"Relax — there are no deadlines in Italy", or an exchange study by a MAI student
The students of the Moscow Aviation Institute participate in the academic exchange program in order to gain additional competencies necessary for their further professional development, they integrate into a foreign scientific environment, improve their English, develop soft skills, see and feel themselves the different rhythm of life, and make many interesting acquaintances. For the whole semester, students go to study at the leading Universities of Asia and Europe. Anna Storchak, the fifth-year student of the Institute No. 1 "Aviation technology" of MAI, told us about the features of her educational trip to the Polytechnic University of Turin, and also gave valuable advice to those who are just going to travel to another country under the exchange program.
How did you learn about the academic mobility program? Why did you want to study at the Polytechnic University of Turin?
I found out about the academic mobility program from the administration of the Department where I study. The choice fell on the Polytechnic University of Turin because of the availability of interesting courses there. I studied under the Erasmus+ program, which provides an opportunity to receive a scholarship on a competitive basis that covers part of the expenses.
How was your life on campus: study, free hours, cultural program?
Unfortunately, I can’t judge life on campus, because of the pandemic, the entire curriculum was remote. Because of this, school time was very monotonous. After all, I spent the entire semester behind the screen of my laptop. Accordingly, there were not too many options for leisure activities.
At the beginning of the course some excursions and other activities were announced, but due to the pandemic, almost all of them turned out to be canceled. I only managed to visit one. It was a short sightseeing tour of one of the palaces of Turin, which is also part of the campus of the faculty of architecture of the Polytechnic University of Turin. The University also cooperates with many student organizations, including ESN (Erasmus students network). Unfortunately, all the activities planned by this organization for the international students were moved to a remote format.
Were there any difficulties for you?
There were a lot of difficulties, but, fortunately, they were solved quickly. There was always the opportunity to contact both the Alma mater and the International Department of the host University.
The success of your stay in Italy depends on how quickly you can adjust to the attitude of the local population to the passage of time. If the teacher told you on Monday that they would send the materials tomorrow, it means that it will not happen until Friday. You will also encounter the same attitude in everyday matters, whether it is communication with the landlord, doctor, or migration service. Please be patient.
How much does the culture and mentality differ?
I can’t say that the culture is strikingly different, but in terms of the rhythm of life and mentality, everything is completely different. The most surprising thing for me was not the terms themselves and a complete mess, but the attitude of local residents to them. They are completely comfortable with that. So, for example, a long queue for them is time for a conversation or a cup of espresso in a nearby bar. Be prepared that all the official papers will take months to be completed. Don’t worry, they won’t demand anything from you urgently either. Relax — there are no deadlines in Italy.
Were there many other exchange students? From what countries were they? How did you build relationships with them?
Due to the pandemic there were not many students. And even with those who were, we were not able to communicate much. I was familiar with the guys from Turkey, France and Lebanon. In terms of mentality and attitude to studies, the French were the closest to me. If you find yourself studying somewhere in Europe, choose them for team projects. The guys from the East will eagerly «let go» and leave you all by yourself with the project by the end of the semester.
Another interesting fact. If there is at least one Frenchman in your company, he will always mention in everyday conversation how much Italian cheese/wine/bread/driving style/manner of speech does not reach the French. For the sake of objectivity, I must confess that the Italians will do the same. Oh, and the question of cheese crusts... These guys always have something to argue about.
What is your overall impression of the city and the country?
This was my second trip to Italy. I have only pleasant memories from my stay in Turin. The city is quite small and cozy. If you suddenly find yourself there, be sure to go to the Egyptian Museum and try ice cream named after the anniversary of the unification of Italy in the Gelateria «la Romana».
At the end of my stay in Italy, after the exams, when the quarantine measures were relaxed, I managed to see several other cities. There were two small trips, one to the North and another one to the South along the coast. I noted one interesting fact: northerners grumble at southerners all the time, and southerners, in turn, do not tolerate «prim» (in their opinion) northerners.
The nature of Italy is simply amazing. I really remember the trip to lake Como and its surroundings. However, my heart was definitely stolen by Naples. This city is impossible to describe. Dirty, noisy, doesn’t recognize the road traffic regulations. But when you are there, it all seems very natural and not repulsive, seasoned with the hot sun, the smell of the sea and the atmosphere of timelessness that is only there.
If you briefly describe my impressions of the trip, these are exams that are completely different from ours, my long torment with the local banking system (I won!), travel, new acquaintances, the unique atmosphere of quarantine in Italy, when we listened to musicians singing and playing on their balconies.
Could you please give some recommendations to the students who are going to go to another country for an exchange?
When you go to another country for six months or more, you can no longer treat insurance as a formality. During this period different things can happen, and believe me, you will want to call 1000 and 1 non-existent insurance number the least.
Pay attention to the selection of your mates for group projects. Many people consider exchange programs as an entertainment, so you risk being left alone with the project at the end of the semester.
In Europe, the banking system is very different from ours. Therefore, before the trip, study which banks are there in the country, which of them work with students, what the conditions are, check the list of necessary documents. Many of the papers can be prepared in Moscow, which will save you a lot of time and nerves.
Be sure to read about the opening hours of shops, transport, and public places in the destination country before your trip. Even, it would seem, in large cities of Europe, there is often no night transport, round-the-clock grocery stores and pharmacies, and administrative institutions work two days a week.
Be careful when choosing the area of your future stay. The experience of living in an inexpensive and well-finished room/apartment can be pretty spoiled by the situation in the area in which this very living space is located.
Did you regret the time spent on the exchange program trip?
I am very glad that I got such an experience. Definitely, my level of English, both everyday and technical, has significantly increased. My ability to respond to various unforeseen situations has also improved.
My mobility was quite specific due to the current situation in the world. Of course, I could get a lot more if my studies were held in a traditional offline format. But, anyway, I am very happy that I was able to plunge into a completely different rhythm and style of studying.