Category Archives: Italy

Cin Cin To 2013: Looking Back On My Time In Business School

Happy New Year everyone! I hope last year was a time you will look back on fondly, and that you are bursting with excitement and optimism for what 2014 holds.

I must say 2013 was a good year, and not just travel-wise. Not only did I accomplish one of my academic and professional goals of getting my MBA but I also realized my dream of living in another country. And one so culturally rich as Italy at that! When reading back on some old posts, I came across a quote I found last January by IESE professor Pankaj Ghemawat:

“Research shows that living abroad expands your mental horizons and increases your creativity. However, merely traveling abroad doesn’t produce this benefit. Executives report that it takes at least three months to become immersed in a place and appreciate how the culture, politics and history of a region affect business there.”

– Excerpt from “Smarter Managers for a Semi-Globalized India” in The Smart Manager Magazine 

I feel fortunate to have spent the last year and a half in Europe where I learned so much that extended past the classroom. Indeed it was a very challenging year both academically and personally, but it’s those difficulties that build character, broaden mindsets and ultimately humble us. And because SDA Bocconi has such an international class we all gained insight into each other’s cultures as well. One day I was learning how to say “good morning” in Greek and the next how to write my name in Japanese. Then my German classmate was giving me professional advice for any resumes I may send to Berlin (include a photo!), while another classmate and I were noting the cultural differences between Venezuela and India when it comes to introducing a date to your family. Together we learned from each other while still being able to laugh at our own stereotypes. As Ghemawat said, it is this kind of invaluable learning that facilitates cross-cultural understanding, promotes international business, and makes us more open-minded and well-rounded individuals.

Thanks to my classmates and the school for making this past year at Bocconi so memorable!

     

      

      

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Chasing The Sun: Heading South To Taormina

Around Thanksgiving my family joined me in Milan to do some Euro travel before my graduation in mid December. While they did their own thing for the most part, including a fun river cruise from Nuremberg down to Budapest, we all came together for a few relaxing days in Sicily right before my ceremony. Why Sicily? Well we pretty much wanted to go as far south as possible to escape the cold.

Taormina in December is fabulous. You get the sun and the views but without the massive crowds. Taormina has a port so in the summer the main streets are flooded by cruise ship tourists.  But being one of the few people walking around in mid-December, we felt like one of the locals. Since many of the restaurants were closed for the season, we stocked up on meats, cheeses and wine at the local grocery store to eat on our deck. During the day we strolled through Corso Umberto, Taormina’s adorable main shopping street, where I was very happy to see the fantastic sales due to off season. And for dinner we were told about a great nearby local restaurant with authentic Sicilian food and delicious wine. We offset all the cannolis we ate with a hike through the town’s gorgeous Greek amphitheater, and enjoyed the views of Mount Etna erupting, which you can see all over town. Three days wasn’t enough and I was very, very sad to leave, but of course that’s when you really know it was a good trip. ::sigh::

What to see:

Corso Umberto for great shopping and Piazza IX Aprile for spectacular views

Parco Comunale, a park/botanical gardens that was once home to an English noblewoman in the 19th century and was given over to the town in 1922

The Greco Teatro for a time travel

And of course, take in the views and enjoy the pastries!

Where to eat: Vineria Modi, a delicious restaurant with great wine and authentic Sicilian food. This one was referred to us by the owner and it did not disappoint.

Where to stay: We stayed at Hotel Villa Carlotta, but since the main hotel is closed in the off-season we stayed in their villa. We lucked out because the villa had just become available and we were given our choice between that and the original apartment we had booked. The villa is a new addition to the hotel and it used to be the owner’s house. While the  apartment was fantastic, one look at the deck on the villa and we were instantly hooked. Not to mention, the service was exceptional, the owner was so warm and hospitable, AND we were given a bag of Sicilian pastries when we arrived. Sold.

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Walk Like A Venetian

Venice. One of the most talked about places in Italy, yet for some reason I hadn’t made my way over before. But as soon as I took my first vaporetto ride (Venice’s ferry metro you could say) I understood just why this city is on so many people’s bucket lists. It really is such a beautiful and unique place.

Venice is a lot bigger than you may think –  you can spend hours getting lost in all of its small alleys. It’s also one of those places that becomes a ghost town in the evenings, which may also be why its such a romantic hotspot. As you will see in one of the below photos, there is noticeable flooding around town which makes you wonder just how long Venice will be around for. It’s ironic that the tourism industry is the biggest source of income for the town, yet the constant flow of cruise ships coming through only contributes to the erosion of its infrastructure. This was protested so much that a ban was passed just this month that will put a size limit on the cruise ships that come through starting next year. In any case, I’d suggest making it over there one way or another next time you’re in that part of the world.

Fun fact: Hemingway was a regular at Harry’s Bar, a spot founded by Giuseppe Cipriani back in 1931. The bellini that is so well loved (by yours truly especially!) is said to have been created there, and I made sure to enjoy it when I popped in. Remember the bldg in Paris I recently dined at that Hemingway used to live in for a few years too? Maybe a trip to visit all his old haunts would be a fun tour.



 

 

Where to stay: We stayed at Al Ponte Mocenigo, which is about a 15 minute walk from Rialto and removed from the craziness of all the tourists. This is definitely my favorite hotel I’ve stayed at in all of Italy (and all of Europe this past year) – not only is it affordable and the customer service is fantastic, but the rooms are super charming with wood beam ceilings, murano glass chandeliers and Victorian style decor.

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Five Cheers for Cinque Terre

Now that summer is officially over ::nooo:: and the dreary weather returns to Milan, its about that time for me to look back and start daydreaming about happier spring days — can you tell I’m a Californian? So after far too much delay, lets revisit one of my personal favorite places in Italy, the fabulous Cinque Terre…

As many of you know, Cinque Terre is made up on five small towns along the Italian Riviera. I’ve been wanting to check it out for a few years now, and the right opportunity came when Dory and Marissa told me they were visiting. They arrived on a redeye flight and by early afternoon we were already on the 3 hour train ride to Monterosso, arguably the best of the five towns to stay at. Like most of my recent girls’ getaways, we nixed the standard hotel room scene in favor of an apartment rental we found through HomeAway. The place was cute, about a 10 minute walk from the water, and while it culminated with a 100+ stairmaster workout to get to our rooms, it had a beautiful view and was affordable for my grad school budget.

Cinque Terre couldn’t be easier to get around in. Not only are the five towns within hiking distance of each other for the more athletic/adventurous, but its also connected by trains which run quite frequently. We already had our game plan ready: hike through each town, rewarding ourselves at each new place with a meal, a drink, or a gelato. Perfect, right? Until we got to the first trail and were told that the hiking trails were closed due to the storms and chance of mudslides. Hmm, this is going to make that gelato much harder to justify. Grudgingly, we ended up taking trains to each stop instead of hiking, but in Vernazza we found that the trail was only partially blocked off and were able to wander over to some killer viewpoints anyway. Some of my b-school buddies were also in CT for the weekend so together we explored the other towns, only skipping Corniglia because we were racing the sun and Corniglia has many, many stairs to go down before reaching the water. Although I regret not making it to all 5 towns, I’d say we did pretty damn good for just one day.

Monterosso

Vernazza

Manarola

Riomaggiore

For our second day of exploring we headed over to Portovenere, one of the other gems on the Ligurian coast  just a short bus ride from La Spezia. Portovenere is a beautiful quaint town with a castle overlooking the sea and many restaurants and shops that line its narrow alleyways. Tip: if you do make it over for a day trip, in addition to having the seafood (no brainer) also make sure to take some pesto home with you – one of the things the area is best known for. Overall, the weekend was incredible — sometimes I can’t believe how lucky I am to be just a short train ride away from paradise. Oh Italy, no wonder you’re such a charmer.

Portovenere




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Restorations

Sometimes its nice to feel like a tourist again. Especially when you’ve only lived in a city for 6 months and have hardly had any time to play tourist yet. This week the school set up a tour of The Last Supper for us. We were led through a church and a convent, and got the coveted 15 minutes alone with the painting. Well, almost alone if you don’t count the short but surprisingly feisty woman working there who almost took one of my classmates heads off for mistaking that she took a picture (she didn’t, but in all fairness someone else in our group snapped one and she mixed up the blondes – it happens!) It was very cool to see a mural from the 15th century, and its a shame that it hasn’t lasted very well over the years due to da Vinci’s method of painting directly on the wall using dry plaster, the fact that the convent is built over a river and the water soaked up through the wall, and that many restorations that were done centuries ago weren’t 100% accurate. Our guide said that even with all the restoration efforts made recently they were able to save only about 40% of the original painting (not to mention the fact that Christ’s feet were removed to make way for a door to the reflectory!) The most fascinating thing about the painting is the composition and how all the lines bring your focus back to Christ’s head. Our guide first started by telling us all about the painting while we were up close, but it was only after he had us move to the back of the room and see the painting from far away was this really evident and awe-inspiring.

Speaking of our guide, he was awesome! He is from Touring Club, and was so knowledgable and friendly. I couldn’t help but notice how content he seemed with his job as he gave us facts about da Vinci and his painting in a hushed, reverent tone with a slight grin on his face. I have to admit, watching him made me a bit envious that his job is to to talk about something he’s so passionate about throughout the city. Right now is prime internship hunting season for MBA’s, and it forces us to really look at where we want to take our careers and what company will be right for us. While everyone has different motivations depending on where they are in their lives, my number one priority is finding something that makes me happy. And from watching our guide and secretly wishing I was an art history pro so I could lead tours and wow people with the secrets of 15th century artists all day long, it reminded me that the end goal in finding job (and ultimately personal) satisfaction is being proud of what you do each day and who you affect. And if I can spend all day talking people’s ears off then even better!

When it comes down it, this year is a type of restoration period for all of us in the program. So as I hit the books in anticipation for next week’s finals, I need to remind myself why I’m putting in all of these hours of grueling classes, projects and exams, and trust that the hard work will all pay off. Back up plan just may have to be PT art history classes.

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The Soapbox Chronicles: Why The World Needs Football

So the latest news is that Balotelli’s coming over to AC Milan and the Milan fans of the city are stoked. He is such a beast of the field. It’s fun to have a new player to talk about and get more people excited about football and going to games, and it’s coming at a pretty convenient time too…

I grew up in Cali playing soccer. Wait, rewind, I tried out tennis, basketball, the clarinet, the piano and soccer, but soccer was the only thing I truly loved. When I spent a term on an exchange program in Spain, I was thrilled to be a part of a culture that embraced The Beautiful Game, whereas back home soccer was not nearly as popular. My friends and I would get frustrated everytime a big match would be on but our favorite bars weren’t playing it, and I would constantly gripe that we should have been born in Europe or South America. But we eventually did find our football bars in NYC (where all the expats were hiding), and a few friends and I even joined a co-ed team on Friday nights. Of course, a part of me was still pretty jealous about all the football love going on in the rest of the world.

So naturally you can guess just how excited I was when I found out I would be living in Milan for a year while getting my MBA. Finally, I’d be among people just like me! I was so happy imagining going to games, reading updates about players in the newspapers, playing matches with my classmates….

Wait, what? Did I hear that right? Girls don’t play football in Italy? Back up.

Instantly my dreams were crushed. How come in a country where football is religion half the population doesn’t take part in the sport? I know that girls get into rooting for their favorite team and go to watch the games, but I’m surprised that there isn’t more active participation for women. Well, that needed to change.

As some of you may know, a few of us students decided to start up the school’s Football Club this year. Aside from weekly games, we also made it a point to have the first co-ed football tournament last term. It was so great to get back out on the pitch again. We had five on five games going, and I was reminded about what I love so much about the sport. No matter what current issues we had with any classmates, when it came to game time we HAD to work together. Crossing, calling for the ball, (willingly) passing, scoring, celebrating… all of the stress and frustrations that existed back in the classroom melted away. Business school is such a group-focused program, and even though during this time the goal (yay for puns!) is to learn to work better with people that have different styles and backgrounds, it doesn’t always happen as effortlessly as we’d like. But on the field, when it’s either work together or get beat down by the other team, I was pleasantly surprised at just how well the teams all united. And what was even more fun is that it was such a great opportunity to get to know my colleagues better, especially the ones that I am not currently taking classes with. High-fiving, commending each other on that great assist, yelling at each other to make a mad dash for the goal (in the most positive, supportive way of course!) – all of this sure beats catching up over drinks at aperitivo. It would be wrong for the girls to not be able to enjoy this, too!

So even though I wasn’t as thrilled back home with the lackluster appreciation for the sport, now that I look back on it I wouldn’t trade anything for all the practices, games, tournaments, and orange slices I’ve had growing up. It’s ironic that it took coming to Europe to realize how fortunate I am that football’s such a welcomed sport for girls in North America… now let’s see what we can do with Italy! More on the formation of the SDA Bocconi girl’s football team to follow!

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Crash Course in Italian: Apartment Hunting

December is here! Time for hot spiced wine and decadent desserts, christmas lights on the streets and glittering christmas trees at every corner. And today marked Milan’s first snowfall of the season too! ‘Tis the season to be jolly! Except for those pesky 5 projects and 6 exams that are due in the next two weeks. And then theres the small issue of that apartment hunt…

For those of you that don’t know, I’ve been busy spreading yuletide cheer to those far and near by calling up strangers multiple times a day with the most friendliest “BUONGIORNO!”  I can muster and basically inviting myself into their homes. Due to some inconvenient circumstances I’ll most likely be moving soon, and in an attempt to reduce the burden on my stress level and my wallet I was hoping to do so well before finals hit. Everyday after school this week I’ve been filtering through school emails, bulletin postings, website listings, and yes even the AFFITTASI signs plastered on buildings around the neighborhood. While it has unfortunately put a dent in my study time, in terms of building my language skills its been pretty helpful – it’s quite possible I’ve spoken more Italian in the last two weeks with landlords than since I moved here. The best part is that when I apologize and say I only speak a little Italian, they continue to speak at the same speed. So I try my best, but making appointments to see places when you only understand about half the conversation can sometimes lead to, errr, interesting situations…

Apt #1) Checking out a 1br that an alum tipped me off to. The apartment is a little far, but its in a great area and just a stones throw away from all the good shopping (WIN.) I meet the landlord, a nice man who I’d guess to be about 60 years old, at the bus stop and proceed to have a lengthy conversation in Italian with him about where I’m from, what I’m doing, etc. Great street, great building, but upon walking into the apartment I realize the the 1br I thought I was seeing was actually a studio with a pull out couch for a bed. What are the chances that he probably told me already? I’d say 75%. And the probability that he was hitting on me when he told me I’m beautiful and invited me to coffee or gelato? NEXT.

Apt #2) Ok, this time I’ve seen pictures of the place, I’ve talked to the guy a bit on the phone, I know what I’m walking into right? Thought so, until I shook his hand, and then shook the hand of his roommate (or MY roommate) who would also be in the apartment. He also threw in a good MBA/NBA joke that, due to my mental translating delay, only registered a good 5 seconds after he had laughed and I had already stared blankly at him. Woops.

Apt #3) Alright, I have a good feeling about this one. I had a 5 minute phone conversation with the landlord, texted him a few times, and got a pretty good description of the place. I meet with him and he mentions something to the effect about the girl being there for another two weeks, no big deal. I walk in, look around, notice that theres two single beds instead of one – not the best thing but I work with the landlord on that. As I’m wondering if I could see myself living here, the girl (a Bocconi undergrad) transitions into English and starts telling me about how shes doing an exchange in the fall and is leaving in Sept. Ok…. why is she telling me this? Ahhh, its because she doesn’t WANT to move in two weeks, but the landlord may be kicking her out if she doesn’t find a roommate. Information that was most likely relayed to me before I walked in. So suddenly I was faced with the options of either living with this chick or kicking her to the curb if she can’t find someone to live with and taking it for myself. Awesome! Needless to say, I did the classic “Don’t call me, I’ll call you” move and peaced out as fast as I could.

While admittedly I have a lot of work to do before I can master Italiano, I always admire those people who, when visiting or moving to a new country, are not afraid to speak the language even if they don’t know how to say things perfectly.  Its the kind of student and traveler I want to become. After all, they say the best way to learn something is to make mistakes first, right?

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A Thanksgiving Tradition

Happy Thanksgiving! I can’t believe its the start of another holiday season. Thanksgiving in Italy is, err, a little different from back home. I had to remind myself that for most people in Milano (not to mention for 95% of my class) it is just another day.

What do you mean we have 7 1/2 hours of class today, its THANKSGIVING!!

Well, for those that don’t celebrate Thanksgiving, I’m sure you at least know about the gigantic Thanksgiving feast that marks the day. However, aside from the immense amounts of deliciousness that goes on, one of my favorite Thanksgiving traditions is contacting friends and fam and sharing greetings, reasons we’re thankful, and reflections on the past year together. Tonight I ducked out of the typical Thirsty Thursday routine in order to catch up with some loved ones, and I also had a chance to read my last blog post from last year’s Thanksgiving when I was in Chennai. Then, of course, I had no idea that I would be on this incredible b-school journey in Italy, and I can say with some certainty that a lot of the reason I’m here today is because of that experience I had last year. So maybe I owe my backpacking friends and hosts a little more after all!

 

Here are just a few of the things I’m thankful for from my time thus far in Milano:

One fantastic location: London was awesome and what was just as good as getting on a two hour flight to the UK was knowing that on the way back we were going back Home to Milan. While I wish I could be jetsetting everywhere my class schedule (and my wallet) can’t exactly afford it right now, but at least Milan’s positioning in northern Italy is pretty great  for being a quick train ride to other amazing Italian cities.

Orbit gum, peanut butter, and Aleve: Justt kidding, what I’m really thankful for the person that traveled thousands of miles to bring this, and many other important essentials, to me – my mom! (Truth be told I think she was using it as an excuse to visit Italy, but she’ll never admit that.) I’m thankful to have parents that are so supportive and encouraging in all my endeavors. What parent doesn’t love to hear that their kid is quitting their job/income to pick up and leave the country for a year, right? On that note, I’m also thankful for being a part of such an international family. My family’s Thanksgiving destinations this year: Italy, Japan and Costa Rica. But Christmas: only India. :)

Fresh produce and delicious desserts: Pretty self-explanatory, but I’m not sure if there’s ever been a time in my life where I’ve ever eaten better! As the saying goes, “If you ever have a bad meal here, you’re doing something wrong.”

Supportive and fun classmates: We study together, we goof off together, we stress out together, and we party together. Moving to a foreign city is hard enough, but adjusting to an intense grad program simultaneously is demanding as hell. My classmates have been a lifeline for me when I was teetering on the verge of a meltdown (or had maybe freshly fallen into it.)

Before a deadline...

...And immediately after!

The constant “wow” factor of technology: iMessage, you may win the Coolest Tech App Gadget Thingamajig Award in my book. The fact that I can text friends and family back in the states for FREE is so freakin’ cool. Same goes for WhatsApp, Skype, FaceTime, Gchat, Facebook, good “ol-fashioned” email… pretty much anything that helps me stay connected to those back home and make it seem as if I’m not thousands of miles away.

Thanksgiving FaceTiming with the BFF back in Cali

Honorable mentions:

Songza

Tubeplus.me

My Nespresso machine

 

Next mission: Find a real Christmas tree for my real tiny apartment. Will I have to make some expat compromises on the Christmas traditions this year?

 

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The Great Truffle Hunt

Its Saturday afternoon of a long holiday weekend and I’m starting to go stir crazy from being under house arrest for the last two days in a row. Bocconi sure had a sense of humor when they changed schedules and stuck our first set of finals a month into the academic year. To take a mental break, I’ll catch up on a fun weekend I haven’t yet had a chance to write about: a recent truffle festival and wine tasting trip some of us MBA’s took to Alba and Barolo.

What the heck’s a truffle, you ask? These fun little suckers…

They’re fungi, and Alba is known for having amazing white truffles. Truffles can be used in many different products, and at the festival we could sample truffle oils, spreads, and even some desserts. But don’t let their small size fool you because these delicacies pack a punch. Just check out those price tags!

Tartufi have an amazing smell (they say the taste of the truffle is directly linked to the strength of its aroma) and it was immediately intoxicating the minute we entered the festival tent. White truffles are more popular in Italy while black truffles are more popular in France. I actually preferred the white truffles myself. In addition, there was also wine and cheese tasting – can’t go wrong with that combination!

After perusing the festival, our group headed off to lunch at Ristorante La Crota where we had a delicious 5 course meal (or at least I think it was 5, I lost count!) The food was amazing, the service was fantastic, and we even had some excellent entertainment thanks to one of the 37’s.


Then we were off to Barolo for some more wine tasting. And Barolo is breath-taking! Unfortunately we only spent an hour there because we were running late on time, but I really hope to go back there soon. And with it taking less than two hours to get there from Milano, its definitely worthy of a lazy Sunday brunch locale.

Many thanks to the DiVino Club for setting up this awesome event for us.

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Too Good Not To Post

Screenshot of a picture I had posted on Facebook when I was failing miserably at using my classmate’s Turkish keyboard. Because our classes are all held in English, I often forget how many MBA38’s don’t have English as their first language. The comments that some of my classmates left is a classic example of just how diverse our class really is (make sure to click the photo to enlarge it.) Love!

 

Earlier convo during Italian class:

Italian teacher: ::to the class:: Come sei abbronzato! In English, do you say ‘How tan you are, or how tanned you are?”

Jonathan (from Canada): It’s ‘How tanned.’

Me: No, it’s ‘How tan, like You look tan,’ right?

Jonathan: Maybe it’s a Canada/America thing.

Me: ::turns to Milena:: What do you say – tan or tanned??

Milena (from Panama): You mean in SPANISH!?

 

Ps – Still waiting to hear if I’ve been saying tan/tanned wrong this whole time!

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