Wouldn’t It Be Awesome If … You Earned a Graduate Degree Abroad?

My friend Ali did! She returned to the states recently after earning a masters degree in Italy. She lived and worked in two different cities, traveled all over, got a degree, and met an Italian man who moved back to the states with her! A pretty successful run in Italy I’d say. Here’s her story:

Name: Alison Gemgnani
Age: 25
Where you studied abroad: Milan, Italy and Rome, Italy
How long you lived abroad: Milan (September 2008 – May 2009), Rome (June 2009 – December 2009)
Degree you received: Master in Public Management, Bocconi University School of Public Management

Why did you decide to get your masters degree abroad?
I knew I wanted to return to school for a masters degree. I was unsatisfied with my current career path and started researching different programs in Public Administration, Public Policy, and Public Management. I also looked at graduate school as an opportunity to travel abroad – be it for a semester, a year, or an internship. While conducting my search, I came across several reputable schools in Europe so I decided to apply to them, as well as some “Just kidding, I would rather stay in the US schools,” mainly in New York City.

Thankfully, I got into all the schools I applied to. The tough part was deciding. I loved the idea of going to Europe, especially Italy, for many reasons: international perspective, ability to travel, and family history. It was a difficult decision but certainly one that I do not regret. It wasn’t easy leaving friends, family and embarking on this journey alone – especially knowing I would miss birthdays, holidays, and other moments that make you long for home. All in all, I am so thankful and happy that I took this leap because it has truly shaped my perspectives, opinions, beliefs and I will always have the fondest of memories and lasting friendships from my time in Italy.

How were you legally allowed to study abroad for your program?
The program was international – we had students from India, Sweden, Russia, Honduras, Italy, Greece, South Korea, and so on – so the administration of the school helped students with the legal processes. On my end, I needed to apply for a Student Visa at the consulate in Philadelphia which required proof of financial support, proof of healthcare, and other documents stating that I was only there for study and not to take welfare from the Republic of Italy. Once I was there, I needed to a apply for two things from the Italian government: Codice Fiscale (which is the fiscal code that is similar to a social security number – just not as difficult to get) and a Permesso di Soggiorno, which is a legal “Permission to Stay,” required of anyone who plans to reside in Italy for over three months.

How did you make it work financially?
The currency exchange was very unfortunate, and living in Italy is very expensive. I relied on money I had saved, money from my parents, and student loans from the government. One benefit of my program was that it was an intensive one year program – meaning classes were held from 9 to 6 PM, Monday through Friday, every week. Because of this tight scheduling, we were able to accomplish all of the required coursework in a shorter time which financially means one year of tuition, one year of living expenses, and one year of not working.

I did open an Italian bank account for this reason: so I could make one large deposit when I arrived in Italy and then would be able withdrawal that money without having to worry about ATM fees and conversion fees. The exchange rate remained pretty constant (and horrible!) for the majority of the time I was there so it made more sense just to deposit the money and have easier access. It wasn’t always the easiest dealing with my financials as you can imagine. Sometimes I would have my parents wire money to my American account and then I would withdrawal that from an ATM (but of course there were fees attached). My best suggestion for anyone who might be thinking about earning a degree abroad is to talk to the administration at the school and ask their advice. I am sure they have dealt with similar situations and could be very helpful with this process!

How did you find a place to live?
I received the names and contact information of my classmates before leaving for Italy. I knew I wanted to have a roommate and so I reached out to everyone to see if anyone would be interested in sharing a place. My future roommate contacted me and we then decided to start searching as soon as we both arrived in Milan. Thank goodness he was Italian! We would have never found anything otherwise. It was a very nerve racking process but it proved to be an amazing experience. I would correct his papers and he would take care of paying the bills!

What’s the best part about studying abroad as an adult?
Going to Italy alone was one of the scariest things I have ever done. I was lonely, nervous, isolated, and homesick. But the second I started meeting my classmates, I never looked back. I was happy to have the experience of working for a bit and living on my own previous to attending graduate school. I was also happy to actually meet Italians in Italy! In college, study abroad programs place American students together in American dorms and they attend American classes together which is still a great experience, however; I was excited to have the opportunity for full immersion. I can truly say I experienced Italy and its culture.

Do you have advice for anyone who wants to earn a degree abroad?
It’s not easy. It can be overwhelming, but it is worth it. Find a program that suits a career path that could be pursued in the States as well. You’ll want to find work if and when you return home! Also, try to familiarize yourself with the language beforehand. This is something I did not do and really regret. Although I am trying now!

Thanks for sharing your story, Ali! I’m so jealous!