😊. I hope you enjoy reading, or at the very least, open una bottiglia di vino while experiencing Italy from my vantage point. 

L’arrivo

My wife and I arrived in January to Italy, where we were welcomed by the smell of freshly brewed coffee permeating the Malpensa Airport. Malpensa, like most international terminals, was filled with people walking and talking. One main difference, as you likely guessed, was that most people were conversing in Italiano. I’d never taken an Italiano language course, so most of what I heard on my way out of the terminal served no immediate significance. I was, however, intrigued by the enunciations and highly expressive nature of the passersby, and became highly motivated to learn as much of the language as I could during my stay. 

We then drove into Milano, specifically, Navigli, where we met our Airbnb host who provided us with the pertinent details we’d need to adjust in the near-term. Our accommodations were quite contrary to what we had been accustomed to in the U.S., e.g., no two major appliances (oven, washing machine, dish washer, A/C unit) could be on at the same time as it would trigger a power outage within the unit. Thus, my wife and I decided to be meticulous with our appliance usage after we experienced more than ten power outages within the first five hours of our stay (which, in retrospect, says more about us and how much power we waste in the U.S. when we aren’t restricted to appliance usage). After we got accustomed to our living situation, we decided to venture into the city. Milano is exquisite, and like Chicago, is easy to navigate on foot. We visited the Duomo, the Galleria, the Castello Sforzesco, and the Naviglio Canals all within the first 48 hours! 

Me and my wife, Laura, at the top of the Duomo in Milano.

Accumulating such high mileage on the ole “ten-towed turbo” (that’s what my high school track and field coach referred to his athletes’ feet) generated massive cravings, and I was beyond delighted by the food options literally within arm’s length. My first meal in Milano was a margherita pizza from Berbere, and it was astonishing. The ingredients tantalized parts of my taste buds that had surely been dormant, and the Lombardian rosso vino quickly came to host the “afterparty” of taste amazement.

A picture containing plate, food, indoor, white

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Berbere’s Margherita Pizza

Il caffè

And then, there was the coffee. Let the record show that my wife and I avoided Starbucks, and we only patronized local cafés. It was at a local café where I met Johnny, a 2nd generation barista and co-owner of Pasticceria Caravaggio. Johnny’s English was slightly better than my Italiano, but we could hardly understand each other when we first met. After my third visit to his café, I tried explaining, to no avail, that I lived next door and that the mesmerizing smell of his café’s coffee was an elixir to my morning spell of lethargy. We grew tired of not understanding each other and made a pact to learn each other’s native tongue so that we may better converse. 

So, as a part of my MBA exchange, I took Italiano as a course at SDA Bocconi. At first, I decided to audit the course to assuage my fears of being ignominious, but the more I learned the more confident I became, and I eventually decided to participate for a grade at the end of the course. I began speaking Italiano whenever I could; I’d order food, greet random passersby, speak to cashiers, and talk to my wife. The goal of conversing with Johnny morphed into a deeper love for the Italian language and culture, and I couldn’t have been happier to immerse myself in the regional academia. 

My time at SDA Bocconi has been nothing short of excellent; the students are welcoming, the professors are engaging, and the campus’ aesthetics are breathtaking.

La scuola

The courses offered at SDA Bocconi during my exchange had some overlap with the courses I’d already taken at Booth, thus, I took classes that wouldn’t normally pique my interest, e.g., Corporate Sustainability. Interestingly, it turned out to be one of the more dynamic courses I had taken up to that point, as climate change was positioned at center stage and the professor illustrated viewpoints from not just corporations, but also scientists, governments, and consumers. It really gave context to the apparent low-carbon footprint lifestyle of most Milanese I met during my exchange; there were electric bicycles and scooters at every corner, hybrid vehicles, and electric buses and trams that took you to all the major venues in the city. As a result of taking Corporate Sustainability at SDA Bocconi, I’ve become more conscious of my carbon footprint and have pledged to be more deliberate in reducing it as I resume living in the U.S. 

After class was over, on most days, we’d all go out for Appertivi (drinks and snacks before dinner). It was during these moments that I witnessed the vibrance of my colleagues, and we shared details of ourselves that no corporate “happy hour” could possibly replicate. On the days I didn’t go to Appertivo, I’d play soccer with some of my classmates at a local indoor pitch. I’m not sure if I represented the Booth Soccer Club in the highest esteem (or maybe my wine consumption to daily exercise ratio mismanagement had finally caught up to me), as I’d feel exhausted after fifteen minutes of playing. But, after the first few games, I think I improved, and I became the U.S. representative on our “Italy vs. Rest of the World” friendly matches 😊. Big shout out and thanks to all the Bocconi students who made me feel at home! You will always have a second home in Chicago (or wherever I am after graduation 😊). 

Soccer post-match photo with the SDA Bocconi students

Il mio compleanno

Oh, and how could I forget that I had my 28th birthday in Milano! My wife arranged for us to have dinner at Enrico Bartolini, and after, we met up with some classmates and Boothies who were visiting Milano. It was a fantastic night, and I’m thankful to everyone at this table who made it memorable!

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The after-party for my 28th birthday

So, as my train arrives in Roma, I hope I’ve shared some experiences that have given you a glimpse of the amazing cultures, perspectives, and people who await you abroad. Don’t get me wrong, Booth is certainly a bastion for diverse experiences, but encountering them in an environment you are unfamiliar creates a level of vulnerability that you wouldn’t readily welcome. In being vulnerable throughout the exchange, I’ve garnered massive learnings and engendered friendships that I’d have not been able to otherwise. As such, I highly encourage anyone who is at the very least curious about IBEP at Booth to peruse the website and look at the countries and curriculum offered by partnering schools. It has certainly been a wondrous experience for me, and I truly hope to read about your experiences abroad soon.

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