As I’m sitting here behind my laptop this cold, rainy March 2nd of 2018, I’m remiscing on life in Italy. On top of the drooly weather, I’m lying sick on the couch with the flu. Oh sweet Italian life, where did you go?
My home for the 5 months in between September 18th and February 4th was Forlì, a little Italian town near Bologna. To some, it may seem insignificant, not very special and not at all that beautiful. But for me, this little place in the east of Italy means living alone for the first time, gaining indipendence, growing as a person and evolving towards adulthood. It’s important to me and I love it.
Studying Italian and English, going abroad for a semester was a logical step in my academical career. Living in Italy had been a life-long dream and doing exactly for a semester was a fine starting point.
As mentioned earlier, Erasmus was my first experience with living alone. Well, not entirely alone: some friends of my home university also spent their semester abroad in Forlì, among which one of my best friends so we rented an apartment together.
Our apartment was pretty spacious and my room was bigger than mine in Belgium, but at home I do not have Winnie the Pooh and Snoopy paintings on the wall, nor are my heaters yellow. These pics were taken while I was packing to travel back to Belgium, boo-hoo ;'( .
However, I did love my room! It had this (again, yellow) large window through which sun shone brightly every morning – probably one of the reasons for my remarkebly better mood in Italy. Behind that window though, there was this little deck. Oh goodness, what a delight!
Besides Mediterranean charm and sun, Forlì had a lot of international students – key for the typical festivities expected from exchange students -, parks and Italians (stating the obvious here).
Sports-wise, I wasn’t quite peaking in Italy. I did some running, rope skipping and gymming when it suited me, bouldering on Thursdays and pilates on Tuesdays. The gym in Forlì was quite basic, but had about everything I needed to get effective work-outs in. Pilates was something new for me, but I liked it a lot. It was a new way of using my body and challenging my muscles. Bouldering was something I picked up again: I did some wallclimbing here and there when I was a kid. I had forgotten how fun it was. The boulder place as well was pretty small, but the people were so kind and welcoming.
Truth to be told, in the beginning I quite struggled with having to cut back in sports but there simply was no time to sustain a social life, school, Instagram, building a business (oh shock, haven’t mentioned that on the Internet yet. I’ll tell you more soon) and doing sports at the same time. Trying to make the most of my time abroad, the gym just was the first thing I had to scale down.
And to be honest, as much of a mental struggle that was in the beginning, I don’t regret it. In the end, the hours spent in the gym is not what you’ll remember later in life (unless you spend them with your friends ofc. Hey Lien, hey Louise!).
The things you will actually remember? The pre-drinks at which you discover your up-until-that-point very well-hidden talent for beer pong, the bike races, the bowling matches you totally lose, the late-night/early-morning talks in the freezing cold, the very fun parties with the bad Italian music, learning how to pool (billiards, not the pools you swim in), the trips to Bologna, Rimini, Ferrara and Pesaro, going to Mirabilandia theme park (twice: Halloween and Christmas), swimming in the sea in October (when it’s full-on autumn and cold in Belgium), the pizzas and beers/wine, the dashing trough the snow at the Christmas Market in San Marino, …
Food? Oh right. Big part of my Erasmus! Cooking for myself, doing my own groceries and deciding for myself what I’ll eat for every meal was great, really. For my brekkies and lunches I’ll refer to my Instagram, but my go-to dinners? A vegan version of palak paneer with tofu, rice and beans, tofu scramble with leek, pasta with tomato sauce (hey there, Italian influence), gnocchi with whatever kind of sauce, …
New foodie things I discoverd in Italy: hazelnut butter (dammmn) and almond butter, persimmons, fresh dates, puffed rice,… I rediscovered my love for fruitpap, leek and tofu and gnocchi.
To elaborate some more on the topic of eating: my favourite restaurants in Forlì. I highly doubt whether one of you will ever go there (if you do though, hit me up! Let’s talk! Please?) but I just have to share. My absolute fave: QBio and its little sister QCorner. They serve Italian pizza, but different – and as you guys now, I appreciate different – with multiple vegan options. Also: vegan cheesecake and a vegan coconut and lime mousse (damn damn damn). To make it all better: very yummy fresh juices.
Veganism seems to be an established concept on the east side of Italy: almost every restaurant has vegan options and if not, they always now what it means and are more than happy to provide you with something.
You’ve heard this stereotype that Italians are warmer people, more sympathetic, friendlier, everything. Of course, that depends where you’re from yourself. But as for me, coming from Belgium, where quite frankly people are just a bit surly, this difference was a pretty pleasant one. Getting a ‘ciao’ from everyone you pass on the streets, having a neighbour that says you’re ‘bella come il sole’ (as pretty as the sun) and kisses your hand – admittedly, this was also a bit weird- and being able to actually talk with the cashier in the shops made me very happy, and made me friendlier as well.
What did I learn from this half-year abroad experience?
- Prioritise. It’s okay to have different priorities at different stages of your life. And I mean prioritise every aspect of your life: the people you keep in touch with (trying to keep up with the people that wouldn’t matter that much anyway if you were to just be home, it’s simply a waste of time), personal priorities (gym, school, work, …). My point: Erasmus or an exchange is a once in a lifetime experience. Don’t waste time doing things that you won’t remember or that aren’t that important in the long run. The only exception: studying. You’ll simply have to.
- Getting to know new peeps is awesome and actually not that hard. I love it! Right now, I’m actually missing it meeting new people nearly every other day.
- Life is not that hard. Fixing an apartment, registering at the civil register, finding your way in a huge city, buying airplane tickets, … : it’s not that complicated. Maybe I’m the only one, but I always had this idea that those things were really hard and complicated to do. They’re not. You just have to do it.
- Cleaning and doing laundry sucks. But a clean apartment and clothes smelling like laundry detergent doesn’t.
- Meal planning. Going to the grocery store and not wasting any food is way easier if you have an idea of what you’re going to eat. On that note: I didn’t throw out a single bit of food in the entirety of 5 months. May I? #proud
- I like a sense of internationality: being surrounded by multiple nationalities and cultures at almost any given time of day is something that makes me feel very comfortable.
- I won’t live in Belgium for the rest of my life. Sorry, mom, dad. I just won’t.
- I’ve run into myself so many times. They advertise Erasmus and exchange programs often like this: you’ll get to know yourself better, and you’ll come back a different person. The only thing I could always think was that they were exagerating. They’re not. You will have a better sense of who you are and what you want to do with your life when you come back (or when you don’t come back ofc). I can’t explain it properly, just take my word for it.
I’m so thankful for every second of this experience and wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.
Have you done an exchange? Where? Hit me up, let’s talk. Post-Erasmus blues is a very very real thing and I’d love to connect with anyone having done/doing an international experience!
With all my love,