Placement blogs

Faculty of Humanities & Social Sciences' students share their placement and year abroad experiences.

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Year Abroad VII – tips on travelling around Italy

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📥  2016-17, Politics, Languages & International Studies

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Siena, Italy                                                                                        May, 2017

Ciao! When I decided to do an Erasmus study exchange in Italy as the second half of my Year Abroad, one thing was clear: I wanted to travel as much as I could. In a country like Italy in which every region is so different from the neighbouring one, it is amazing to be able to go and explore new areas, as there is such diversity. But, how to do this on a student budget? Here are my tips for travelling around.

Choose the right time

First of all, the ideal Erasmus situation is having a timetable in which you have a long weekend. That is, you have either Mondays or Fridays free and so end up with a three-day-long weekend. This would give you more time to travel, but is not always possible. In my case, I don’t have a long weekend, but I can catch up on my Friday lessons easily so I can miss a Friday once in a while… Try to find the timetables for each module when choosing your units, but don’t fret if you can’t do a long weekend – you will find the time to travel anyway!

In addition to that, the time of the year also affects the prices of the tickets. I’ve been in Italy since the end of January and back when it was still winter it used to rain a lot, which is not ideal when you plan on walking around new cities. I’d say the best time to travel is probably late-March to early May: the weather is a lot nicer but the ‘tourist’ season isn’t full-blown yet. Now, you will always find tourists in Italy, no matter the time of the year as it is non-seasonal tourism, but in order to avoid the masses and extortionate prices definitely avoid travelling in late Spring-Summer.

Travelling during the official holidays can also be tricky. First, because obviously everybody travels then so there is a ridiculous rise in prices during that period, but also because it can be hard to nail down the actual dates. In Siena’s case, our Easter holidays were actually only four days long and were followed by a few school days before a pause in the lessons during the April appello or exam period. In theory, the lessons would be on during those days in between, but in reality, a lot of the teachers cancelled their classes and so we actually had around a week and a half of holidays if you were not planning on sitting any exams in that appello period. I’d suggest trying to speak to local students in years 2 or above, as they have more experience of the system, so you have a clear idea of the dates and can book your holidays in advance and save money (whether it be travelling around Italy or going back home).

Transport

There are many ways to travel around Italy, but choosing the right one will depend on the distance you are trying to cover and the time you have available.

For example, if I wanted to visit the Tuscan towns around Siena, the ideal thing would be to have a car. Car Rental companies are incredibly expensive for rookie drivers, so unless you are a big group in which all chip in or you know a local person with a car, this is an option available but hard to realize. You can also travel by bus, which is very cheap, but at least in this part of Italy the public transport connections are poorly structured, with journeys taking a couple of hours to cover only a few kilometres and very limited timetables.

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If you are planning on visiting places in nearby regions, try the coaches or pullman services which are very popular. They are generally cheaper than trains and sometimes even take less time! I’ve been using FlixBus quite a lot, which covers a huge range of different cities. From Siena, I’ve been able to go to Bologna and Perugia using FlixBus and spending around 20 euros both ways. Another coach service that seems to be popular here is Baltour, but I haven’t used that one yet. It’s just a matter of looking into routes and prices! And, of course, booking in advance!

Another option is to use Blablacar. I personally can’t review this service as I’ve never used it, but I’ve heard good things about it. However, use your common sense – it might not the best option if you are travelling on your own, as it involves a car share with strangers.

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A pricier option is taking the train. However, high speed trains are worth it if you are planning to go somewhere that is far away – they are quicker than coaches. Trenitalia works quite well in my opinion, but delays and trains being cancelled is not something unheard of, so beware if you are going somewhere that requires a couple of changes along the way. Another alternative is to fly to your destination. If you are in Siena you will know that your closest airports are in Florence or Pisa though, requiring you to take the train or bus in order to reach it anyway. So, unless you actually have a few days to spare, I wouldn’t choose to go anywhere too far away – it is worth staying somewhere nearer and having more time to explore!

Accommodation

In terms of finding where to stay, hotels are clearly an option but not the most budget-friendly. If you are travelling in a small group, look into youth hostels – they can be a fun experience if you are not too fussed about sharing rooms with strangers and you can meet all sorts of people.

However, my favourite option is Airbnb. I’ve used this platform a few times now and I find it the most convenient for me as it gives me the option of finding a private room within a flat – sort of like a hotel – but cheaper. I always look for an Airbnb with access to a kitchen, so I can have breakfast before heading out or cook dinner and save a few euros. If you’ve never tried Airbnb, it’s definitely worth a shot! All the experiences I’ve had so far have been great and you can find real gems out there.

This particular Airbnb in Bologna had an amazing library!

This particular Airbnb in Bologna had an amazing library!

Of course, if you know someone in the area, they might be able to host you for a few nights too – that would be the ideal situation as you would also know a local to suggest things to do!

Travel companions

In my opinion, the ideal group would either be a couple (2 people) or a larger group of 4. Of course, the amount of people travelling will not only influence your options for travel and accommodation, but will also make it harder or easier to decide what you will be doing each day. I wouldn’t try to put together a group with more than five members because, unless you are in the same mind-set and financial situation, it will probably be hard to get organized and make decisions on what to do, where to eat… My travel buddy in Italy is Megan, a course mate from Bath who is also doing her exchange here. You will probably end up travelling with somebody foreign, because not a lot of Italians seem to have the time or interest in travelling as much as you plan to over your Year Abroad, which is understandable. We make a good team because we both have similar interests and expectations about travelling in Italy. Also, she is the foodie who does the research on local food to try and where to go, whilst I do the cultural research on sightseeing itineraries and museums – great combo!

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To sum it up, think about whom you want to travel with and the pros and cons of your group size. Of course, solo travelling is also an option and, by all means, I would encourage everybody to travel on their own at least once in their life, but use your common sense and be safe about it.

Extra tips

A couple of extra trips I have about travelling around Italy:

·         Write a bucket-list. Usually it will not be a very realistic bucket list (at least mine isn’t), as you will probably jot down way too many places for the amount of time you really have. However, it will give you an idea of where you want to go, if you can join different destinations that are close together (for instance, I went to Bologna for a weekend and spent one of the days in Parma) and ticking off places is always satisfying!

·         State Museums or Musei Statali are generally free-of-charge on the first Sunday of each month, so make the most of it. For instance, the Uffizi Gallery in Florence is free, but the queue is massive so set aside some time!

·         Always ask for student discounts – use your Italian badge or student ID to get discounts at most museums. I’ve found that, in general, there are fewer discounts than in the UK, but it’s always worth a shot!

·         Do your research – look online before your trip and make a list of places you want to visit or recommendations for places to eat. There are so many blogs online written by locals that can give you a great insight into the place you’ll be visiting. Alternatively, don’t be afraid to ask your hosts or if you know anybody from the area (which is likely, since at University you will encounter so many studenti fuorisede) on their personal suggestions! It’s the students who know where to get the best apericena in town!

·         Make a rough plan of what you will be doing each day, particularly if you are only going away for the weekend. This way you will use your time efficiently and make the most of your stay.

·         Finally, and in contrast with the previous point, don’t be afraid to improvise! The best stories usually begin with a change of plans!

Look out for local food - the panpepato in Pisa is so yummy!

Look out for local food - the panpepato in Pisa is so yummy!

Hope you’ve found this post useful. Travelling is one of the best opportunities the Year Abroad offers you, so try to make the most of it! Happy exploring!

Alla prossima!

Zoe

 

 

09.12.2013

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📥  Social & Policy Sciences

Having the flexibility to work across teams is something I love about my placement. This week I am lucky enough to be able to work with the volunteer, holidays and events team in Sense who do great work to allow families of deafblind people to have some respite time while the organisation takes them out on fun activities and holidays. This is great because not only do the families get some rest from the often demanding challenges involved in caring for individuals, but deafblind people get the opportunity to do some great things like visiting the beach and go-karting. Each activity and holiday is risk assessed, and since one of the seven ‘I’ statements in Sense is “I will take informed risk”, it lets people enjoy doing things they may not have otherwise had the chance to do. These activities are also great for volunteering for those who have a passion for it, especially if like me you have undergone any Duke of Edinburgh awards. I will be working to review Sense’s volunteer webpages as well as those from other charities and organisations, and looking at how to appeal to people to get involved and rally support. 

The day ended with dinner at the Fig and Olive in Islington with my father! Lovely!

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25.11.2013

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📥  Social & Policy Sciences

Today was another chance for a really good chance and insight into Sense and its services. A few new people at the organization and I visited Café 55 in Exeter. This is both a base for Sense’s intervenor service in the South West, which provides specialist one-to-one support for congenitally deafblind individuals, and a fully operating café open at the moment Mondays to Saturdays 10-4pm. Café 55 is Sense’s flagship community café and is run by deafblind and disabled volunteers.

Café 55 offers a person-centred approach service which ensures that deafblind people are enabled to make and act on choices that are important to them.

 Its is also used as a base for other Sense services including Supported Living and Residential services and offer rooms and areas with flexible hiring arrangements for both daytime and evening clubs and events. These rooms also include multi-sensory environments used to sooth individuals and initiate exploration of objects.

The café is used in the evenings and weekends by various charities and youth clubs on a regular basis enjoying our safe and secure environment. The café’s aims are underpinned by Sense’s Charter which includes the vision of a world in which all deafblind children and adults can be full and active members of society. Deafblind people are offered the opportunity to gain work experience in catering, be part of a team and learn new skills that may lead to employment. The café serves a variety of drinks and snacks including a salad bar, and is very competitively priced. We all had paninis with salads and crisps and they were delicious! It is fully wheelchair accessible and has two disabled toilets, as well as a children’s area, high chairs, free wi-fi, a reader and a plasma screen to enjoy.

We received an extremely warm and enthusiastic welcome from the people who run the café and its hiring services. We were given teas and coffees and allowed a few moments to relax from the three hour journey down from London and walk to the café-who knew Exeter had so many hills! We gave our lunch orders to a staff member who is profoundly deaf with limited vision. He also has severe learning difficulties, and a complex heart condition. To see the freedom and confidence Sense helps people develop is really awe-inspiring. Growing up with a best friend who had brain damage, I know how important it is to live a life where you are not excluded from any activities which other people-especially people your age-partake in. Even if it takes extra planning or risk assessment, it is imperative that activities are inclusive to all, including the right to work in a safe and enjoyable environment. Sense has clearly got this right in the café as it has pictures relating to sign language to help you order your food and drink, whilst attaining the highest levels of food hygiene rating, Café 55 has thought of so many ways to excel. We were then showed around the café and the building, including the arts and crafts room, stage, multi-sensory environment, therapy room with various lights, the offices, conference rooms and second-story garden.

We then headed back downstairs for lunch and upon finishing it was already time to come back to London town!

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17.09.2013

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📥  Social & Policy Sciences

Today I continued to edit and type up the conference reports. The annual Deadblind International (DbI) conference took place in Lille this year with the title of ”Identities and changes - Commonalities across deafblindness - Learning from each other.”

From the DbI website it notes that the life trajectories of deafblind people differ from one person to another, but all of them have to face differing degrees of changes. These changes will relate to aging (transition from childhood through adulthood to old age), family contexts, and to the evolution of their physical conditions (especially when deafness, blindness and other difficulties appear). “These individual changes occur in a social context which is also subject to other changes outside their control including technological, political, economic conditions and the type of knowledge used by professionals. While all these changes require creativity in each individual’s life, at the same time they also create vulnerability in their lives including the work of the professionals associated with them. Lately in Europe, many people involved in Deafblindness (including deafblind people themselves, family members and professionals) had to face huge changes in the organisations they are related to as a result of policy changes and state decisions. It is really a paradox that this has occurred since the recognition of Deafblindness as a unique disability was recently proclaimed and endorsed by the European Union and various states. In many instances, these changes have resulted in the mixing together of deafblind services with other types of disabilities. Therefore, the purposes of this European conference is to show and describe the resilience of ‘Deafblindness’ as a unique disability in spite of these changes and to find ways to promote approaches that will positively affect the lives of deafblind people and their families. The format of the conference will reflect the idea that deafblind people should be given all the space they need to assert their own identities and perspectives. It should also ensure that all the varied identities related to Deafblindness (persons with congenital or acquired Deafblindness, family members or professionals) will receive focus, with the intent to show how all these identities are mutually connected and contribute to the building of each individual’s identity.” (Jacques Souriau, Chair of the Scientific Committee, 8th DbI European Conference).

Each of the Sense staff who attended the conference were asked to do a write up on the workshops they went to in order to compile a document of all the workshops. I am responsible for typing their notes into a larger document which will flow throughout and include both the Sense logo and DbI logo.

My father called in to London on his way home and took me for dinner in Finsbury Park. Lovely Italian food and even lovlier company!

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11.09.2013

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📥  Social & Policy Sciences

Today began with a chat with a technology coordinater to learn more about the roles within the IAR team. She told me about her position a a clinical audiologist and that she specialises in technology surrounding deafness. A big part of her role is to introduce supportive technology into the lives of deafblind people as innovative new products become available and social media expands.

At eleven I then had another meeting with a member of the IAR team. The lady I spoke to holds a senior position in the IAR team and is in charge of the flow if enquiries that come into Sense and delegates these to the appropriate people. She told me about the importance of a strong, dedicated and informed team and the difference this makes to the lives of deafblind individuals and their families. Her strategic aims include increasing access to information, promoting integrated advice from across the organisation to include the various departments such as legality, respite care etc, and an assurance on equality such as the information standard.

In the afternoon I had a meeting with a member of Sense International (SI). SI influence various bodies of power including the House of Commons, NGOs and MPs. This helps to shape international policy and support countries to influence their own governments. The countries which SI help include Kenya, Tanzania, India, Romania, Peru, and Bangladesh. The SI team aim to help countries become self sufficient in their support for deafblind people, a project which is starting to become successful in India where it’s own trustees have gained more control to organically improve the situations. An important tactic for the SI team to show countries is the way in which the biggest way to reach deafblind individuals is through teachers. By these teachers learning how to best teach and communicate with deafblind children, a cycle of appropriate care and support can begin. Learning centres powered by NGOs and community officers provide rehabilitation to deafblind people. With various religious and cultural factors contributing to the sensitivity of the issue of disabilities in different countries, any external and especially Western intervenors must be highly respectful of customs and traditions. I was talked through the processes of each country, from the larger programmes to smaller ones. The SI team in Romania for example is built up of only four people. Early intervention is praised for its effects, with screening at hospitals from the early ages of deafblind children and vocational programmes proving very important to bettering the understanding and support of disabilities. SI also place great importance on advocacy. They work with governments to ensure that legislation is in place to protect and enhance the rights of deafblind people in countries where their voices may have otherwise gone unheard.

My day finished with a health and safety tour of the building, which was not purpose built to accommodate disabled people but rather adapted to do so. This includes a wider lift and corridors to enable wheelchair access and fire alarms which also include flashing wall lights and vibrating buzzers for any deafblind people that come into the building should there be an emergency. This dynamic workplace makes a great effort to include disabled or sensory impaired people from the beginning of any projects right through to its publications and events.

The day ended with a visit from my parents! We had dinner at Canonbury Kitchen in Islington. It was really lovely to have some family time having been away from them for a while.

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