Public vs. Private Sector in Italy

Sarah Disselkamp observes that difference in public vs. private sectors in Italy as she studies at Università Commerciale Luigi Bocconi in Milan, Italy. She shares some of her advice and tips to be prepared for differences in Italy’s!

I have noticed that professional norms across the board tend to be slightly different in Italy versus what I am used to in the United States, especially in terms of public service. In the United States, we are used to some services to always be open and usable, such as the post office and public transportation. However, in Italy, that is very much not true. Strikes of public workers are frequent and almost ignored in Italy, whereas they are usually a big deal at home. In Italy, I have found that they are for a few hours, maybe a full day in extreme cases, and rarely come with any sort of actual demonstration.

One example of this happened last Thursday, when the public transportation workers went on strike. This meant that there were no subways, trams, or buses within the city of Milan almost all day, and the ones that did run were sporadic at best. It showed the dichotomy between public and private transportation workers that we don’t see as much in the Untied States, as the private trains and buses between cities were by and large unaffected.

Similarly, the response to the strike was very different between the Americans and our European counterparts. Because of the location of our dorm, we take public transportation to class, so the idea of it not running on a school day was pretty concerning to me! However, when I spoke to my professors, their attitude was much more along the lines of whatever happens, happens – who knows, maybe there will be trams running anyway! It ended up that the trams happened to run when I needed them to in order to get to class and then I walked home (only about an hour, and the weather was great!), so it all ended well.

There are a couple ways to deal with this when you encounter it in Italy (definitely more of a “when” than an “if”!). First of all, I just guess and check. At each tram stop, there is a screen that tells you which lines run to that stop and how far away the next train is. This is usually pretty accurate, and sometimes you get lucky that there will be a train coming soon. The other option that I’ve found works pretty well is Google maps. There’s an option for public transportation that is usually updated in real time, meaning you can see how long it will take you to get somewhere and the timetables for the trains and trams. This helps tremendously, both during a strike and during regular operation, as the notices at the stop or on the websites are usually all in Italian and can be confusing.

First Week in Italy

Sarah Disselkamp shares some of the differences in being a student in Italy vs. U.S. Hear what her life is like in her first week attending Università Commerciale Luigi Bocconi on the Student Exchange Program.

It has officially been 1.5 weeks since we arrived here in Milan to study at Università Commerciale Luigi Bocconi, and it certainly has been a whirlwind! I have learned so much about living in Europe and specifically Italy.

Being in Milan, one of the most fashion conscientious cities in the world, the most immediate difference I noticed was the clothing. It is very easy to pick out a native Italian versus an exchange student while walking around Bocconi. Italian students tend to dress up more for class, and their outfits are more trendy, whereas American students tend to dress more business casual when dressing up for classes. I’ve noticed that the shoes tend to be a big hint, as Italians usually wear boots or something with a heel. Shopping in and around Milan has helped a lot though, and has been super fun!

Another major difference is the culture around food. In the United States, we typically eat 3 meals a day- breakfast, lunch, and dinner; whereas in Milan they do 4. They have breakfast and lunch, which are smaller meals, aperitivo, which is a prix fix hour of unlimited appetizers at a restaurant between 6 and 9pm, and then dinner beginning between 8 and 9 typically. Many restaurants are closed between the end of lunch around 2pm and 4, sometimes even being closed until dinner at 7! This can make it hard to find something to eat, especially on Sundays when almost everything is closed. I am learning how to plan ahead and make sure I don’t get caught in one of the in between times though!

The final difference I have noticed between American culture and Italian is the bureaucracy. In the United States, filling out forms is usually a straightforward event. However, in Italy, it has been anything but! From the permit of stay to an Italian SIM card and a monthly metro pass, it seems that every task has come with a wide range of conflicting advice and instructions. I have found that the best way to approach these situations is to have all of your ducks in a row and just go for it! The people processing the paperwork and such have all been very understanding so far.

Although it has definitely been an adjustment, I am loving my time so far in Italy! I have gotten the opportunity to meet so many people and experience so many things that I wouldn’t have been able to in the United States, and it hasn’t even been 2 weeks. As classes start this week, my goals going forward are to ensure that I am keeping up with my schoolwork and finding the perfect balance between school and travelling. I am so excited to see what the rest of the semester holds in store!