Ciao!! I am so excited for my study abroad trip to Italy. I can’t wait to begin studying the supply chain through fashion industries in Italy. From the classes and lessons that we have taken so far for our pre-trip meeting, I am looking forward to what this trip has in store and how the supply chain and fashion tie into engineering practices in practical ways!
Going in the airport was really neat, and I got extremely lucky and randomly got chosen for the TSA pre-check when receiving my boarding pass, so going through security was much less stressful than I had anticipated. I was luckily next to another Plus3 student on our conjoining flight to Newark, which was a huge relief and helped me feel calm for my first plane ride! The turbulence made me very nervous on the first flight, but by the second flight the turbulence didn’t even phase me! The 5-hour layover in Newark was not very fun, but the long flight was not as bad as I had anticipated, but there was a 2-hour additional delay when we were on the runway because another passenger had become violently ill and vomited on the plane. Mechanics, Hazmat, and police had to board the flight before we could take off again. Unfortunately, I could not get comfortable enough to sleep on the plane, so I became slightly bored when I could not read (due to the darkness of the plane). This was a challenge for me, because the jetlag was already something I was concerned about. Next time, I plan on taking some melatonin to help me sleep on the plane! However, even in the airports and on the plane, I learned and observed useful engineering practices in the works. For example, the Newark airport was extremely disorganized and inefficient! I spent most of my layover thinking of and designing a more efficient layout in my head. I’ve also been amazed at the engineers who designed the planes I flew on. It is still mind-blowing to me that they’ve designed transportation that has rarely failed in transporting passengers.
Because I did not get to sleep on the plane, I found myself extremely exhausted when we arrived in Milan on Sunday morning with a full day itinerary ahead! We went through customs and I was excited to see my first Italian location, the Milan-Malpensa airport! We met Diego and Luca from the ISA (International Studies Abroad) and boarded the bus that would take us to Milan. Even though I was in a new country, I was able to draw similarities between Italy and America. For example, I felt oddly at home on our way to the hotel seeing the aggressive driving and cars slowing down when they would drive through the tunnels, just like I would notice in Pittsburgh.
After we arrived at the hotel, we quickly set our things down and had a ginormous lunch at a restaurant not far from our hotel. I was stuffed after our first entree and was shocked by the large portions of food we got for all of the entrees! This was definitely something new culturally that I was not expecting and have to adjust to during our trip. After our lunch we had a beautiful walking tour of our local neighborhood and had our ISA training. The local neighborhood that my hotel was in also reminded me a lot of Oakland. There were tons of little shops but above were apartments. While it wasn’t a super eventful day, I was so excited to see what was in store for the next day.
On Monday, we had a big day filled with activities and tours. We began by participating in an interactive performance with an actress that gave us a crash course in Italian. I learned how to say what my name is and count to 20 in Italian, as well as some other random words like jump, clap, spin, and stop! This unique education training was fun and allowed me to have a greater appreciation for the Italian language (and how difficult it can be!) while having fun and getting to know my fellow trip members better.
After our training session and lunch, we took the Metro to the Duomo. The Metro reminded me of the Port Authority buses we take in Oakland, and before I knew it we were at the Duomo. Even when I was on the Metro, I was amazed with how efficient and reliable the Metro is for tons of residents in the Milano region. When we walked up from the Metro, I was taken aback by how beautiful the Duomo was as the light shown on it. It was one of the most beautiful and breathtaking things I had ever seen, and thinking about how detailed and incredible the architecture was and how little technology that was used to build it. It gave me a newer greater appreciation for architecture and engineering techniques that we have today! We also explored the Galleria, and got to see “behind the scenes” at a leather store. This was very fascinating to me because I had never thought about how purses and bags were actually made. I also got to see the canals, which was absolutely breathtaking. My first full day in Italy has been incredible so far and I can’t wait to see what else I will get to experience!
For our third day in Milan, we get to see the Da Vinci museum and meet the Cattolica students. The Da Vinci museum was incredible because I got to see lots of sketches and drawings of designs that Da Vinci engineered. It made me excited to enter a field of engineering, and also made me wish that there was an engineering-based museum in Pittsburgh! The innovation and passion that Leonardo put into his ideas was a reminder for me to put everything into my schooling and work, even when people doubt me. His perseverance is truly inspiring and definitely got me thinking about standing up for my ideas even when someone doubts me.
We got to meet the Cattolica students after the museum, but this experience was a lot different from what I had imagined. There was a lot of discussion about America, and the students I spoke with did not like America, or Americans. This was very awkward, because they only spoke negative things about the US and did not have anything positive to say, which made it difficult to continue conversations with them. They only spoke about how fat Americans were, and how we are a spectacle that other countries have been laughing at. This was hard because while there are many flaws to America, there are flaws in every country and hearing them only speak of negative stereotypes made conversations strained. They also spoke in Italian in front of us, which made us feel uncomfortable because we felt like they were talking about us! That evening, a group of us got to explore Republica, and stumbled into a gelato shop. We quickly discovered that the man working there did not speak English, so this was a fun but challenging task that we experienced! We used hand motions, Spanish and French, and even a calendar to communicate with him! This experience was one of my favorite because it’s a reminder that although language is a barrier, we can and did overcome it and can connect- after all, we are all human beings that enjoy genuine company and friendship! We got to hear his story of how he came to Italy, and a little bit of his background. We also got to share everywhere we were going on our trip, and he was delighted to find out we are coming back to Milan! We plan on visiting him when we come back.
For our fourth day, we were going to Lake Como! We first toured Mantero Seta Spa, which was the company I had researched during our pre-trip meetings. Mantero Seta Spa is a family owned company that prides itself by combining tradition and innovation. They provide silk and fabrics for a variety of huge designers, like Louis Vuitton, Chanel, and Prada. We got to see the detailed processes to making their scarves through both screen and digital printing. The unique ways they are using technology to make their scarves and fabrics were especially interesting to me. Mantero Seta even has one of the biggest design archives in the world! These prints are used to help create and design new prints and bring inspiration to the designers. It was neat to see such a vertically integrated company, and gave me a greater appreciation for all of my fabrics that have a print on them!
After our tour of Mantero Seta Spa, we took a boat tour on Lake Como. With the Swiss Alps in the background, we were educated on the rich history Como has to offer. We even got to see George Clooney’s summer home on the lake!
After our boat tour, we took an incline, similar to the one in Pittsburgh, to the top of a hill in Como. The sight was breathtaking and definitely worth the long trip up to the top! Seeing similarities between Pittsburgh and Italy was also very cool to me, because it made me feel like I was at home again and was a reminder of how similar we actually all are!
That evening when we were searching for somewhere to eat for dinner, a manager brought us in and offered us free bruschetta and told us that he had gnocchi, which was what we were looking for! While we were in there, he asked us where we were from. When it was time to order, we all asked for the gnocchi, to which he replied “Easy! Just like your president!” We were extremely confused what he meant by that, and he quickly apologized in case he offended us. This was an interesting perspective because we didn’t understand his reference and his perspective on America seemed like a negative one. He was extremely kind to us and treated us very well, but it was neat to see another perspective of America from another Italian.
Our fifth day in Italy was spent traveling to Florence, which was a much more bustling and busy area than we had experienced in Milan and Como. Navigating with so many people was a little overwhelming for me, but I definitely recommend carrying several maps and staying in a decently large sized group! I felt less disoriented when several people could confirm where we needed to go. Getting to see the Uffizi Gallery and the Duomo once again gave me a greater appreciation for art and architecture. The complex structure of the Duomo and the fine details of the artwork in the Uffizi Gallery were breathtaking. I was amazed at how much detail was in each painting and how many paintings each artist created! The statues were equally incredible, with such finite lines distinctively drawn in the stone. Another fascinating thing that I’ve noticed since I’ve arrived is how much shopping Italians do! I believe that was a huge similarity to the US.
We got to spend our second full day in Florence visiting the Scuola del Cuoio, a Florentine Leather School, that makes one-of-a-kind leather pieces. This was a really awesome company visit, because a technical school is integrated into the company and the students create products that are sold! It originally started with friars taking in orphans and the friars wanted to teach the orphans a valuable lifelong skill. They collaborated with a small family company and the Scuola del Cuoio has thrived since! We got to see a close up of a guilder (named Francisco!) make a custom design in gold on a leather coaster. While we were watching him, he began talking to us and where we were from. We told him America, but he wanted to know specifically where we were from! Most people have only asked us what country we were from, so this was a surprise to me. When we told him Pittsburgh, his response was “black and yellow, black and yellow, black and yellow!” This response made us all laugh and smile—he knew the Pittsburgh Steelers all the way in Florence! This was another neat reminder of how connected we are even when we are in totally different parts of the world.
We also got to see how leathers are put together and designed. This was especially interesting because I did not know how extensive the process is to make a purse, wallet, belt, or jacket! I also got to learn a lot about the leather school’s role in the supply chain. They are mostly vertically integrated, and produce a final product after getting the treated leather from a tannery. This experience helped me better understand the supply chain and allowed me to think of how engineering would fit into the supply chain!
The next day, before we departed for Verona, a small group of us purchased tickets to climb to the top of the Duomo. It was no easy feat- but certainly worth the early wake-up call! The view took my breath away and I wished I could have stayed up there all day. This is one thing that I recommend to any student in Florence! I think that taking advantage of as many opportunities as the city can offer is extremely important. Some people wanted to sleep in and they missed the climb to the top, and instantly regretted it. So I definitely suggest exploring everything that you can, because you never know when you’ll make it back to the host country!
Verona was very neat because it had a lot of ancient Roman ruins, which were particularly intriguing to me because I took Latin for five years in high school and middle school! The historical landmarks like the amphitheater had a special place in my heart from studying about it for so long and made me more excited to have free time to explore!
Our eighth day in Italy consisted of a trip to Venice! Similar to Pittsburgh, this “City of Bridges” has over 450 bridges and 200+ natural canals. This was very interesting because there were certain aspects to the city that were essential to the survival of the city. For example, the homes are built on water by putting piling four-five meters deep down into the ground, then fortified to ensure its strength. A tight layer of soil is packed in, acting as cement, but all of the air must be removed to ensure a solid foundation. Stones are added on top of the soil, then bricks are added to build the structure. Brick is used because they are light, flexible, and elastic, making it perfect for a building on water.
We got to see St. Mark’s Basilica, which was a breathtaking building with the most intricate mosaics and architecture I had ever seen. When I first entered, I was taken aback by how big it was from the inside. My breath was taken away when I looked more closely at specific details, such as the mosaic ceiling creating yards and yards of pictures. It was almost incomprehensible to me that this building was built on water with little to no technology, and is still standing today. The engineering that went into the building was spectacular, and I became curious if we could build a similar building with such beauty with the technology we have today. After the basilica, we got to go on a gondola ride. This was a special experience and one of my favorite memories from the trip. The water was so blue and the gondolier was so strong and talented! It was so peaceful to float down less populated canals and appreciate the architecture and beauty that Venice has to offer.
For our last day in Verona, we were given the opportunity to explore the city before we went to a Consortium visit. A group of us went and explored a castle, and once again I was amazed at the beauty and construction of the building. When we got to the Consortium visit, we learned that the Consortium serves as a middleman to help smaller fashion businesses and acts as an “incubator” to ensure the businesses succeed. This was a unique visit because the Consortium wasn’t necessarily a business itself. This visit was helpful however because it shows how much more goes into the business!
The next day, we stopped at two companies before arriving to Milan. The first was a smaller company called Sartoria Cavour, a men’s suit coat tailoring company. Although this company was smaller, they were manufacturing big name brands like Polo right in front of us! We also went to the Mario Faroni Knitwear company, who designed clothes for big names like Kate Middleton and Kanye West. These two companies were interesting because we got to see vastly different structures in each company. Seeing how these companies made their goods were also very interesting. For example, at the knitwear company, extensive programming goes into the designing and knitting of each garment. Even after, numerous people check each garment to make sure there are no flaws. Seeing the programming aspect was fascinating to me, and made me excited about the coding I had learned in my engineering classes! It was also fascinating to think that whole process went into a holey t-shirt from Kanye West’s fashion line. This tour was specifically inspiring too because the tour guide reminded us to always follow our passions. She mentioned big name designers that started out in professions that were completely unrelated to fashion— like Dr. Armani, who was a doctor before he entered the fashion world and made a name for himself. This was an extra reminder to always make sure I am following my passions and I will be successful! This evening we went back to the gelato shop that we visited and met with our friend Taab again. Another man came in and was attempting to speak fluent Italian and Spanish with us. This man was very outgoing, but a little bit intimidating to us. When he walked out of the store, Taab communicated with us that this guy was a little bit crazy! Getting to communicate with locals like Taab was a very awesome experience and one of my favorite things about studying abroad.
For day 11, we had a marketing lesson from Bottega Velasca, a men’s shoe company. This was a unique experience and allowed me to think of a possible MBA to accompany my engineering degree. The idea of marketing sounded very appealing to me, and sparked a new interest that I did not know was originally there. We got to see their logistics center and a Bottega Velasca store. Seeing these “behind the scenes” aspects opened my mind up and made me think about how much more goes into a store than just a storefront aspect. This night we said goodbye to Taab, who asked to see us one more time before we left Italy. This was a hard goodbye, because we all felt like we had a special connection with him and considered him a friend by the end of the trip.
One of our last days in Milan consisted of a Cattolica presentation on sustainability and fast fashion. This was a really interesting topic for me because the presenter incorporated in a lot more engineering aspects to her presentation! For example, she informed us that fashion companies are looking for chemical engineers to research different, more sustainable fabrics that could replace fabrics that they currently use, and are even researching how to make leather out of grapes and wine! This was exciting because I didn’t think there would be a career for chemical engineers in the fashion industry, and It opened up a variety of new job opportunities that I am now considering. I also learned a lot of fascinating information on how fast fashion works, and how companies like Forever 21 and Zara are able to be successful with such a wide variety of clothes. The key is to make small batches of each clothing design, creating a demand in the store for popular items and guarantees that they will not be stuck with too many dated items after a fashion trend ends.
We also went to the Armani Silos museum, which was incredible to see. The variety of clothes and accessories that he made were incredible, and I loved that all of the clothes were in molds, rather than mannequins so that anyone could envision him or herself in the outfit. We finished our evening in the Brera District, where people were filming a commercial on the street. It was neat to see that even in Italy, people became star-struck and tried to be filmed and would attempt to wave and get in front of the camera.
Our last day in Italy involved a company visit to Linea Pelle, a leather company that works as a middleman for tanneries and designers to get them fabrics and designs that the designers are looking for. I got to touch a ton of fabrics from a variety of different animals, which was extremely interesting to compare fabrics and touch how some exotic animals feel! We spent the rest of the day eating and getting ready for our trip back to the US.
Looking back, I am so thankful I took a leap and applied for the Plus3 study abroad program. I am usually very shy and very nervous and worried to travel abroad by myself for the first time, and almost didn’t apply. This experience, however, was life-changing and helped me come out of my shell and meet a lot of awesome students that I will have classes and friendships with going forward. I would recommend applying for the program even if you are nervous, because you never know who you will meet on the trip that may be your next friend! I also suggest finding a cellular plan that allows you to communicate with your family to some extent—I had access to text so that I could stay in touch with my family when there was downtime. This allowed me to still feel connected with them while I was away and allowed me to enjoy the trip even more! If you are fearful of the language barrier or huge differences between countries, my best advice is don’t be fearful! There are a lot of people that speak English and even if they don’t, taking the time to find other ways to communicate is just as fun and sometimes even more fun! Italy isn’t much different from America, and embracing the small differences like food and customs allows you to appreciate the country even more. I encourage everyone to study abroad at least once to experience the world; it truly is a life-changing experience!
Overall, my study abroad trip has inspired me to explore as many different places as I can. I love learning new things about different cultures, and this experience provided me with just that. It has also made me appreciate home, and how grateful I am for the privileges that I have in the US. The engineering aspects of this trip have made me even more excited to start a career in engineering and to believe in myself (like Leonardo da Vinci!). This trip was an excellent reminder of how we are all human and can share friendship and company with those who are not the same as us. This experience has also motivated me to keep learning and experiencing the world and what it has to offer!