Student's story: about the minuses of Italian IT education, pasta and life with the Milanese old woman

    Almira Murtazina, 3rd year bachelor of Innopolis University, studied artificial intelligence and game theory at the University of Milan on an exchange program. The girl told how, along with her studies, she conquered the Alps and how popular the stereotypes about Italians are with reality.



    Before me there was never a question to decide on something. Including, on exchange studies. For me, the fear of the unknown is an additional motivation. Besides, I would never forgive myself to miss this opportunity.

    The first tips on where to go for the exchange, I heard from students who have already returned and shared their experiences and impressions. One of them is Dima Sawa, who instilled in me the confidence that I can go to study alone in an unfamiliar country. He spoke with bright eyes about studying in Korea: “Learning is difficult, but interesting.”
    But Korea is not a priority for me, so I began to study universities of more familiar and close Europe to me. The head of the international and academic cooperation of Innopolis University, Sergey Karapetyan, helped me in this. Based on his consultations with colleagues from abroad and the recommendations of the professors of my university, of the 17 possible options, only two Italian remained - Rome and Milan.

    In addition, in 2016 I was fascinated by Italian culture, which I began to comprehend from studying a language. Before that, my knowledge of Italian was limited to the words “pizza” and “pasta”, and closer to departure, Italian already helped to realize the mentality of the people. For example, the appeal "You" in Italian is identical to the word "She." This underlines the special attitude of Italians towards women, which appeals to their culture. To deepen my knowledge of the language, I began to watch movies and learn national cuisine.

    In the process of choosing between two Italian universities, I applied for an Erasmus + grant at the University of Rome La Sapienza. A grant would provide a monthly stipend to cover my expenses. However, my application was rejected and I had to choose a university, relying only on courses. In Rome, in my opinion, many subjects were based on physics and mathematics, and the program of the Milan Technical University seemed more modern and applied.

    Milan bribed and the way the communication took place during the preparation of documents - the receiving party went to meet, there was no strict selection, did not require a certificate of knowledge of the language, I could choose courses in English, although I know Italian at intermediate level.


    I made the final decision in favor of Milan after I was able to choose 2 courses in artificial intelligence, the love for which began with Professor Brown’s course “Introduction to AI” at Innopolis University. It seems to me that in human nature there are attempts to realize oneself, one’s own device, therefore AI is a kind of self-knowledge.


    The main problem that had to be solved before the trip was the housing issue. I attended to them late. I missed the deadline for submitting documents to the student dormitory, which put the trip itself in question.

    But, looking on the Internet for rental ads in Milan, I realized that the fee for a hostel is the same as if you rent an apartment. I have been comparing options for a long time, evaluating the location, price, number of residents, stopping the choice for an apartment for 5 people, but with one drawback - for the first three weeks of study, I need to find another accommodation until the place becomes free in the apartment. Therefore, for this period, I found a separate room through Airbnb. Looking ahead, I can give one advice to those who are going to learn to exchange - look for housing, while in the country, in a student get-together this is easier and cheaper.


    At the Technical University of Milan there is a special program - the Buddy Project, designed to help local students help visitors to adapt to life in Italy. Therefore, I was met at the airport by Asterio, a first-year student at Computer Science, who became a friend to me while I was studying in Italy. It was he who prepared the first pasta for me, issued me a SIM card, a travel card and helped with all the household issues.

    Returning to the housing issue, choosing an apartment for the first time, I thought that Milan was comparable in size to Moscow, so I was not scared that I would have to go an hour before my studies. But I was wrong; Milan turned out to be much smaller than the capital of Russia and it seemed crazy for the local to get to the university for an hour.

    In the apartment I was met by Anna, an elderly Italian who became my mistress for the next 3 weeks. The first time we communicated with her in English, but when I said that I was learning Italian, she began to communicate with me only in it, regardless of whether I understand something or not.


    At Anna, I felt like my grandmother was on vacation. A big plus is that she, like me, does not eat meat, so I could eat everything that was in the refrigerator. For breakfast she left me muesli, yogurt and fruit, and for lunch and dinner she prepared Italian dishes. The most delicious of them - Parmigiano - layered casserole with eggplant, cheese and tomatoes. But Italian cuisine is not only delicious food. Once Anna prepared the turnip tops, which the Italians eat every week to promote health. Disgusting dish.


    Three weeks later, the place in the apartment I rented was vacant, and I moved. Therefore, until the end of my studies, I lived in an international composition: Xavi from Chile, Florenzo from Spain, Francesca and Sebastian from Italy. We did not become friends and talked only within the framework of housing issues and only 2 times had dinner together. Sometimes we talked about studying, but no more.



    On the campus of Politecnico di Milano - 30 different buildings and structures, football fields, shady places with tables and benches where you can eat or work out, a lot of greenery.

    Already during my studies, I realized that although the programs of the Technical University of Milan seem at first glance to be modern and practical, this is an old and large university, where the studies are conservative and theoretical.


    The first thing that surprised me was the lack of projects and homework for 90% of the courses. The grade for the course was formed from the score for the final exam, which can be taken several times. That is, if you got a four, and she does not like you, you can try to pass the exam again in the same session. This is a good practice that relieves tension and anxiety during surrender. Otherwise, the lectures and seminars are similar to those at Innopolis University.

    I chose the courses upon arrival in Milan. For the first two or three weeks, a student can go to any class, get acquainted with professors, materials, and on the basis of this, choose the necessary courses. I chose Artificial Intelligence, Soft Computing, Technologies for Information Systems, a course in Italian Basi di Dati (Databases) and one additional course - Game Theory, I did not go for it. And since the schedule of lectures is publicly available, I could attend any other courses that interest me.

    The greatest impression was left by the course of Soft Computing Andrea Bonarini. He tried to change the traditional educational process: before class, students must pass a certain educational material, and the lecture itself was held with a bias on the interactive part, where tasks were given that did not have the correct answer, so each student offered his own individual solution.

    The ratio of local to exchange students is about 3 to 1, but the Italians did not seek to communicate with us, so 90% of my communication at the university was with the guys who came from abroad.

    At the University of Milan students have few own projects. It seemed to me that they are not interested in startups. And due to the fact that undergraduate programs at the university are weak and consist of physics, mathematics and electronics, it is difficult for graduates to get a job without practical experience. Therefore, graduates enter the magistracy to get this experience.
    Programmer girls are few - less than ours. I did not notice any special relationship. The professors kept their distance and did not know my face, no personal communication, as at Innopolis University, only through e-mail.

    Fellow students often asked about studying in Russia and about food. Everyone who knew that I was from Russia asked me how many layers of clothes we wear in winter and how much vodka I can drink, and this is a little offensive. It seemed to me that I had a very serious attitude to study among all the exchange students, and some of them came to Italy to rest.

    Free time

    It so happened that most of the week the classes started around noon, so I could sleep and spend the morning effectively - do exercises, have breakfast on the terrace of the apartment, read educational and fiction literature, do housework and quietly get to the university. The road took 15-20 minutes. At lunch between couples in the student cafeteria, unchanged pasta of 2-3 kinds with a pile of cheese was served. Sometimes this menu was complemented with french fries, green beans and chicken fillet.


    I spent my free time studying, preparing for exams on my own. I took online courses on game theory from MIT. Teachers gave knowledge from the field of computer science, economics, mathematics, probability theory, which developed into an applied complex, with which you can analyze various phenomena. For example, we studied how people go shopping, choosing products, and why knowledge of the actions of an adversary can harm.

    Comparing the way support works at Innopolis University and at the University of Milan, I can say that we have better conditions. Surprised by the lack of clubs and a paid university gym. A separate disappointment for me playing volleyball is that the University of Milan does not have a student team. The university seemed too big to promote any local projects.


    The Erasmus Students Network program works at the University of Milan, where parties and excursions are organized. On one of these excursions - hiking in the Alps for visiting students, I found friends: Maher, Sarah and Karim from Egypt, Leticia and Madeleine from France, Adrian from Spain and Peroz from Australia. I met them when we were waiting for a group at the railway station. The train brought our group of 80 people to the town of Kanzu in the foothills of the Alps, from where, after a short excursion, the ascent began. The official part of the route was not difficult and lasted two hours. Reaching the end of the route, the guide said that it was the track that the university had chosen, but if someone wants, she can continue climbing to the top of the mountain. I love hiking, so I joined a group of 20 people who decided to go all the way. To the peak we walked for another two hours. The track was hard with sharp ascents, so some stopped and could not go further. But the panoramic view of the mountains and Lake Como was worth it.



    Over the weekend I traveled several times to the nearest cities - Turin, Brescia, Monza; and in very small and non-touristic places - Aarone and Canzo. Being in Italy, you feel that the whole world is next to you. From Milan you can go by car to France or fly to Spain for 5 euros. Therefore, I went around all of Barcelona, ​​lived a couple of days with the local French in Bordeaux, traveled by bus across Europe - from Brussels to Milan, and quite unexpectedly found myself in Moldova with old friends from Innopolis.


    If we talk about leisure in Milan, I saw friends, went to a Depeche Mode concert and got to a two-week jazz festival, which took place in different parts of the city. Favorite place in the city - Milan Duomo Cathedral, here is a special atmosphere early in the morning, in cloudy weather or in the rain.


    People living in Italy speak of stereotypical Italians: they talk a lot, gesticulate, emotional, sociable. I confirm. In Italians, there is some kind of carelessness and even a slight disorder - I’m close to this and I can live with it, probably, because I myself am like that. Many of my fellow students, who came from other countries on exchange, were irritated by problems with mail or other household items, but I lived comfortably.
    Despite the stereotypes about the Italians, they are closed and will never come to you to meet and ask about something. They respect personal space. When you come to a foreign country, you need help and communication, but the Italians will not fit and wondered how you are doing and will not offer help.


    Traveling alone for a long time is hard. Closer to the second half of my studies, I felt that I was missing something close and dear to me, I was tired. My body was constantly under stress - an unfamiliar environment in which you cannot relax and always need to be prepared. Once I went home for 2 days and when I returned, I felt even more that you were a stranger here. Therefore, my advice to anyone who wants to learn by exchange: go on such a journey with someone you know.

    Another difficulty living in Milan is high prices. If you study well, then with a scholarship at Innopolis University, you can not worry about the means of subsistence. To Italy, I never in my life came to the store and did not buy the cheapest thing that is on the shelves.

    But with the help of the trip I understood myself more, I realized that I want to work with people from different countries. I don’t know how to combine this with programming, but I think that everything will work out for me. In the professional sphere, I have gone deep into artificial intelligence and machine learning, and I plan to further develop in this sphere.

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