After nearly three months of living in Italy I've gotten pretty used to the doing things the Italian way, and whilst some of my expectations about living here have proven to be true, there have also been quite a few surprises along the way.
The lifestyle here in Italy is great, but can also be very different from what we're used to in Bath. So here are some of my top tips to help you get the most out of your time here...
One of the first obstacles you'll probably face here in Italy is public transport. And, if you're like me, it'll be on the first day you arrive.
My first tip? Don't panic!
There seems to be an assumption that everything in Italy is disorganised, especially with regards to transport. Now while this is almost definitely true when it comes to bus services - they seem to just turn up whenever they feel like it - the train system is actually easy to use and so much more affordable than in the UK.
An hour and a half journey from Sestri Levante to Genova costs less than €5, and there are plenty of ticket machines at the stations which are easy to use (and also have an English option if you're struggling!) Most trains even have air conditioning and more than 3 carriages - who knew?
One thing you need to remember, however, is to validate (convalidare) your ticket before each journey. There are green ticket machines at each station where you need to stamp your ticket before setting off - failing to do this could result in a hefty fine, so don't forget!
Ah, everyone's favourite topic. There is a reason that the Italians are so famous for their food, and the few extra pounds on my waistline can 100% vouch for that.
It's true that the pizza and gelato here is first rate, but don't limit yourself to the touristy stuff.
The amazing thing about Italy is that each region has its own customs and traditions, including their own products and dishes which they are famous for. Wherever you are in Italy, go out and find the local specialities as they are bound to be delicious and more than likely much better quality (and at a better price!)
Before coming out here I thought it would be difficult eating as a vegetarian in Italy but I couldn't have been more wrong. There is almost always a vegetarian option on the menu - one restaurant even made one especially for me! - and plenty of Italian cuisine isn't just based around meat or fish.
The first time I went into a supermarket I was shocked to find an actual vegetarian/vegan food section with veggie burgers, meat substitutes, dairy-free cheese and even vegan desserts. And there was a whole aisle full of milk alternatives - it looks like Italy is catching on!
One thing that can be quite tricky about living in Italy is that it's still really common to use cash.
After becoming used to paying for everything with contactless and ApplePay this was quite a shock for me. I still get a few strange looks when I ask to pay with card, and there even are some restaurants and bars which only accept cash. I was caught out a few times at the beginning and had to quickly run to an ATM, which isn't ideal.
Obviously card payments are more frequent in the bigger cities, but I'd still recommend to keep some cash on you whilst out and about.
In terms of cost of living, I've found it to be quite affordable out here. Supermarket prices, especially for fruit and veg, seem to be much more affordable than in the UK, and it's even better if you can find a local market at the weekend.
As I've said, transport tends to be much more affordable here and whilst eating out can get expensive, taking packed lunches and eating at home most nights is a great way to save money for some nicer meals out at the weekend. The quality of local ingredients is great, so even meals at home can be delicious!
There are plenty of cultural differences between Italy and the UK, and while some of them can be very entertaining to observe (or awkward to experience!) there are some parts of Italian culture which I wish we would adopt.
A prime example is the aperitivo - why don't we have this in the UK?! If you've never heard of it before, it's almost like a happy hour, except that for the price of your drink (usually between 7-10 euros) you get a plate of free food, or sometimes even a buffet. The aperitivo is supposed to be a pre-dinner ritual, but some bars give you so much food that you can easily turn it into an apericena, which is a great way to save money while eating out.
As we all know food is very important to the Italians and there are some rules which I'd recommend following if you'd rather avoid some strange looks. Italians only order a cappuccino in the morning, never after lunch. Also, having a hot drink while you eat is considered to be quite strange, so maybe don't order a coffee while you eat your lunch.
Once I went to a restaurant with a German student I had met at the school and she asked for parmesan with her seafood pasta - I honestly thought the waiter might faint, I have never seen someone look so distressed by cheese.
But while the culture is very different in Italy and you may come across a few obstacles here and there, I've found that the Italians are some of the most accommodating and friendly people in the world. Everyone I've encountered has been happy to help me and very patient both with my language skills and the fact that I don't drink coffee (very weird here, apparently).
If you're worried about moving to Italy for your placement, remember that there are plenty of resources in the Moodle Year Abroad hub and your Italian teachers are always there to give helpful advice and recommendations. You can also ask current Year Abroad students for advice if you're feeling overwhelmed - we've all been in the same position and are happy to help!