Hatchet Expat: More than just Eurotrash

If I were to describe the classroom experience at Universitá Bocconi, or in Italy altogether, I would say it devastates my patience level and outright overwhelms me when it comes to paying attention during lectures. Put another way, when I arrive a couple minutes early to class and the professor has not arrived yet, the entire class starts up a conversation while it gets settled in. This is perfectly normal and we all do it back at GW.

At Bocconi, however, this conversation is not only a pre-class routine, but rather a chatter, often times including loud laughter and obnoxious gestures to others sitting on the opposite side of the classroom, that lasts all 90 minutes of class. The professor merely tries to raise his voice so that he or she can reach those unlucky students sitting in the last row.

What shocks me most is how professors and attentive students alike have learned to live with this disrespect during lectures. Instead of disciplining this trivial matter, the chit-chat goes on, more than once having made me focus more on my neighbor’s conversation about her weekend plans than on the actual lecture.

But that’s only part of the classroom experience. When I arrive more than 15 minutes early to class, I walk into a scene very unfamiliar to me. Empty water bottles, snack wrappers and all other types of trash are spread out along the seats and desks, left behind by the previous class.

None of the students bother taking their own trash on the way out, but it’s not a matter of students lacking manners. It’s just part of Italian culture to always expect someone coming right after you to clean your mess. Immediately before the next class begins, maintenance personnel walk into rooms picking up garbage and erasing the whiteboard that the previous professor also failed to erase for the convenience of the following class.

This someone-else-will-clean-up-my-mess attitude is also evident throughout Milan’s graffiti-filled streets and trash-invaded sidewalks. Citizens here don’t mind at all disposing of their rubbish in the city streets because they know someone will eventually clean it all up. With graffiti, however, the city has gotten tired of repainting walls endless times, and thus, Milan is now characterized by unappealing gang symbols and curse words on the surfaces of its beautiful Italian architecture.

From the classroom experience to the overall city experience, both Bocconi and Milan have caught me off guard as far as traditions and cultural norms are concerned. Oftentimes I feel I am the odd one out, but will still refuse to dirty Milan’s streets, leave my trash behind in classrooms, or annoy my classmates with incessant talking. If I did, it would be somewhat acceptable here, but this is one local custom I refuse to adopt.

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