By: Bo Shimmin
Today in my Italian class, we went around and shared our upcoming holiday plans. As we shared one by one, I couldn’t help but think about how incredibly lucky we all were. Athens, Barcelona, Paris, London, Ibiza and Rome were all thrown around casually. At this point, it’s bizarre hear people are staying in Milan for weekend plans. We are in such close to proximity to so many amazing places, it’s typical to take a trips outside of Italy on the weekend. I’ve taken several myself, and I totally recommend exploring outside of your host city.
However, realizing that no one was staying in Milan, made me feel a little sad. Being in a foreign country is difficult, but it’s a lot easier when you have the funds to go out and enjoy the things around you. I feel so fortunate to be able to explore other places while I’m here, but it’s easy to forget that there are others who may not have the money or opportunity at their disposal.
I was talking to an Italian friend of mine recently and was sharing stories about my trips and they stopped me mid-sentence and said, “You must be so rich being able to take all these trips”. I was stunned for a moment, because I am by no means rich. I worked hard to fund my study abroad experience by saving up and applying to scholarships in order to afford my excursions; But right then, it hit me. Do I come off as someone who spends money aimlessly? Does my sharing come off as boasting to those who may not have had the same experiences? I changed the subject quickly because I felt uncomfortable. I keep finding myself in these moral dilemmas where I will feel guilty about how I may be spending money or how I am sharing my experiences with others. I remember living on a reservation 10 years ago and needing food stamps to go grocery shopping, and now I’m taking weekend trips all over Europe. It just seems bizarre how much my life has changed, yet I want to stress again that I have built this life for myself. I did my research and found a way to afford some of these trips that I have taken.
If you are worried about coming abroad because of finances, don’t be! There is a way to cover the costs, and you should meet with your school’s study-abroad coordinators to help you save money, so you can travel and explore while you’re here. Also, don’t feel obligated to leave EVERY weekend, there are so many things to do in Milan. We get these wonderful weekly emails sharing things to do on the weekend and that has been a saving grace. I can guarantee that you will always find something to do no matter where you go.
I have spent a fair number of weekends in Milan getting to explore MY city, which I think is so important when you are abroad. But it’s also so difficult to go to class and hear from some kids that every single weekend has been spent in a different country and city. I wonder if they really feel like Milan is their home. I was walking around today and realized that I was comfortable with my surroundings. If you are coming to study, it’s important to get out and see new neighborhoods and places. Yes, you will find your favorite places, but just take a chance and see what it’s like in different zones.
I just want to stress that you can come abroad on a budget. It’s important to understand that many aren’t as privileged as we are, but you will face these challenges in the real world as well. I want to experience this city in every way possible, not just the expensive and extravagant way. Although I have been extremely lucky to visit places like La Scala, I still talk to some people who have lived in Milan their whole lives and have never been simply because it’s too expensive or they don’t think they can afford it. Go find the hole-in-wall shops. Try a place that you’ve never tried. Go away from the touristy areas and you will find hidden gems. To wrap this up I want to end with some questions for you to think about.
In what ways are you privileged? Do you understand that you have privileges? What can you do to better understand the lives of others who may not be as fortunate as you?