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Cultural differences between the Netherlands and Italy

Yes, this was it. My adventure in Italy. My study abroad in Florence. I dreamed about this for years. And now, is the time to look back at everything. Was it what I expected together with the study? Was I shocked by the cultural differences? How was this period compared to England and Chile? You will read it all!

Studying in Italy

I thought maybe good to start off with the reason why I went to Florence in the first place; to study. At the beginning of my Florence adventure, I wrote a blog about; Study as an exchange student in Florence, Italy. There you can read about my first weeks and the odd things that had already happened.

From the middle of November, student life really began. I followed five topics and since I never really paid attention during the lectures because most of them were too difficult and I was distracted by all the nice things we were doing besides university, I had to start from the beginning and needed to teach myself all the materials. I was actually very motivated and ready to do something. So, it all started. Five days a week we were in the library, most of the time, from nine in the morning to seven in the afternoon. To be there with everybody was quite fun, too. We always had a coffee break at eleven and then lunch break at two.

Another important thing to mention is of courseeeee the amount of intake of coffee. Well, I have never been a huge coffee lover, but I knew to be able to integrate a little I should at least try to drink cappucino. So, I started drinking it a few months before I went to Florence and apparently I liked it. So, every morning and afternoons, all coffee shops and bakeries are full, literally full! Espresso’s are the most famous one, but that one I still cannot drink. Far too strong. 🙂

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So, after a month of studying, my first exam was on Friday the 13th of December and the last one was the 17th. Most of those nights I only slept five to six hours in order to make sure that I was the best prepared. Because, although, I did not do something in the first two months, I am dedicated enough to change my mentality and work hard.

First of all, I would like to say that I passed all my exams at one time, with good grades. But now, I would like to tell you some other very odd things about how the exams were taken at UNIFI. Because, although, I passed all my exams and I am very happy about that, did not it all go in a fairway. During several exams, professors gave us the answers, people were able to use their phones and it was even at one exam we were able to talk with each other and discussed the whole exam (I got a 30/30 there… Not really a surprise ha-ha). However, what surprised me the most is that those professors did not even care and let us communicate. Whereas, on the other hand, other professors were super strict. In the end, I passed everything, studied very hard, and am very proud of myself.

General differences

To be honest, was I surprised by the number of cultural differences. Some were annoying, others were funny. Throughout the four months, I wrote everything down. So, below a long list of the things that caught my eyes. I do want to say that this is all from my experience and perspective. By that, I mean that people may not agree which is okay of course and it is not that it would count for all citizens in Florence or Italy. Let’s start!

  • When cars are waiting in front of the traffic light and an ambulance is coming, they don’t drive through “red” to let the ambulance pass. They wait until the “green” light and then they make space for the ambulance to pass them. (Yes, this is the most annoying one. I thought we can better start with it.)
  • The pavements in Florence are pretty small. In the beginning, I felt very offended when people were the whole time bumping into me. I would stop, and let the other person pass, but in Florence, they just go both at the same time and do not mind that other people are in their personal space.
  • The people are extremely friendly and helpful.
  • All people do care very much about their looks. For example, never saw a woman leaving the gym without having showered and wearing make-up.
  • Drivers don’t stop for you when you want to cross the street and use the “zebra path”. It even happened to me, that the drivers got mad at me because I thought that I had “priority” with crossing the street. So, be careful. Don’t expect that they will stop for you because they won’t.
  • Life is outside your door.
  • You always have to take your receipt with you after buying something. From just one coffee to clothes, bus ticket, anything. There is this law that the police can ask for your receipt. If you don’t have it, the shop where you bought the product and you will both get a fine. In the beginning, especially when we bought coffee’s for only 1,50 we never took the receipts. The people got annoyed and sometimes we received the receipt boldly in our hands, and after we asked why they found it so important, we were like; “ahh okay, that’s why ha-ha”.
  • Italians like to wear glasses, even when the sun is not shining. They have their right though. They shine themselves ha-ha.
  • I have never seen so much rain in my life. We had weeks of rain, 24/7, especially in November. It was insane. Also lots of thunderstorms during the day, something that I never experienced in the Netherlands.
  • December is more of an “I am on winter sport” month. It is chilly, 13 degrees, the sun was always shining and most of the time a beautiful blue sky. I loved it!
  • Italians like to race on the street.
  • You can only get a taxi at three different fixed places around the city. This is to ensure safety for passengers. It is possible though to call a taxi and get picked up from your place. Calling a taxi from the street is a real no go!
  • People use plastic bags for everything and pretend like there is nothing wrong with that.
  • The green traffic light for pedestrians is very short, whereas, the orange one is super long.
  • The people tend to walk on the left side of the pavement. Hello, we are not in England, right?
  • The food, this won’t come as a surprise, is absolutely the best of the best. I have tried many restaurants, lunchrooms, ice creams, everything, and none of all, was able to disappoint me. I miss it most of everything.
  • Oh yeah the last one, besides bumping into each other on the street, do they also like to bump each other’s cars, especially while parking. Most Italians don’t tend to care about ant scratches on their car.

My first week in Florence, Italy

It was finally time to go to the country of my dreams; Italy. Not that I am obsessed with it but I would describe it as a sort of desire that I have had to life here. By the way, welcome back lovely readers. Ready for this four-month reading adventure about Florence and Tuscany? Cause I am super excited to write about it.

Arrival in Italy

I arrived last Thursday at my apartment together with my amazingly heavy two suitcases and backpack. I definitely did not look like a tourist or at least I hope not. It is sort of my goal for those four months to not look like a tourist. It may be hard to accomplish with light blue eyes, but you know, worth giving it a try ha-ha.

Friday was the introduction day of school. I will be studying at the Universita of Degli di Firenze, probably until Christmas. The University is a 30minute walk and I think I will keep it that way, so no bike or tram card. It is a nice walk, although, for now, I still have to get used to the warm climate. Wherever I go I arrive as if I just came from my spinning classes, not very convenient but also the way I am – not a slow walker.

I was looking forward to the introduction day, exciting as I would call it because who was I am going to meet? When I arrived we had to sign ourselves up and put a sticker with your name and country on your chest. I had already seen some Dutch people and, in the end, I was right about that. The management made groups for the day and I was in the group together with seven other Dutch people. It was fun, nice and comfortable to spend the day with them and to get to know them. The thing, I only found a little weird is that the management put all the people from the same country in the same group. Probably easier for them, but since everything was very international I would mix it up…

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Friday night, we went out for dinner together – The Dutchies “three boys, three girls” – but went back home early in the evening because Saturday we went to a beach party from ESN (Exchange Student Network – organisation that organises activities and trips for students) and had to be somewhere at 9:15. It was one and a half hour driving and we were with around 100 students. The beach was relaxed and lovely, although, according to the others, the sea was very cold ha-ha. Because 80% of the people at the beach party was Spanish they dominated the music genre, which was no problem for me, because, what many of you probably know is, that I love Spanish music and communicating in Spanish. So, the day went by, more people got drunk and/or sunburned, and at 18:30 we went back to Florence, although, the party day was not over for us yet. Everyone went back to their apartments and dressed up for a night out in Florence. For me, it was the first time and I was super exciting/sort of could not wait ha-ha. It was already so nice to see the people on the streets. Like the real mediterranean lifestyle.

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We went to two nightclubs; Babylon and Bamboo. I went with four other Dutchies, by the way, the three guys and Frederique. One night club was better than the other, just because of the number of people compared to the amount of space. By the way, the beach party was not the only party where the Spanish dominated. In both night clubs, there was a lot of Spanish music and, therefore, I was of course totally in my element. Here, in Italy, I am living my dream.

After a relaxing Sunday afternoon, Frederique and I met at, already one of our favourite restaurant called La Menagere before we went up to the Piazzale Michelangelo. It was again a sweaty walk, but more than worth it. Here some pictures below.

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EF friends made in my first week at EF Eastbourne

It is great that when you come to a place on your own, you can be surprised by how quickly you make friends. Especially, when everyone comes alone. This blog is about my first week. My first EF friends.

It is Friday afternoon now and my first school week is over. I will give a short summary of everything I have done so far. On Monday I had the introduction day. We went to Seven Sisters and Beachy Head, all was the weather crap, it was very very nice. I have already met so many new people from all over the world. You cannot imagine, really. Germans, Italians, French, Spanish, Asians, Latino’s, they are all here.

Oh wait, I think I forgot to tell you why I have chosen to go to Eastbourne. So, first of all, I am a beach girl, which ends up living in a city on the coast. Kind of obvious, right? The second thing which I found important was that I wanted to go to a small school. People told me that the school in Eastbourne doesn’t have lots of students and makes you feel like you are all a family, precisely what I was looking for. I didn’t need more to convince me. Eastbourne it was.

Now back to my week. My schedule for this week was pretty good actually. I had class every day, but not the whole day. It was either or the morning or the afternoon. The lessons are Grammar, Speaking, Listening, Vocabulary, and ILAB (computer lesson). Because I am doing the Intensive Course, you can also sign yourself up for electives. I have chosen Banking&Finance, Leadership&Management, and Business English. In almost every class I am with different people, in the beginning, I was sometimes confused but now I am used to it, I like it. In this way, I am getting to know more and more people.

Until today, I have cooked every day for myself. Paula is most of the time going out for dinner with a German friend of her, called Amanda. During the evenings, I haven’t done much yet, it was raining every time…welcome to England!  Tomorrow I am going to search whether I can rent a bike somewhere because the tennis park is a bit too far to walk. Oh and looking at the weather doesn’t make any sense here, because the weather changes every 10 minutes.

Until now, I have spent most of the time with 3 girls. Julie and Anouchka from France and Carmen from Germany. My first EF friends. We are not in the same classes because my level of English is a bit higher than theirs, but when we have our breaks or are finished with school we are meeting each other.

Rainy days in Eastbourne
From the left to the right; Julie, Carmen, Isabelle, Anouchka
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EF Eastbourne – My first impression of the residence

Today was finally “the” day. The moment when I could enter my room where I will stay for the upcoming 9 months. The residence of EF Eastbourne on St. Leonard Road. It looked clean, modern, and quite beautiful actually. When I came in Paula, no not my mom, but my Spanish roommate, was already there. She has already stayed with EF for a month and will leave next week. I am curious who from then on will be my roommate.

From Friday I am already in Eastbourne, together with my parents, brother and sister. We wandered around the city together, searched for a tennis park and different gyms, went to Beachy Head, and of course, we ate fish & chips. They left at one o’clock in the afternoon. So, from now on, it is my turn.

After I unpacked all my stuff, which almost took me 2 hours, I went into the centre to do some grocery shopping. Sainsbury’s is in the shopping centre, which is a walk of 5 minutes. There are even a Starbucks, Marc&Spencer, and a Primark in the shopping centre. I am kind of surprised because I didn’t know that Eastbourne was such a liveable city.

Tonight around 8 o’clock all the new students from the residence from EF Eastbourne will get a tour around the city and after that, we will go for a drink. Tomorrow morning I have to be in school at 8, all the 120 new students will have an introduction day. Tuesday, the real lessons will start. Oh, and by the way, school is like 3 minutes away from the residence.

I already love it here!

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Life abroad as an intern in Santiago, Chile – The beginning

Hola señoras y señores! Here I am, 11.430 kilometres away from what I usually call my “home”. Here, starts my life abroad in Santiago, Chile. The flight from Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam to Santiago, Chile, took totally around 18 hours. I had a stop in Buenos Aires, Argentina for two hours. After I bought my breakfast at Starbucks I went back into the, almost empty, aeroplane to make myself ready for the last one and a half hours to Santiago.

Oh, I was so ready to start this adventure. Of course, there was a moment at the airport when we all said goodbye and it became a bit hard, but actually after already five-ten minutes I was okay. I was going to do this and I wanted it so badly. Only needed to wait eighteen hours for it haha…

The start of a life abroad

Even though, my flight was very good and did not feel that long because I slept a lot, I was still very happy when I arrived on Chilean ground and my friends (Sebastian and Constanza) were there. We spend half of the day together until I could go into my apartment, which was around three o’clock. It was so nice to finally spend time with them after two and a half years of not seeing each other! It was a good start of my six months life abroad in Santiago, Chile.

My apartment and neighbourhood

I booked my apartment via Airbnb and really could not have chosen a better apartment than this one. The location is perfect for me! On biking distance to work, walking distance to the pharmacy, several supermarkets, shopping mall, metro, and close to a park where I can run. Like I have said, I could not have chosen it any better.

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Here is a link to see pictures of my apartment. I share the kitchen and living room with three other people, so I have my own room and bathroom. Most of the buildings in Santiago are, by the way, high buildings. Until what I have seen now in my neighbourhood, have all buildings a “concierge” as we call it here. He opens the door for you, pays attention to the security camera’s and receives all packages and post, etc. The building also has a gym and an outside swimming pool. The gym is not very big, but they have a crosser, spinning, a machine for abs, a balance ball, and some weights. I am already very glad that I can use it for free!

I live in one of the three best neighbourhoods in Santiago and when I spoke about it with my Colombian flatmate (Maria), she told me that you can also see that when you look outside. The streets are clean, no where is rubbish and there is taken care of nature.

How is everything in Santiago?

So, Santiago is a city of around seven million people and lays between two mountains. At the moment, we are at the end of the winter, which means: blue sky and sun, but four to seven degrees in the morning and seventeen to twenty-five in the afternoon. I only brought spring/summer clothes with me, so I hope it is going to be mid-September very very soooon.

When I arrived, Constanza was a bit sick and told me that it is most likely to happen during the winter. I will explain you why. So, the public transportation in Santiago is not very good. Therefore, lots of people have to go by car to work. During the winter season there is not a lot of wind, therefore, stays the pollution between the mountains in Santiago and creates a cloud above the city. This makes “vulnerable” people, especially children/babies sick. However, as you can guess it is getting worse because more people are getting sick. And yes, I was sick, too…

Another thing, when I walk on the streets and look people in the eyes, I tend to smile at them (in sense of saying: Hola), however, most of the time they look at me like: “Chica why are you smiling? I spoke with Maria about it and she told me actually the same story. Maybe they just do not like the winter…?

Shaky Shaky Shaky

Besides that, it is very common to have earthquakes here. I have already experienced one earthquake when I was at work. Everyone keeps telling me that I should not worry because it is very normal here and all buildings are build in a way to survive Richter Scale 10. Still, my heart was in my throat… In addition, all the wires are not going under the streets, but above the streets. It all looks a bit chaotic and a mess, but they sort of have no choice because putting the wires under the streets is far too expensive because of the insurance.

Chilean pesos compared to Euro’s

Now the cost, my less favourite part of my life abroad… You probably think: “Ahh South-America is very cheap”. If you think this I am not going to say that you are wrong because you are not. However, there are huge differences per country, especially compared to Mexico and Colombia as people tell me here. Still, Santiago is not very cheap, but also that differs per product. I will show you.

1 Euro = 747 Chilean Pesos.

  • Bread                1643 = € 2,20
  • Yoghurt              990 = € 1,32
  • Quinoa             6424 = € 8,60
  • Ketchup           2289 = € 3,10
  • Water                  610 = € 0,82
  • Shampoo         3690 = € 4,94
  • Toothbrush      3790 = € 5,10

The reason why I did not include any fruits or veggies is that people advise not to buy them in the supermarket but go to a local market. I did, on my first day, and I can tell, it was a disaster… With no Spanish for me and no English for them plus I had no idea about the money yet. The amount of 2000 Chilean Pesos is called “Dos Mil”, which for me is actually 2.000.000 (you can guess how confused and shocked I was). Eventually, we managed, but at one point, I was asking myself “Why I am not just going to the supermarket and choose the easy way to do this?”.

My internship

Now, the reason why I am in Chile, my internship. As you read, at the beginning of my blog, I go by bike to my work. It is through a sandy park and around 4.3 kilometres one way, with a bit up/downhill. Even though it is very safe where I cycle, I am wearing a helmet. This is not just for fun, because I feel totally ridiculous, but it is a law. So, I bought a helmet, but I would not be me if I did not make sure that the helmet matches my bike haha…

My first working day.

Cristian (my supervisor) welcomed me and we went to all the colleagues to introduce me (some speak English, most of them not). They all left a good impression, I felt welcome! Christian has his own office plus extra desk where I sit with my laptop. This week I have experienced that, even though you spend 41 hours at the office, it does not mean that you work 41 hours. I think, I worked in total three hours and the rest of my colleagues also did not really seem to be in a hurry with everything. Until now, I link it to the culture but this was week one, so maybe it will change in the upcoming week?

How do I feel with a life abroad?

This is a question which is easy and difficult to answer. I feel how I feel and how I experience it. However, because you are not here it is my task to explain that in words. So, I feel great, I feel as if the world is at my feet and I am rocking it. It feels like no one is standing in my way to live life the way I want. I am confident, grateful, positive, and learning. Because yes, learning is a huge thing. The culture is one thing, but the language (me not speaking Spanish, them not speaking English). I came here with let’s say: 15% of Spanish, which is not even the Chilean Spanish… I guess this is what I found the most difficult the first days as part of my life abroad. At work, everyone talks in Chilean Spanish to me and I must try to answer in Spanish too. They let me make mistakes and help me to improve (and yes, I have already really improved my Spanish. I even Whatsapp in Spanish with some friends and that makes me so happy) without laughing at me. This is for me so important and helps me so much with my progress and confidence in learning this language. Same for the people in the supermarkets and the “concierge” of the building.

Besides that, I am exercising a lot. Not in sense of gym five days a week, but I want to walk/run more than 10.000 steps every day (whole day sitting is nothing or me) if I indeed do not go to the gym haha and then I also cycle around 8 kilometres every day. I am full of energy and feel also very energized. Everything is without pressure and that is maybe even the best feeling of all because I still go and do really enjoy it! Now waiting, for how long I am going to feel like that (right mom? haha).

Another thing is just the whole experience; all the new things I do/experience myself and the decisions I make, because whatever the result is, it is what I choose to do. It is me who does it. I again went somewhere new and adapt to the environment, the people. That makes me very proud because I stand here, with my arms, eyes, ears, and heart wide open. Ready for a life abroad.

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Study as an exchange student in Florence, Italy

“We find studying very important here in Italy” is what the vice president of the University said on our introduction day, which is already almost three weeks ago. I must say, a lot of things have happened. For me as an exchange student in Florence , unusual things…

First of all, unfortunately, we don’t have so many classes with Italian students. Most of the classes that I have are with a high percentage of Erasmus students, what, by the way, not every teacher likes.

My first week as an exchange student in Florence

This week has been the first week of the three where I am hopefully sure of what courses I am going to follow as an exchange student in Florence. The last two weeks there have been a lot of changes in my schedule. This was because I decided that a course was not interesting or that, on the other hand, the teacher or coordinator just decided that they were not going to provide this course anymore for this semester which was very much by our surprise that they are able to do that…

Some courses that I follow are Master courses, which is very much by my surprise, too, when looking at the level of the course, but I will come to that later. First, I really want to tell you something else.

The campus in Florence

So, the campus of the university is called: Novoli and has different buildings (D15, D6, D4 etc.). There are different types of classrooms, ones for 40 students others for 80 students. However, since our first class, we have experienced something quite unusual as I would call it. I will give an example; A lesson starts at 16:15, whereas the lesson before finishes at 16:00. So, I go from one building to the other, open the door of the classroom and the whole room is full. No seats anymore. Yes, you read that right. No seats. So, what happens then or either you go and sit on the ground or you keep standing for the upcoming one and a half hour (or sometimes four hours) or you try to find a chair in another room and just place it somewhere in the classroom. I actually should have taken pictures of this, because really, it looked hilarious. The first time, when this happened I had class with my Dutch friends and to be honest, we were shocked. There was even an Italian girl coming in a little late and said: “No worries, I am used to sit on the ground during class”. You should have seen our faces at that moment…

Level of education and available subjects

To come back to the level of the (Master) courses, I will start with telling you what I have chosen. As most of you probably know do I study International Business and Management Studies in the Netherlands. I am not able to choose my courses freely, which I find unfortunate, which if I would have been, I had chosen ones that I would find more interesting. For now, if nothing changes again are this the courses that I will follow further:

  • Topics in Marketing and Management
  • Destination Management (My favorite)
  • International Trade
  • Topics in Human Resources (non-attending)
  • Public Economics and International Cooperation

What you need to know about attendence

At the university students can decide themselves if they want to attend a course or not. This may sound a little weird to you now, but I will explain that. So, there are attending and non-attending students. You have to decide which one you want to be per course. As you can see, do I follow one non-attending course. The teacher just decided not to give class anymore and, therefore, only non-attending was left. Besides the difference of attending (you have to be present 70% or 80%) the course or not, do the exams also differ.

Exams as an exchange student in Florence

The exams for the attending students are, in my case, research reports (of ONLY 15 pages together with five other students) + 30 minutes presentation or a written exam about powerpoint slides. Whereas, on the other hand, for the non-attending students, it is always a written exam from literature/books.

You know what also does get my attention is the fact that when we do have Italian students in the lesson, that they are most of the time, the ones who are typing everything on their laptop, asking the questions, etc. I am the one who is more distracted by looking out of the window. Drawing stars on my notebook or, like now, finishing my blog during class (oepsie…). Maybe an excuse, maybe not.. I am so not used to sit in a big classroom and just listen for one and a half hour. This is not exaggerating, because sometimes it is even four hours without almost any interaction. I sort of get bored.

Studying

Yes, the time is there. In three weeks and one day (So, I fly home the 21of December), I will be going home which means several things. One, we are enjoying everything more and more, and two that the exams are around the corner. I have five exams in three days (13th December, 16th & 17th December). When I fail an exam, what hopefully will not happen, but of course, can happen, I can resit it in January. I am most likely going back from the 13th of January to the 17th, also to arrange the last things with the re-enrolment of the university. However, during those days are also two resits, incase I need to do them.

The subjects I have chosen differ very much from difficulty. Some are very easy, a lot of papers, but easy, and others are a lot and more difficult. Because of this, my friends and I spend a lot of hours in the library at school. Although the library has many seats, it is already full around ten o’clock in the morning. Yes, a great motivation to wake up early and be there at around nine. Sometimes, staying in the library to study has more value than going to the lesson, so that is then also, what happens often.

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After a day of studying and I usually went for a lesson at the gym and after met my friends. On the picture beneath we were at the Christmas market at Santa Croce in the city centre. Doing this sorts of outdoor activities besides studying, wasn’t always possible. In the months October en November it was raining so much. Really I have never seen so much rain in my life. Not that it was cold though (15 to 17 degrees), still sometimes I got soaked three times a day.

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