Semester Abroad in Italy at the Politecnico di Milano – Architecture and Urban Design (B. A.)
Jan is studying Architecture and Urban Design (B. A.) at the University of Applied Sciences Potsdam. He spent his 5th semester at the partner university Politecnico di Milano in Italy. Here he recounts his stay abroad in the winter semester 2022/23.
Jan's semester abroad in Italy
Why did you want to do a semester abroad?
During my studies in Potsdam, I realised that I was impressed by the design-oriented teaching but still wanted to get an impression of whether research and technology in the context of design and urban planning are topics that I would like to explore further in the future. Especially in the context of sustainable urban design, many elective courses are offered at the Politecnico die Milano on what the cities of the future should look like. At the same time, I was keen to immerse myself in a new language. With basic knowledge from Latin classes, I had set myself Italian as a realistic learning goal.
In addition, Italy and Milan in particular, with its extensive architectural and cultural heritage, but also with its high significance in the contemporary discourse of architecture and design, offer an exciting area of study that I was eager to get to know. But I also wanted to get to know people - Italians, international students, friends of friends, to simply have a colourful exchange and learn from each other and appreciate each other.
How did you prepare yourself?
At the beginning, all application steps at the University of Applied Sciences Potsdam were done via the Mobility online portal, where formal data were filled in. At the same time, you upload your CV, letter of motivation and proof of language skills. I didn't have any Italian language skills until then, but that's why I attended the language course with the VHS (community college) in the summer semester. I started directly at A2 level which, in hindsight, was a bit overconfident. I probably should have started from scratch at A1.
Around the middle of March, I received confirmation from the partner university that I had been accepted in the first application step. You also had to upload some personal data and submit a portfolio (a selection of your work from previous semesters). In June, I received the final acceptance letter and attended the first information events at the Politecnico, which were especially important for choosing courses. You had to choose a few courses on the website and match them up with the times. The course selection then takes place online, but you have to be really quick to get the courses you want. I was only on the portal a few minutes after it opened and some courses were already overbooked, so I had courses that overlapped in time. Travelling by train is really easy and the Alps were simply beautiful during the day.
How did you find accommodation?
The flat search was a real stroke of luck. I knew someone who had already lived in Milan and had friends there. One of them also started her semester abroad, so her room became available. There were three of us altogether in the flat share: an Italian, a Finn and a German. We all studied at different universities, which was a really nice balance and exchange. I really enjoyed coming home.
Nevertheless, the housing market really is a challenge for young people and students. You can't really find anything for less than 500 euros a month, and often they offer accommodation that requires additional payments that are not easy to understand. It's definitely worth looking early, even if many rooms only become available at the beginning of the semester.
What was it like to study at the partner university?
In addition to the introduction for course selection, there was then a Welcome Week once we'd arrived where all exchange students were welcomed. In addition to a campus tour in small groups and various administrative introductions, there were also a few sports and games events, such as the Ice Breaking Night, where I got to know the university and new people right away in the first few days.
The following week, the courses began. My courses were Design Studio (in English), Building Physics (in English), Product Design of Furniture (in Italian) and Climate Change and Hydrological Resilience in Cities (in Italian). Especially the last two courses were a real challenge at the beginning, but I managed to find a few people who helped me out with Italian and shared their notes. Nevertheless, these two courses turned out to be the most exciting ones in the course, in which I was not only forced to learn Italian, but also to investigate new programmes and content not only directly related to design theory. However, the design was somewhat disappointing, as the exchange both with teachers and among students had somewhat fallen asleep during the semester.
I can highly recommend the voluntary Italian language course. The atmosphere was great, and although it was online, everyone actively took part and learned the basics.
How high was the cost of living? What leisure and sports facilities did you take advantage of?
I paid about 600 euros for my room in a shared flat, including utilities, and another 250 euros a month for food. The language course cost a one-time fee of 100 euros. In addition, the university offers various sports activities at a new sports facility. I paid around 25 euros a month for the gym. During the semester, there were also costs for models and prints. For excursions, personal purchases, facilities or going out and celebrating, you then had to see what you were left with.
But looking back, I really should have saved more money for excursions. I thought from the beginning that if I was going to be in Italy for such a long period of time, I really wanted to go to Rome. I managed to make this trip, but there are also so many beautiful, smaller places and cities that are much closer to Milan, which I would have liked to visit too. Some museums are not necessarily cheap either, so it's worth doing some research beforehand. For example, Da Vinci's Last Supper in the Santa Maria delle Grazie can be booked for as little as 2 euros, but you should book it a month in advance because a visit at short notice is not possible. The choice of museums is so huge that I visited a different one almost every fortnight.
Conclusion and tips
All in all, the six months in Italy were incredibly wonderful and I will remember this time forever.
Milan is a very compact city where life takes place on the street. Nail salons next to workshops and butcher's shop next to boutiques, tradition and established bourgeoisie meets young art and fashion scene. Fashion Week, two Champions League clubs in the still existing San Siro, Alpine region and lake landscapes in the north, Mediterranean in the south, architectural history throughout the city, young and international audience, especially at the several universities. It all sounds very charged, and it is. The city and its people know this and know how to cultivate this style.
I had a really great time and was able to soak it all up and immerse myself in a differently oriented teaching, to learn Italian (at least in rudimentary form), to exchange ideas with so many new people - yes, not only international ones - that is something I will never forget. I would do it again!
Tip: Check the course selection and timetables right at the beginning, learn Italian in advance and challenge yourself to use your language skills. Maybe apply in advance for the Codice Fiscale (the Italian tax number), which you need for monthly tickets for public transport and other things.
Virtual Tour Leonardo Campus
Want to see what the Leonardo Campus of the Politecnico di Milano looks like? This virtual tour of our partner university will show you!