Interning outside your country is important. When you’re a thousand miles away from your actual work place — the university, the problems attached with it also begin to look trivial, as if you could just dust them off with the flick of your finger. Now that I look back on my own internship in Italy, in the summer of 2016, I realize that I really needed that.
Before leaving for Italy, I had received my results from the previous semester which didn’t turn out really well. They occupied my mind to such an extent that I went into an utter state of despair and hopelessness. It was the end of the world for me. I could already imagine myself getting married to some random man from my country and cooking lentils and rice for him every day, while he made sexist jokes.
Of course I was being only dramatic about that! When failure hits you in life, you always think of your biggest nightmares becoming true. Travelling however, makes you stronger to face those fears.
When you travel to a different country and actually work there, you meet people that leave their marks on you forever. It’s not like a planned tattoo where you point out a certain design to the tattoo artist. These marks are left on you whether you like it or not, by people whom you had never anticipated to even cross your paths.
Suddenly, you start to develop a taste for coffee when you had once preferred tea instead. Your family realizes that you have stopped biting off your nails and you’ve probably started to joke around more often. Whatever the marks are, they remain carved on your heart forever.
Travelling alone helped me find and get rid of the glitches in my personality. My independence of living away from my family forced me to cook for myself, do my own laundry, and value time.
If you ever plan to intern in Italy at the Scuola Superiore Biorobotics Institute, I’ve made for you a small guide in blogs that follow. By reading these pages, you’re becoming part of a memory that I’ll never forget. In contrast to these two months, the rest of my life seems like a mere background noise.
However, these guide pages are from my own personal perspective that would speak of a female engineering student, who travelled to Italy from Abu Dhabi. Although, I do have high hopes that it would also help students from other countries
When it was finally time for me to grip that handle of my trolley bag and drag it to the exit door of my home, my palms began to itch and feel cold. It just registered in my brain.
“This is real! I’m leaving Abu Dhabi for two months, away from my family for the first time.” At that point, I didn’t want to go.
I felt like I was 4 again. Every time, my parents would send me to school, I’d sit at the back of the bus and cry. Now, at the age of 20, I felt the same emotion burning in the pit of my stomach.
As human beings, we don’t like change. At that point, it was as if my whole body sensed the sudden change it would bring into my life for good.
Embrace the change then. Give your family a big hug before leaving.
Can you imagine that two months later, when you arrive at the same doorstep, you won’t be the same person again? You’d be stripped out of your bad energies and you’d bring plenty of good energy.
When I left my house, I took with me depression, self-loathing and negative thinking. When I was coming back, those feelings were all replaced with confidence, hope and ecstasy.
And I hope that it would do the same for you.
Before leaving for the airport, make sure that you have a good home-made meal and don’t forget any of your luggage, travel documents and your phone.
Alright, now that you’re on your way to the airport, make sure that you have the following in your shoulder bag/hand bag:
Visa for entering Italy (if attached separately)
Photocopy of your passport and Visa (really important)
First Aid Kit (the one you made)
2 Euro coins (you’ll need them for the trolley in the airport in Pisa)
Don’t forget to carry your laptop bag with you. The one I have can be worn over your shoulder and also used as a hand bag.
To be on the safe side, arrive at the airport at least 3 hours prior to your flight. If you have already checked in, that’s great! Just hand over your bags at the check in areas, show your passport and ticket, and then you are free to go through the passport control. Stick your luggage tags, given to you, to your passport.
When boarding time is near, just give a call to your family and let them know that you’ll be flying in a short time.
I remember when I finally sat down in my seat, I felt like getting off the plane and going back, even though travelling to a different country was in one of my bucket lists.
When I reached Rome, there were Alitalia crew waiting to escort us to our flight to Pisa. Unfortunately, we missed our flight due to the delay from our previous flight. If you arrive late, but still have reasonable amount of time to catch the next flight, you need to run as fast as possible to the gate number specified on your boarding pass of Rome to Pisa.
If you missed your flight, you should go to the Alitalia help desk and demand a ticket for the next flight to Pisa and they’ll definitely work something out. We didn’t have to pay for our new ticket because it was not our fault for missing the flight.
You finally reached Pisa and of course you’re dead tired by this time.
Head over to the luggage control section and find your bags using the tags that were given to you at the airport in Abu Dhabi (or your country of residence). If you have two heavy bags, then you can use the trolleys stacked nearby. To get access to a trolley, you need to enter two euros into the lock system of the trolleys.
The best way to reach the institute is to take a cab and show the driver the address of the institute (which you will be emailed by the institute’s supervisor) and you can also find it on the website.
If you plan to take the train, then you need to buy the tickets at the Pisa Centrale train station. Ask them to get you tickets to Pontedera Casciana Terme which will cost only 2.60 euros. However, if train tickets for Pontedera are not available, then you can buy the tickets to Florence (Firenze SMN). The train will also stop at Pontedera.
The ticket station closes at 8 pm, so in case you reached late, you need to buy the tickets by card from the electronic system. It is really necessary that you reach the institute before 9 pm. Either that or you need to inform the supervisor of the institute of your late arrival so that the guardian doesn’t leave before handing you your room keys.
Do not leave your luggage alone at the train. Always, be at close distance to your bags in case of pickpockets. Don’t get too carried away with the scenery outside the train. You’ll have plenty of time to take snaps and admire them! For now, just be careful.
If you are travelling by train, then you should stop at the Pontedera Casciana Terme train station. Get down through the stairs and go towards your right in the tunnel. When you reach the outside world, you should take your left and keep moving straight. On your way, you will see a sort of museum, Piaggio factory, and a small Pizza shop with blue colored walls. To recognize the institute, you’ll see “Istituto Italiano di technologica” (iit) on the building.
When you reach there, the guardian will hand you and your room-mate the keys for your room. He will take a photocopy of your passport for security reasons.
I took this picture below after I settled into the room that me and my room-mate were assigned.
You will have a closet with hangars to hang your clothes and a lot of drawers to keep your personal stuff in. We started to unpack our bags as soon as we entered the room to just get done with it.
Keep all your money in a small pouch with you at all times. You can also lock it in your bags and hide it somewhere unimaginable! Be creative! Don’t worry too much though. There is a CCTV camera in the hall that records everything.
Now, end the day with a delicious Italian Pizza!
Just head back to the same Pizza shop you passed by before. We used to call it “The blue place”. Order a Margharita (5 euros only) and enjoy this piece of paradise. If you plan to sit and eat at the restaurant, they will charge you one euro per person as a service fee.
When I reached the institute, I was disappointed for being tired because every moment counted in Italy. If you feel the same, relax. You deserve a rest.
You need to be well rested before your exploration.
Your visa application has finally been approved. Congratulations!
All you need to do now is to buy your flight tickets and pack off your bags.
Try to find flight offers with convenient baggage weight. I booked my tickets via the Rostamani travel agency inside my university to avoid wasting time on searching for flight offers and deals. However, travel agencies are limited to certain airlines only. You can find better deals with more flight options online. Buying tickets with the round trip option is always a budget-friendly option, unless you are planning to visit another country after Italy.
In my case, I had booked a flight to Pisa with a transit flight from Rome. Depending on the flight duration, book an appropriate date to avoid any late arrival problems. Make sure that you take the flight on any day except Sunday. On Sundays, literally, everything is closed in Italy. If you reach the institute on Sunday, you’ll have to camp outside until the guardian arrives the next morning to give you your room keys. You will also need to make sure that you reach the institute before 9 pm, since the guardian leaves after that time.
Once you have purchased your tickets, you can check in online and print your boarding pass with your seat number written.
You are now one more step away from beautiful memories, unforgettable friends, learnt life lessons and a better you.
Take a deep breath and take out a pen and paper. Time to make a packing list.
What to wear:
It gets real hot in summer in Italy around mid-June. In order to keep your cool, literally, pack lots of cotton made T-shirts. Try to buy more of those basic tees. If you wear a head-scarf, make sure you pack those light-weight cotton shawls sold at your local store. If you are not bounded by any religious restriction, then pack tons of shorts for summer. Everyone, in Italy wear shorts and they look gorgeous!
One thing I regret is not taking a summer hat with me. You would really need that during day time to avoid the strong heat on your head.
Despite the usual cool breeze, the sun’s glare is concentrated on you which can burn your skin. Save that one place in your bag for lots of sun screen and make sure you put it on before going out. The amount of times I forgot to put on my sunscreen was equivalent to the level of tan I underwent. Lastly, pack some cool sunglasses to avoid squinting too much in the sun and give you a permanent RBF. (Resting Bitch Face).
Don’t get too carried away with the summer packing though. It can sometimes get really cold at nights because, let’s face it: the summer of Italy is approximately equivalent to the winter of Abu Dhabi.
If you visit Italy around May, it’s still quite cold. Or maybe I find it cold because I have never lived in temperatures approximately below 18 degrees. At night time around May, it can get as cold as 11 degrees! So make sure that you have enough warm clothes with you for those exciting after-dinner walks.
Sometimes, without any apparent reason, it’ll start raining cats and dogs and suddenly a warm sunny day could turn into a thunderous wrath of the heavens. Be prepared!
Also, get yourself a good pair of running shoes. I regretted so much for only taking summer slippers and loafers which, by the end of my stay, looked like a dog’s chewing toy. You will have a lot of walking to do.
Once you’re done making a list of your Italian wardrobe, it is time to pack for maintaining your basic hygiene.
Here’s a small checklist that you can use to make sure that you do not forget anything.
Washing powder for clothes
Apart from your bathroom accessories, you should make a basic first-aid kit in case of any emergencies. You can use the checklist below:
This kit should be in your shoulder bag at all times. Therefore, try to make it as light weight as possible.
Adapter for two hole socket
Locks: Buy locks for each compartment of your luggage and keep the keys safe with you at all times.
Kitchenware and food:
When you can just eat at the local restaurants everyday, then why bother to take kitchen utensils and food with you? Because, this blog is meant to teach you to live on a tight budget while travelling. I will talk about the amount of budget needed for a two months stay in the next section.
This section is really important if you want to avoid wasting money on food and do not want to starve yourself either. However, I do not at all mean to discourage you from buying meals occasionally at Italian restaurants. Heck no! I’ve got one full article on the type of Italian food you should be ordering.
Since I was allowed a 46 kg baggage weight (23kg/piece), one of my bags carried only kitchen ware and food. However, I took a hell lot of unnecessary kitchen accessories including the dish-washing soap! You only need a few basic utensils that the kitchen does not have.
I’m assuming that you’d live in the guest house of the Biorobotics institute and hence, the list below is based on that sort of living. If you plan to live elsewhere though, I would advise you to contact that house owner and ask him about the house conditions. You might want to ask him or her whether they have enough kitchen utensils for you to be able to cook easily. Below are the items that I would advise you to take with you.
My check list for Kitchen stuff:
Electric boiler (really important)
Insulated water bottle
Medium sized cooking pot
One fork, knife and spoon (personal)
Cup noodles (20 would do)
Doritos chips (How I missed them)
Tea (for tea addicts).
Milk Powder (big size)
Cream cheese (to put on bread)
1Kg long grained rice
Don’t bother buying coffee because if you live in Italy, you only drink Italian coffee.
If you don’t have enough weight but you will be staying with your room mate in the guest house, you both can divide the checklist items.
Also, if you are a Muslim and adhere strictly to your religious duties, then you are obviously restricted from eating the non-halal meat. Don’t worry! I’ll be also discussing with you the shops that sell Halal meat.
I generally eat food with lots of spices that come from my country. It is very hard to find such spices in Italy and so it is better to take all those from your home country, provided of course, that you are a big fan of spicy food. But then, travelling is all about adapting to a new culture.
So, just carry a little of your home food with you in case you start feeling homesick. Once you get used to living in Italy, you’ll be buying a lot of food from the local store and cooking your own invented recipes.
Living on a budget comes with lots of difficulties and emergency situations but it is the best part of life. You sort of learn the way your early ancestors lived and it brings you closer to understanding the strongest weapon that you have developed in the evolutionary process: your mind.
With limited resources, you learn to create novel recipes that are actually really good for health and taste delicious. You’ll learn to deal with emergency situations that bring out new habits in you. Most importantly, you learn to value the unlimited resources you have back at home.
I was amazed at the list of ideas my brain threw at me during emergency situations. Before my travel, I sucked at cooking and I had zero ideas about combining appropriate food ingredients. Limited resources however, forced me and my friends to make our own food combinations.
After my trip, I’ve learnt to spend money only on things that I NEED and this have made a huge difference in my savings. Limited resources also makes you think more about useful investments.
For example, I managed to save enough money during my trip to be able to apply for a driving license in Abu Dhabi!
And this is exactly the sort of savings I want you to do during your stay in Italy.
To calculate your budget for the trip, you need to consider the following:
Rent for two months
The institute will have emailed you the amount of rent you would be paying for your room. This also includes a percentage of VAT (Value Added Tax). My advice for you is to get a room-mate to share the rent with.
This includes your flight ticket costs and train ticket from Pisa to Pontedera and back.
If you have heavy luggage, it is better to take a cab from the airport.
The one way train ticket costs around 2.6 euros while the cab costs around 60 euros.
There is no fixed cost for grocery shopping and it obviously depends on your spending and managing. However, I considered spending 5 euros per day for food and hence took 300 euros separately for living. This, however, is an exaggeration. There were days that I spent 0 euros and there were days that I spent up to 20 euros.
Travelling on weekends
I did not consider this part in my trip. I still managed to explore different cities in Italy by saving up my food money. I suggest, however, that if you can afford, have a separate travel budget as well.
Overall, I carried approximately 2380 euros with me apart from the flight cost and I managed to save around 1000 euros while coming back to Abu Dhabi. Just in case, though, I suggest you take no less than 2000 euros with you. This covered my living costs, rent and leisure travelling.
To be on the safe side, get a go-cash card and carry all your money in that. In case you lose it, you can block it and no one will be able to steal your money. You can buy train tickets and groceries with that card. However, you have to pay your rent in cash and will have to go to the ATM to withdraw your cash. Upon withdrawal, they charge you 3 euros.
On last note, keep track of your spending in a journal. I carried a small journal where I kept track of my weekly spending. This is important in the beginning weeks so you don’t run out of money. Although, I got a bit slack in the end over my journal keeping which I really regret.
Even if you have a lot of money left in the end, it is still crucial that you are aware of the amount you spend every day.
Managing your money depends on your priorities. I gave a higher priority to exploring different places and the least priority to eating food. Most of the times, I’d skip either breakfast or lunch and just have a proper dinner. By the end of the week, I’d use my saved food money on train tickets, museum tickets, gelato and Pizza!
Meanwhile your visa is getting processed and you are waiting for a call from the embassy, you should prepare all the documents that are required to be filled at the end of your internship. Depending on your institution requirements, you might have similar required documents as listed below:
Weekly internship reports
My internship lasted for 8 weeks which meant that I needed to take 8 pages of weekly reports. However, print two extra reports in case you lose one or spill your coffee on. In my case, I was able to print these from the resources section in my university symplicity account.
I was required to carry a notebook with me where I’d take notes on daily basis for my internship. These notes are something that you can refer back to in your later weeks. It is a good way of seeing your progress from basic notes to getting more detailed at the end of your internship. You can also call it a daily diary-writing process. Just don’t start with “Dear Diary”!
Student Assessment form
I printed mine from the resources section in my simplicity account.
4. Internship student Report
This would be in the form of a word document that you would write after the completion of your internship. Just read over the requirements and word limit of the report from the university internship handbook just for awareness sake. It wouldn’t seem like a huge task when you’d finally start writing it.
Place your documents in a separate file and keep them in a safe compartment in your luggage. If your laptop bag is big enough with several compartments, then better keep your documents there. While checking in at the airport, don’t hand over your laptop bag and any of your important documents. Keep these with you at all times.
Finally, research over the topic/project that your internship will be based on. Email your supervisor at the institute and ask him about any initial reading you can do. This would save you a lot of time in getting familiar with your work at the institute and you can start contributing instantly.
Use google scholar and search up the research papers published under the name of your supervisor. Try to read as many papers as you can. When you start working at the institute, the work, no matter how hard it is, won’t at least come as a shock to you.
One of the most important life lessons that I learnt is that to complete a successful internship at any company or institute, you have to do your own research prior to starting work. Not surprisingly, this is one of the most important steps.
Don’t just do it to impress your supervisor.You need to love what you do.
It took me two years to finally realize that due to certain circumstances, you cannot escape from what’s in front of you. Then you might as well give your best!
Before you pack off your bags and set out to the airport in your chic outfit, you need to make sure that you have the right travel documents.
You need to apply for your visa to Italy as soon as you receive your acceptance letter from the institute. Depending on several factors however, it might take more than two weeks before you receive your passport with the Visa attached. One of my friends received her visa just two days before our flight!
While waiting for my visa processing, I could neither pack my bags nor buy my flight tickets, in case my Visa got rejected and all of my hopes and money had to be thrown into a pile of garbage.
Therefore, it is better that you apply as early as possible so you may also benefit from flight ticket offers. By the time I received my Visa, all the flight offers were finished.
For each country, there are certain rules to be followed and you might probably need to make a few adjustments to your documents, depending on the passport you hold. I have attached a link below that you can visit to know more about the travel documents concerning different nationalities.
Since my internship was to last for only two months, it was more convenient for me to apply for a Schengen visa, which is valid for 90 days. I applied directly from the Italian embassy in the UAE. Just visit the Italian embassy in your country and they will help you out. If you’re living in Abu Dhabi UAE, it is better to apply from the VFS global Italy. Just book an appointment with them and bring the following required documents with you.
Travel medical insurance for the required time. You can purchase it from here online. In my case, the travel agency that I booked my flight tickets from also bought me a travel insurance by AXA. You can check with Al Rostamani Travel agency in UAE.
Copy of Flight ticket reservation. Just book the tickets online for the flight to Pisa. You’ll also have a transit flight from Rome to Pisa. Don’t buy them unless you’re sure that your visa would get accepted. In my case, I booked with Etihad Airways.
Proof of accommodation for your entire stay in Italy. Your acceptance letter from the institute will also include the accommodation plan. That’s the one!
Means of subsistence. How will you finance your living in Italy? In my case, I had to submit the bank statement of my guardian who’s responsible for my financial support.
No objection letter from your guardian. (if you’re a student)
Acceptance Letter from the institute.
2 passport copies of your guardian
2 passport copies of you
Your national ID card
The institute will also be sending a letter to the Italian embassy, confirming of their acceptance.
Finally, check out this website in case I missed out anything and hopefully your visa application will go great!
Once you have submitted everything, grab a Pepsi bottle and a jumbo Doritos and head to the movies. Trust me! You’ve got a major life-changing journey ahead of you.
Pontedera is one of those small towns whose beauty has been blurred by the more over-rated big cities that people visit. You can only truly appreciate the simplicity and solitude of this town, once you start living here.
The next day after your arrival in the Biorobotics Institute, you will be introduced to your supervisor and the team that you will be working with. You’ll be given a map of the town which is a really interesting way to discover nearby places. You’ll definitely get lost but find great shops and restaurants on your way. Somehow, you’ll find your way back.
To make the most out of living in Pontedera, I have written short pages on everything that you need to know about.
When I settled down on the plane to leave from Pisa to Rome, I started to panic. I wanted to get off the plane, out from the airport and call out to my friends (who just dropped me) to take me away.
You never know that you truly love a place unless you are going to leave it and not know if you’d ever come back again. It felt like someone close to me was dying and I couldn’t do anything about it. I couldn’t control the swell of emotions building up inside me as memories of Italy started to flood my mind.
Leaving Italy was hard. I had to hide my face in the airport bus as tears kept rolling down without my permission.
As is with anything that you attach yourself to, letting go is really hard. You will always suffer.
You have the right to mourn for this place that you called home for two months. Allow yourself to cry. This longing would probably last for a whole month or until you get busy with your life again.
Sometimes though, you can get something good out of your sadness. I wrote this blog to make myself feel better. By guiding others to live a better life in the place that I did is nothing less than experiencing it all over again.
Talk to your room-mates about your longing. They are definitely feeling the same way. Post pictures and throwbacks on social media. Write a similar blog sharing your own experiences. Keep in touch with your friends in Italy and reminisce of the good times you spent.
In the end, you’ll look back at it not with a desperately painful longing, but a beautiful memory.