1. Patience is a virtue.
You will learn this the hard way after standing in a queue for three hours to be told to come back the next day because they want to go for their lunch break. Try to go to the office early before they open, though lots of other people will be doing the same. On the plus side, I met most of my friends whilst queuing up mainly because you all share a hate for queues.
2. Be polite to elderly women and they will defend you.
Nobody messes with an Italian nonna (grandmother). Once I was walking across a zebra crossing (I don't know why they exist in Italy because the cars don't stop when you are crossing them) and a car nearly ran me and an Italian lady over. Big mistake. She banged the bonnet of his car repeatedly with her Louis Vuitton handbag accompanied by her favourite Italian hand gestures and a barrage of abuse. She then calmly turned round looking regal in her full length fur coat and asked me if I was okay. We then walked up the road together. Italian grandmothers have got my back covered.
3. You can buy anything at a Tabaccheria.
Apart from selling the obvious, tobacco, they also sell stamps, top-up for your phone, you can pay your bills there, get your monthly transport pass, buy lottery tickets, you might have to buy a marca da bollo (tax stamp) from there to put on your libretto when you finish university, etc. If you need something but you don't know where to get if from, it's most likely that you can get it from the Tabaccheria.
4. Make sure you have all of your paperwork in order.
Photocopy you passport at least ten times. I had mine stolen and I made the rookie error of not having a photocopy of it (luckily it was found)! I didn’t need any passport photos at all for university paperwork but this may depend on the university. Photocopy your learning agreement and Erasmus grant paperwork as well! Things have a habit of disappearing in the post in Italy.
5. Buy your fruit and veg at the local market.
Mainly because it is really cheap and it is also of good quality. I always go every week and it’s a great experience! Plus you can practice your Italian, learn all of the names for the fruit and veg, sometimes the stall owners will ask you what is called in English and will let you have tasters, plus it’s all seasonal produce.
6. Watch out for pickpockets and gropers.
Italian men are very friendly, especially if you’re a young female student. Just ignore them. If you do get groped on public transport - it happens, trust me - and the culprits are normally older men, just say 'ma che schifo!' (How disgusting!) whilst waving your arms about in an Italian fashion and an Italian Nonna will most probably come to the rescue. Also pickpockets are quite common; just be wary and don’t flash your cash. Public transport and the train stations seem to be the most common places for them to strike.
7. Explore and travel
A map shall be your saviour. Plus it's the best way to discover restaurants, cafes and little shops. Travel can be quite cheap in Italy; internal flights aren’t really unless you use Ryanair! And trains are cheap but not for really long distances, i.e. from Turin to Rome, Bologna to Rome, etc, so check out Le Frecce website for offers! Also remember to stamp you ticket before you board the train, the ticket inspectors are soulless people who spare no mercy.
God’s gift to poor students. For between €6-10 you can get a drink and access to a buffet with lots of amazing Italian food during the evening from between 7 until 10pm.The maximum plates I have managed is four and I physically couldn’t move afterwards; it’s a very cheap dinner and an excellent way to have a catch up with your friends! You can have an alcoholic or non-alcoholic drink (including cocktails) and the buffet has a bit of everything: all types of different pasta, different types of vegetables, cured meats, pizza, I went to one where they even have different types of cake for dessert... It all depends on which bar you choose. The food might be simple, but it tastes amazing!
9. Making friends with Italians is a lot harder than it sounds.
Your tutors will tell you to only speak to Italians and not hang around with your native language speakers but I don’t think they realise how hard it is to make friends with the Italians. Most Erasmus students hang out with each other and will talk amongst themselves in a mixture of Italian/English/fragments of their language. Try and get a tandem partner, if you get a good one then hopefully they will introduce you to their Italian friends. It’s quite hard to make friends with Italian students because once lectures are over, they go home to study. Just keep at it.
10. Start looking for somewhere to live early!
For me this was one of the hardest things during my year abroad. Finding somewhere to live is really hard but start early and don't give up! Use Easystanza, bakeca and facebook to try and find a room. Also be prepared to part with a fair chunk of money for your deposit, they normally require two to three months rent for it. The best way to go about it is to ring them because they never answer their emails. I found my first flat on easystanza (I didn’t even view it, I just saw some photos of it) and was really lucky with it but when I moved into my new flat when I moved cities (and I had viewed it), it turned out to be a complete nightmare so you never know really. Try and live with Italians because it really does improve your language skills, plus my first flatmate was probably the best cook in the world! I feel that living in a flat where you feel comfortable and happy is a key factor in enjoying your year abroad!