My first term studying abroad – a dream come true!

Mia Ainsley

Hi, my name is Mia, and I am currently in my third year studying Modern Languages and Cultures (MLAC) here at Durham. As part of my degree, I am required to spend one whole year abroad in the countries of the languages that I am studying: Spain and Italy. Adapting to this huge life change has been one of the most challenging, but rewarding, experiences of my life. In this blog, I hope to share some parts of my first term in Italy with you, to give you an idea of what it could be like doing a year abroad during your Durham degree.

Working in Naples

In October 2023 I moved to Naples, in the south of Italy (pic above of of Mount Vesuvius), to start my 8-month placement with the British Council as an English Language Assistant (ELA). It is important to highlight that studying languages at Durham generally allows you to choose between working, studying, and volunteering in your host country. This level of flexibility was what initially made Durham’s course stand out to me, as I knew that I wanted to have the opportunity to work whilst on my year abroad. The decision to do so, allowed me to gain valuable experience in the education sector, whilst also earning a salary with which I could travel around Italy.

Culture shock

The first few weeks in Naples were a complete culture shock! I remember waking up on my first day and being unable to comprehend the fact that I had just moved abroad. Everything here is a little more chaotic, which immediately heightens when you consider moving from a small town in the north-east of England to the third biggest city in Italy. While I was lucky to make friends quite quickly, through the Erasmus network in Naples, I, of course, spent times in my first month feeling quite lonely and homesick. This is completely normal, and most people will experience these feelings at some point during their time abroad. In my opinion, it is the way in which you respond and persevere that gives you the skills that makes the year abroad such a desirable experience for a student both personally and professionally. For example, whenever I feel homesick, I like to think about how the year abroad is not permanent, it is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that I would probably never have been offered if it weren’t for university. This helps me to make the most out of my time here.

Always smiling when I’m eating pasta in Italy, even more-so when I am on the Amalfi Coast

Different to Durham

My experience in Italy has already been so different to my Durham experience. The freedom and independence I had already gained from university was something I never thought could be surpassed, but living in a foreign country has given those words an entirely new meaning. As I have much more free time here, I have been fortunate enough to travel to Sicily, Tuscany, Milan, Rome, and parts of the Amalfi Coast. These are all places that I have dreamed about visiting whilst studying Italian at Durham and seeing them all come to life is an incredible feeling. As my degree currently requires no exams to be taken during the year abroad aside from two short essays, I am able to fully immerse myself in the experience and relax more than in any other year of university.

Freezing in Milan for Christmas reminded me of being back home.

My highlights

Some of my highlights from first term have been: meeting new friends from across the world, trying a Neapolitan pizza for the first time, experiencing the Christmas period in Italy’s biggest cities Milan and Rome and feeling extremely welcomed by all of the students and staff in the school I work in. To give you an example of how kind and generous they have been, for my 21st birthday in November, the teachers at my school threw me an Italianised party complete with singing, dancing a tiramisu cake and all the focaccia and pizza you could possibly imagine!

So, it is safe to say that I am having a blast in Italy. Whilst there have been challenges along the way, anything from applying for a visa and an Italian tax code to realising how many follow-up questions can come with ordering a cappuccino, I would not change a second of my time here so far!

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Mia Ainsley

Hi! I am Mia, a third year Modern Languages and Cultures (MLAC) student at Durham University. From the north east & a very proud member of Josephine Butler College. When I am not studying for my degree, you can probably find me taking part in some of Durham's societies. I am one of the project coordinators for MLAC Outreach society, a member of the 93% club and hoping to join yoga soon too!

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