Exchange report - Student at KI
Home university: Università Degli Studi di Milano
Study programme: Biomedicine
Exchange programme: Erasmus
Semester: Spring semester 2017/2018
Name: Rebecca Maltez de Sousa
Email address:


I wanted to go to Italy on Exchange because I believed that the people and social aspects of the cutlure was one that matched well with my personality. I longed to be around people who are loud and direct in their way of communication. I also wanted to go to Italy to learn more about the Roman history and architecture and to discover the romantic cities of Verona and Venice.

Once I was accepted at the University of Milan I didn’t know how to begin searching for an internship placement within, well, any research group at the school. I had received contact details to the study responsible of incoming students who was also the head of the department of Pharmacy and Biomolecular sciences. I was forwarded to two other researchers at the department before finally being contacted by the professor of a research team in Microbiology. At that time, I had no idea that the Erasmus responsible of that department was looking for someone with a project that suited my requests. I was quite lucky that he was kind enough to help me. 

I didn’t receive a proper description of my project plan until maybe two months before my arrival. Until then I had barley any idea what I would be working with. Strangely, but probably not unexpectantly, my supervisor was the research assistant of the professor who had contacted me. In prospect, I must say that the project I was given was not very suitable for a short four-month internship. Although, this might have been because of major changes in the project plan. I would recommend having a skype call with the supervisor(s) before arrival to confirm and to discuss the project. Upon arrival, I was warmly welcomed at the department.

Arrival and registration

The study terms in Italy start in the beginning of February and end at the beginning of July. It is possible to rent student housing for 1 month or half a month which is why I arrived Mid-January. Upon arrival the student housing requires that you bring a small photograph of yourself that they can attach to your contract (it was not clear from the instructions online). 

At the international relations office in the main university building you get officially registered at the school where you will receive a student card and other important documents. Check the opening times carefully. On the left of the entrance to the main building is the Erasmus ESN office which is often closed during the day and sometimes open in the afternoon. Opening times can be found on their facebook page. The Erasmus welcome organisation, ESN statale, is driven by Italian students at the university who organize a large variety of activities. I recommend getting the ESN card at their office. For my first week it was extremely helpful. With the ESN card you can join a lot of activities that is organised by the ESN. Most are really fun and open for everyone. A lot of people usually show up for their special events.


I thought Milan was rather expensive when it came to buying food and clothes. Milan is a high fashion city and your ‘looks’ is everything. Milanese people pay a lot to have their hair done and their clothes tailored for every occasion. Milan is at least as expensive as Stockholm with a few exceptions. Milan offers cheap coffee, cheap sandwiches/lunch where you can have a decent pasta dish or sandwich for 5-6 euros. Living in Milan is expensive and renting a room in a large apartment close to town costs twice as much as I payed for student housing which was 300 euros a month. The cost is similar to that of renting a smaller apartment in Stockholm. The public transport is insanely cheap and the same goes for taking regional trains.


University of Milan offers student accommodation for incoming Erasmus students. Students also share accommodation with international students and Italian students. There are student corridors in the four biggest student areas of the city. Citta studi campus is mainly the area of science and technology, it is located close to Politechnico university. The large campus in the centre of Milan, close to Missori, is the home for social studies and law students. Some of the student corridors offer single rooms but most offer a double room shared with one other person. I ended up at the centre where all Erasmus students were assigned to a double room. The few single rooms were given to Italian students that had stayed in the accommodation for more than 3 years. Student accomodation is 300 euros a month.

The rules at the student housing were strict. No visitors after 12.00 pm, no staining of bed linen or towels, no alcohol in the room and no purchasing of electrical utilities. My friends at the residence hid their cooking plates and water boilers in their suitcases upon inspection. The corridor was very loud and the kitchen got very messy. The cleaners cleaned the kitchen every morning on week days and in the weekends the kitchen was not cleaned at all. The general, social rule was that nobody cleaned for themselves and accepted unconditionally that the kitchen was dirty. Anyone who left as much as a plate, fork or yoghurt in the open was robbed of their cutlery. I lost my cutting board and my friend lost 1liter of dish soap in less than 6 hours. Contact me if you need advice on where to apply for student accommodation.

Studies in general

I did not attend any courses at the University but from what I understood, studying at the University of Milan is very demanding. Students are given a very large number of books to read and memorize and most exams are held orally with rarely any written exams.

Courses during the exchange period

Courses corresponding to semester 6 at KI

I performed a project work at the department of Pharmacy and Biomolecular sciences which is the only department at the University that I can speak for. The resources at the department seemed limited. Most equipment was ancient to say the least. The newer equipment was shared by all lab groups at the department and therefore often fully booked. There were no technicians at the department and most of the autoclaving, dishwashing and sterilisation was done by ourselves. Security did not seem to be of a concern to the department which had very poor storage of dangerous chemicals and very few fume hoods. Most emergency showers were blocked by trash cans or the like. Perhaps I was unlucky; to have ended up in a research team which had recently moved into the department. They had been given very little space and not enough room for all the equipment that was needed. The department was not prepared for a Microbiology group which is why there was a high level of contamination and no proper disposal. 

There were a lot of big research group at the department and the majority of the researchers were master students. One supervisor seemed to have as many as three students at a time to teach and follow in the lab. There was rarely anytime for asking questions and the expectations on good practical skill was very low. I was a bachelor student and I was considered at the level of a PhD-student, as most students my age had much less practical experience. I was expected to work mostly independently and my supervisor only came to review the results. Italian supervisors seem to have a lot of faith in their students and expect very little of them. There was always a good team spirit and a comfortable working pace. There was always time for a coffee break. I will certainly miss the team spirit and joyful environment that I so far only experienced in Milan.

Language and Culture

The university offers free Italian classes for all Erasmus students. Classes are held at different levels of proficiency, at two different locations. You are offered to do a placement test in the beginning of the term to determine your proficiency. Classes are held twice a week and you can choose the study location most convenient for you. There are a lot of Spanish and Portuguese students who come to study courses held in Italian. Sometimes I could communicate better with Italians if I spoke Spanish rather than English. Understanding Spanish helped me to understand a lot of Italian words; they are really that similar. 

Italians are not confident English speakers and they give up trying to understand you after just a few minutes. From my point of view, Italians have a pre-conceived notion of what you, as a customer, may ask for. If your question concerns something out of usual it is very hard for them to understand what or even why you are asking them in the first place. Italians do not understand the concept of asking due to curiosity, to them, asking a question means you require something from them and they will try to figure out what it is that you want or need. This made up for more than a few misunderstandings. 

The Italian attitude is “whatever you want, do as you please”. Italians are good at making suggestions but they leave the decision making up to you; often with a hint of “I don’t really care what you do”. Often this is also the case, they have little expectation on your performance and therefore accept your efforts however you choose to solve the problem. On the other hand, Italians have explained to me that most likely they actually do care if you choose to follow their advice and they judge you upon your decision. It is only part of the social rule to act as if you do not mind what is somebody else’s business. Fortunately, Italians do not hold grudges. 

A coffee break is always welcome. In a sense, the coffee breaks offer a regenerative moment free from stress that is sacred to the Italians. Taking a break is healthy and Italians know it. The coffee break is how they socialize. The people you take for a coffee are the people you would like to know better. Interestingly, most coffee breaks are short, a shot of espresso at the bar counter and off again, only to return in the afternoon for the next shot of espresso.

Leisure time and social activities

There are a ton of things to see in Milan. Every first Sunday of the month most of the museums in the city offer free entrance, on the backside the queues are very long. I recommend joining groups and pages on Facebook for Erasmus students. Many of the current festivals, activities and events going on all around the city is posted in these groups including the possibility for special price reductions, offers and invitation to special events in the city. Being a part of the Erasmus/ESN group on Facebook was a great way of keeping track on upcoming events in the city.

In Milan there is always a season for celebrating fashion, design or food. From January-May I took part in an outdoor food-truck market festival, Design week festival and Milan Fashion week. Design and art studios in some of the most up-beat areas of the city opened their doors to the public. I saw large exhibitions on sustainable development, city planning and smart homes. The festivals in Milan are a must to visit! I also recommend the street markets open on Sundays at various locations in Milan. The most famous one is the street market in Navigli which has local artists and others lined up along the canal. 

I spent only a few weekends in Milan and most other weekends I took a regional train to nearby cities in the north. I recommend traveling a lot in Italy as the regional train tickets are very cheap and because Milan is basically in the centre of most northern Italian cities.


Four months in Milan was not enough to fully experience the Italian life style. On the other hand, four months felt just long enough being away from family and friends and the comfort of the Swedish ways. I missed Sweden a lot and although I knew I would always want to come back to Sweden I am thankful for the experience I had. I am thankful for the opportunity to work in a laboratory environment and being able to learn and practise my laboratory skills. I am thankful for the challenge. 

The experience has taught me to work independently and to ask questions when in doubt. I have learned to think fast and act fast when things go wrong. I learned how to solve simple logistic problems that occur when you do not have all the necessary equipment or when something is broken. I have adapted to a harsh work environment and I think it has made me prepared for any type of laboratory work. 

I am also happy to have improved my teamwork and communication skills. I now read body language and have learned to pick out words from conversations that I made need to make myself understood. Before the exchange, I had little knowledge of Italian culture except for the characteristics which are made fun of by all non-Italians. I learned that most things that have been said about Italians are true. The shouting, the hand gestures, the food and the culture is just as I thought it would be.