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Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Why you should study in Bergamo: Part 1




When it came to choosing my host university for my erasmus year, I had little to no information. We were told to do our own research and choose the universities which best suited us regarding our studies and general preference, but when it came to it I just chose the same as my friends - Bologna, Bergamo and Pisa. I got my second option, and I was happy enough with it, but slightly gutted that I wasn’t going to be spending my year abroad with my friends from university. Looking back on it now, being given Bergamo was possibly a blessing in surprise.

I thought I would write a really in-depth post about why I think Bergamo is a really good option for people studying abroad. Just a heads up - this one is going to be pretty lengthy, because I have a lot to say and really want to make sure I cover every topic possible. I am going to split it into a couple of different instalments to make it less wordy whilst still getting the point across, but I think it is very important to address these topics thoroughly to give anyone considering a year abroad in Italy or choosing where they want to go a bit of piece of mind! These are the sorts of things I would’ve liked to know myself before coming out here, so grab yourself a drink and maybe a snack or two and prepare yourself for a whopper of a post!


ACCOMMODATION

I’m going to start with the most important thing - well, for me anyway, which is accommodation. I was incredibly fortunate that Bergamo has its own accommodation service which meant I could secure a place to live before I even came out here. You got to see images of the place, then put down a deposit to secure it before choosing how long you wanted to stay here - if you are doing a half year placement, it is also available to you as you simply put down the dates you intend to move in and leave. My flat is really huge and I am very lucky to have a double bed for no extra cost, but the location of mine isn’t really ideal for the social aspect as all the other erasmus students I have met are located about a 30 minute walk away. However, I am in a really good place for transport links as I am only 15 minutes away from the bus station, and it takes me about 20-40 minutes to walk to university depending on which building I am in and how much effort I put into walking up the hill. It only takes 15 minutes on the bus, but you also have to factor in getting to the bus stop so the time it takes to do either isn’t massively different.
In Bergamo you have Citta Alta and Citta Bassa; if you are a languages or humanities student (I’m guessing you are if you are reading this as a languages student from England) then all your classes will be situated in Citta Alta, where as if you study economics then you will probably be in Citta Bassa. However, pretty much everyone lives in Citta Bassa anyway and I didn’t even think about the commute to university when putting my deposit down for accommodation because I just assumed that I would have to commute regardless, which is true. If you’re used to a city university then you will be used to this, i.e Manchester where most students live in Fallowfield and Rusholme so have to walk or get the bus to uni, but if you are from a campus university and used to rolling out of bed ten minutes before your lecture then this is probably something to bare in mind. 
With my personal accommodation, I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone who is considering having a party of an erasmus year because my landlord doesn’t let us have any visitors stay over or parties - he lives above us so we cannot get around this, although I have had a few people stay and he has never commented on it…- but it is good with regards to the fact that if we have any problems we can just nip upstairs and tell him and we just pay our rent in cash every month. The internet was a bit of an issue when we first moved in because it just simply wouldn’t work and the router used to be upstairs in my landlord’s apartment, but now we have a new one which works ten times better (although not perfect). Another thing to consider is that a lot of Italian apartments do not include the internet in their monthly bill, so you may need to set up an internet router yourself. 
I’ve heard a lot of horror stories about students predominantly in Bologna who just couldn’t find anywhere to live so Bergamo is definitely a bit of a life saver in that aspect. I think this is down to the fact that Bergamo is a relatively small city which doesn’t have a huge erasmus group so there are a lot more options for potential students to live.




NIGHT LIFE

With regards to night life, Bergamo doesn’t really make the list of the best nights out in Italy. It is great for ‘aperitivo’ and going out for dinner but if you want to go somewhere with loads of clubs then this isn’t really the best place. However - you make the most of what you have, and there is Clash Club and Velvet Bar which are two typical erasmus haunts. Also, people usually have parties and stuff like that so there are social elements but its not the same as Manchester or any big city at all. 
Bearing that in mind, you are only a 45 minute train journey away from Milan. I have only been on one night out in Milan - more on that in another post - but my first impression was very good! Obviously, it is a very expensive city so I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it for a thrice-weekly event, but my general consensus after just one night was that it was a decent treat when you fancy a change. There are usually a lot of club nights or events on where you need to buy tickets in advance.
If you're the kind of person who literally cannot stay in on a weekend and has to go to a club, you'd maybe find Bergamo to be a bit of a culture shock because it is nothing like Manchester when it comes to the amount of places you have to choose from or how long you can stay out until. Most people will have parties throughout the year so you don't need to worry about becoming a social recluse, but you can also use the cheap train travel to your advantage and see your friends in other cities, which leads me onto my next point...

TRANSPORT 

Transport links in Bergamo are really good so you have great options if you want to travel. The train and bus station are pretty much in the same place and the airport is only a 15 minute bus ride away, with RyanAir flights to numerous locations incase you get bored of the same old scenery here. The transport within the city itself is decent compared to England and the busses are generally on time and regular, costing only €1.30 for an inner city ticket which takes you all the way up to Citta Alta and is valid for 75 minutes. You definitely need to make sure you buy and VALIDATE your ticket when you're on the bus as if you get stopped by a guard you will be fined; I had a ticket but completely forgot to validate it before travelling and managed to talk my fine down to around €30 but they took my details and wouldn’t give me my ID back until I have paid. They have recently installed a bus ticket machine on the busses too, which is about 20 cents more expensive but means that if - like me - you don’t like anywhere near a little ticket machine and the only person who sells them is an arsehole, you can now purchase them on the bus itself. I think this also means that the guards are going to be even less sympathetic with you if you get caught for not having a ticket, so it is definitely worth bearing in mind and at the end of the day, its €1.30 over a potential €150 fine so it makes sense to do it.
Train tickets also need to be validated before you travel and I saw a conductor have a pretty feisty argument with one woman who had forgotten to validate hers. Also be careful of which route you purchase your tickets for, as they are not all the correct one - I bought tickets to Brescia from Bergamo from the ticket counter rather than the machine and the woman didn’t tell me that we could only use it for journeys which go straight to Brescia, so when we showed them to the conductor on the train to Treviglio for our transfer he told us they weren’t valid for that journey. He let us off because I explained the situation but he wasn’t very happy about it (he was a bit of a jobsworth to be perfectly honest with you) but it is definitely worth bearing in mind! I usually buy my tickets in advance on the trainline.eu app because it is simply easier and they are saved onto my phone, but also because you can occasionally get some really cheap deals for long journeys. 




COST OF LIVING

The cost of living in Bergamo isn’t too high, although after discussing the cost of accommodation with my friends from the south, it turns out I am paying a significant amount more for my flat. However, they did say that my flat was a lot bigger than theirs and that their rent agreement did not include bills or internet, which mine does. I pay €350 for a double bed in a four bedroomed flat, but my room is huge and the flat in general is so spacious - it is just a shame that we are not allowed parties otherwise it would be perfect! That cost is including bills, internet and if anything goes wrong then all I need to do is go upstairs and ask my landlord to help. I would say that food at the supermarket is a bit more pricy than at home, but then again you have to take into consideration the exchange rate and that different foods are more expensive but also cheaper than the same at home. For example, you can get a decent sized avocado for €2.50 each, but you can also get a packet of eggs, 500g of asparagus and a bottle of wine for €5 so it really is different for different things. I am not a huge meat eater so can’t really compare that, but I usually spend around €20 for my weekly shop including stocking up on my dry essentials. 
I think that like with anywhere, you can make it work so that it works out less expensive. It isn’t uncommon for students to bring packed lunches on day trips to particularly expensive cities - I’m looking at you, Florence and Venice - and I refrain from eating out as much as possible. Crashing at a friend’s house whilst visiting their city is also a huge bonus as you save money on hostels and food to an extent, and as in Manchester we generally pre drink a lot before going out to save on expensive alcohol in bars. 

SCENERY

As far as beautiful cities go, Bergamo is way up there. There are two parts - Citta Bassa and Citta Alta, with Citta Bassa being where all the shops are and Citta Alta a more historical area. I spend most of my time in Citta Alta for university as I am a languages student, and it is a truly beautiful place - especially due to the current good weather we are having! I think every city is beautiful in its own way or is near a particularly amazing landmark, but Bergamo will definitely not let you down looks wise.



THE UNIVERSITY

Universities in Italy have a bit of a reputation for being less reliable and way less organised than what we are used to in Britain. Before we even got to Bergamo, we had a load of paperwork and online forms to fill in, with little guidance other than one AMAZING girl called Hannah who had been there previously and was such a star in helping me fill everything in. The erasmus coordinator here in Bergamo is called Milena and she was pretty good at getting things done and explaining everything to you; I had a few problems with my learning agreement at the beginning of semester 1 and it was all sorted within a couple of weeks. Although sometimes it can be a bit strange as you are not used to their way of doing things, I found Bergamo to be pretty helpful and you can pretty much always just pop into the erasmus offices to mention any problems you have.
My biggest piece of advice would be to just not stress out about any of it; you will undeniably have timetable clashes as the way that you choose your subjects in Bergamo is by listing the ones you are interested in and then spending about a day working out what you can and can’t do because of clashes or pre-requisites. I had to change so much of my learning agreement because of this and found that a lot of the lessons even changed semesters or weren’t running at all, so you often end up studying subjects you wouldn’t necessarily choose in England but have to do because you don’t have any other choice. 
A HUGE benefit to Bergamo is the CIS language course; when you first arrive, you will be asked if you want to do the intensive language course which is run for a week in September and is split into levels A1-B1 and then B2+ with a bigger focus on more technical language. I did the A1-B1 course because I really just wanted to get used to hearing the language again and wouldn’t be learning anything new with regards to the grammar structures, but just needed to get back into the swing of things. The good thing about doing this course is that you meet some of the teachers you may have for the actual CIS semestral course itself. After you have done the intensive course, you are invited to do an online test which works out your current level of Italian and divides all the erasmus and foreign students into classes suitable for their ability. I heard that by doing the intensive course, this actually affects the class you are put in as well because the teachers recognise your potential and work it out from that. The CIS language test is basically a series of grammar and writing activities. I was in the B1 class in semester 1 which admittedly was a bit too easy for me as I had already done the majority of the grammar topics before in Manchester, but I used it as an opportunity to really build my confidence up and practice. I am now in the B2 class and have to admit there seems to be a huge jump between the two, but am now learning about things I haven’t seen before. The classes are all taught in Italian and it is really encouraged to only speak Italian during the classes, so you get to practice listening, speaking, grammar and writing all at once. The courses are 5 credits per semester and are absolutely worth doing in my opinion, and I think it is a huge reason to attend Bergamo as it keeps your level of grammar and speaking up.

Every teacher I have had so far has been very accommodating towards erasmus students, but I know a few people have had teachers who seem very strict and rude compared to those in Britain. However, I have met more than my fair share of rude teachers in Britain and not really any over here, so I really think it depends on who you have and what you choose to study. The classes seem a lot easier to me and the examination/assessments are quite different to those in England because they are generally oral exams rather than written, but even the written ones seem much less ‘structured’ than what is expected at home. 


So there is my first instalment on why you should study in Bergamo - the next one will be up soon but I hope thats enough for anyone considering a year abroad here to play with for a little while! Any questions, don't be afraid to contact me!

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Lauren Gibbins
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