Placement blogs

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

Tagged: Tips

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

 

 

'S' is for 'Stressitation'

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📥  2013-14, Psychology

 "If you so choose, even the unexpected setbacks can bring new and positive possibilities. If you so choose, you can find value and fulfillment in every circumstance."
Ralph Marston
Yes, I'm procrastinating by sticking post-its to my face.

Yes, I'm procrastinating by sticking post-its to my face.

There is a terrible truth I have to admit to myself at this terrible time... and it is the fact that I am terribly behind with my dissertation. I am now where I should have been, let’s say, one or two months ago, and I feel terrible. Save the tears, save the shame, save me under this Everest of paperwork, signed paper forms and intense paper cuts, I may as well just share my ‘knowledge’ so that you won’t be living in my image this time next year. And I really don't mean to make myself sound like a wisdom-bearing God - because I'm not.

As a matter of context, I have actually completed all the hardships that I needed to have gone through at this point – extensive literature reviews, planning my research, my research design, my methods… my interviewees are just about rearing to go on about their viewpoints into my Dictaphone. But as a matter of misfortune, I face the biggest enemy which I have encountered in this placement year so far. Ethics.

Before any Psychology student can start on the turbulent journey that is the ‘Stressitation’, an amalgamation of planning, wild action and exploding brain matter must go into working out what exactly it is you want to study, and how exactly you plan to study it. Once that’s over with, you write up your cute, little research procedure and sail the innocent thing off away to get mauled (or approved) by the Ethics committee. I’m actually making it sound worse than it is, ethics really isn’t that hard of a process if you just take the time to plan to the ‘tee’.

My misfortune derives from a quaint miscommunication and people changing their minds last minute. Long story short, the University of Bath Ethics purposefully required a letter of approval from my work placement before I could submit my application to them, whereby I slaved to fill in the giant tonne of paperwork I had to complete for 'NHS Ethics' and the 'NHS Research and Development' committee. After pulling out my hair to the tether and submitting my application to Research and Development, I was told that actually they required a letter of approval from the University before I could submit my application to them. Oh, tragedy of my degree! Where do I go if everyone wants someone else to go first? I couldn't be relieving a childhood moment of asking my mom if I could go to a friend's house only for her to say, "Go ask your Dad" and when trotting happily along to my dad only for him to say "Go ask your Mom." I felt like I was 10 again.

Moral of the story, make sure you:

  • Communicate
  • Know what work you need to do
  • Start early
  • Give yourself enough time to do the work that you need to do

My life with the 'Stressitation' this far may have been somewhat of a setback, but yours doesn't have to be! I pose to you, a few tips I learned along the way to help you get started on the flow of your dissertation:

  1. Think about what topic you want to do for your disseration:
    It may be something you've always been interested in studying, or it may have just creeped up on you from the crevices of your mind. Either way, start thinking about a topic that you can handle and that you know (or think) you can tolerate for the next year and a half of your University life.
  2. Have a chat with your supervisor:
    Your supervisor may have some wisdom of their own to offer you about research or your chosen topic. In my case, my supervisor and other staff were very helpful to support me by giving me some top tips for research, as well as giving me a few materials they had to start reading on my project. Depending on where you work, you may also negotiate an allocated time for you to work on your dissertation during the week.
  3. Start to read those articles:
    It's never too early to start reading around your topic. This way you can figure out where there are gaps in the literature and where you can fit your research in. It's also best to organise what you've read as you go along, as it'll be 10x easier and less stress inducing when you come around to writing up your dissertation. Make a set of cue cards with the reference on the front and the main findings of the paper on the back ('Business at the front, party at the back'), so that you have some sort of a filing system of everything you've read. Alternatively, I made a table on Word doing pretty much the same thing.

    Table of research about 'Dialectical Behaviour Therapy'

    Table of research about 'Dialectical Behaviour Therapy'

  4. Give yourself a reality check
    One big mistake I made whilst planning my dissertation - I got way too ambitious. After reading around my subject, I got so enthusiastic about studying and interviewing people with personality disorders only to fall off the tip of the cliff when I realised that if I wanted to study this particular group of people I would have to add an extra 6 months of trials and ethics hurdles to my schedule. Time which I definitely did not have. Really think about your topic in a realistic way, make sure you settle for something interesting, simple, that can more reasonably fit into the time frame you have and can show off all your research skills in your final dissertation write-up.
  5. Get in touch with your personal/ dissertation tutor
    Never, ever feel too afraid to contact your tutor. They are there to help you! The amount of emails I've sent my tutor asking even the smallest or most stupid questions that I've been fretting over, and they have literally supported my ideas, given me the knowledge I needed and have generally been there to help whenever I ask. My tutor is becoming my hero. Your tutor is a valuable resource when it comes to planning your dissertation - so get in touch and stay in touch!
  6. Start planning your method
    Once you feel like you're just about rounding up all your brilliant ideas through your reading and your feedback from professionals. It's time to descend upon a reasearch method. Really think about what would be the best and most achievable way to study what you plan to study.. some may be easier than others. For example, I'm writing a dissertation on the views and understanding of staff working with personality disorders on the topic of self-harm, so it's no question that interviews are the way to go. I've never been a fan of quantitative methods (purely because SPSS still baffles me to this day), but reading up on your method and how to execute it is also useful to do at this point.

If you've gone through all these stages, hopefully learning from your experiences and perhaps having fewer hiccups than I did through the whole process, then you'll sure enough be ready for my favourite stage of them all - ethics. Trust me when I say (are these lyrics to a song?), all the organising and proper planning you do right now will make for easier sailing next year when you have to write your dreaded 'Stressitation'.