Words by Wilson Huang
Under the new undergraduate curriculum initiated this year at the University of Sydney, most new students will have to take 12 credit points of OLE (Open Learning Environment) units – electives designed to allow students to explore other fields of study as part of their degree. While most of these units are offered at USyd, there are also in-country language units which allow students to gain six credit points studying language and culture overseas during the winter or summer break. As I always wanted to go on exchange but didn’t have space in my degree, I decided this was for me. So, in July I packed my bags, and for a little over two weeks I studied Italian language and culture at the Università Degli Studi Di Padova (UNIPD). Despite the many mishaps along the way it was an enjoyable and remarkable journey.
I arrived at Venice airport on 1 July 2018 – one day before the start of the unit – and made my way to Padua via bus and train. It was my second time in Europe and my first time in Italy. Despite my tiredness after catching three flights, I enjoyed my first pizza in Italy this evening – the first of many. The course consisted of lectures on different aspects of Italian culture including history, music and theatre, as well as language classes, tours and field trips. There were also three online modules on Italian language, culture and university life, which I had to complete on Canvas before leaving.
Although there was a set timetable, certain aspects of the course were very disorganised. Despite USyd targeting the course mainly for beginners, we had some lectures in Italian. In Sydney, we were told it was to challenge us – but in Padua, we found it was because they thought we all had studied Italian before. The Italians also did not realise they needed to assess us. However, they got their act together, and we ended up having a language test tailored to our level. As far as I am aware, it was a communication issue.
Although the classes were a big part of my trip, the social aspect of it was just as important for me. We had two planned social events with some Italian students in our timetable: a Spritz meetup in the Piazza dei Signori and a pizza night. Although it wasn’t a lot, it was still beneficial and enabled us to organise other meetups with some of the UNIPD students, including to the nearby Padova Pride Village.
Although it is typical to make friends with people doing the same units it was a very different experience overseas. As we were a small class of 12, we were essentially stuck with each other, and we were able to bond during our time even though we may not have been friends otherwise. The only other people we hung out with were the UNIPD students – who for lack of a better reason, decided to spend some time with us. One guy was kind enough to keep me company on my last full day in Italy even though most of my classmates had already left Padua.
Although I spent most of my time in Padua, on the last Saturday of my trip I went to Venice with some of my friends. I got there much earlier than them and unexpectedly spent my only day exploring Venice during the Festa del Redentore. As feste often go, I somehow ended up on the other side of the island watching fireworks in the early morning. The Festa del Redentore – like many events in Italy – is religious, and while we do have religious events in Australia, I felt like religion was an excuse for Italians to have as many holidays as possible.
After my experiences in Venice, it was time to get on a plane back to Australia. On my last full day in Italy, I sent some postcards – including one to myself – and had a farewell dinner at thePub Agostino 1958. Although it was a short trip and I spent most of the time in classes, it was a wonderful experience. I made some new friends, and I hope to be back again in the future.