It’s funny because somehow or another, this was all the outcome of a vague plan. When I was about 10 years old I made a scrapbook for a fifth grade project. Inside I glued sloppily cut photographs along side popup stickers and glitter letters and illustrated the state of my 10 year old self and what I saw my future self looking like. I wrote about what I liked– Gucci, Prada, Coco Chanel, and the Yankees as any more eccentric fifth grader does and what I didn’t like– the Red Sox and the Jonas brothers apparently. I wrote how I wanted to be a fashion designer when I grew up as I planned to follow in my mother’s footsteps and attend FIT in New York. There was also a very intricately planned out bucket list. I wrote that one day, I wanted to live in Beverley Hills and Milan (actually spelled “Milano”). And now I guess I have done both, though technically I actually live in South LA. When I thought about Milan as a 10 year old, I thought Prada. Now, however, I see a sometimes dysfunctional but unwaveringly charming third home.
On a whim back in October I applied to participate in a program that would allow me to live and intern in Milan, Italy. At first, I didn’t have any genuine intention to follow through, it being the lone pillar in the sea of my indecisiveness. I had just so happened to apply to the program the first day the application was open and proceeded to grind-out the three required essays that same night. I debated the idea for the next few months as I was waiting to hear back from other potential opportunities. But, as I continued to solidify my career intent in the fashion direction, the idea seemed like one of my best options to not only earn credible internship experience, but also force myself way outside any comfort zone I’d previously established and spend my entire summer abroad. The idea both excited and terrified me, but as you can tell now I went for it.
Once I landed, the idea of spending the next 10 weeks of my summer here was daunting and the uneasiness I was experiencing didn’t immediately subside. The frequent cappuccinos and croissants really did help me ease into this new lifestyle at the beginning, as did meeting around 30 other students in the same program as me who were experiencing similar emotions at the start. The first week here was spent learning the basics of Italian. Unfortunately I can’t say I have any tangible ability to carry out a conversation in Italian, but I know almost all of the food words.
Here in Milan, I’m was a sales intern in a showroom that houses several different brands, catering to clients across Europe and Asia. And as a part of the program, I was also invited to attend Pitti Uomo in Florence in June. And for me Pitti was a week of intense walking, fashion, and learning some new words in Italian… yeah. Some of my other friends I made from the program were also there so we were able to taste all of the free cocktails at Pitti during the day and go out together in Florence at night. Since then, my work experience has been spending a average of nine hours a day during the week (and sometimes weekends) in our showrooms arranging the new collections and interacting with clients throughout the sales campaign. During my down time at the office, I’m here.
I feel like I really underestimated just how difficult the language barrier would be to overcome in a working environment. For my internship in particular, there are multiple language barriers as a majority of our clients speak only Russian. And that really threw me for a loop. I still can only count to three in Russian, but I think that’s venerable progress for someone who also barely spoke Italian. Not being able to communicate had me constantly feeling misunderstood and incompetent, even as I was able to grasp the language more. But over time I still managed to get the job done. Maybe there is some merit in building confidence from experiences that, in the moment, seemed only to deteriorate it more. It would sometimes make me question my own capabilities and qualifications. I had rebuild myself in a way that would increase my adaptability, which I did by trying to teach myself as much Italian as possible and just proving my work ethic through continuous dedication.
Some of the best experiences I’ve had have come from traveling both throughout Milan and to other countries. This summer, I’ve visited Como, Cannes, Florence, London, Cinque Terre, Venice, Positano, Naples, Nice, and Capri. Since most of my free time to travel was just on the weekends, I couldn’t venture too far outside of Italy (not a bad thing by any means) and Milan itself always has something new to offer. Very quickly, however, it became more apparent that my time in Milan was not a vacation. I tried my best to assimilate at first to mitigate the uneasiness I felt. There were many nights where all I wanted to do was go back home to my friends, my family, and air conditioning, but since our ac didn’t kick in until at least 12 AM most nights, it provided a viable excuse to stay out later.
Slowly but surely we all adjusted. The two overcrowded buses we’d squeeze into every morning turned into a sea of familiar faces and eventually I was able to narrow down the best cappuccino & croissant combination in the city. I also like to credit myself with being way ahead of the whole “Spritz” craze that’s slowly taking over the states. Also America take note, aperitivo should be a thing (if not already). In fact, the aforementioned period of “assimilation” I described was basically fueled by endless aperitivos in the Navigli and Moscova zones: basically an 8 euro drink and an endless buffet of delicious Italian food is included. Enough said.
Before I left, I was never lectured on the beauty of Milan. In fact, I was served more of the opposite. Milan is definitely a more industrial, business-oriented city but when I was reading all of my guide books prior to leaving, I read a memorable line that argued Milan’s beauty is less overt. Sure there is beauty in the colorful, ornately decorated apartment buildings and in the store windows on Montenapoleone, but you can also be easily distracted by the graffiti-painted alleyways and bustling streets. The truth is, to recognize the beauty here you have to look a little harder, as in behind the majestic mahogany doors of apartments and office complexes where the most beautiful courtyards are hiding. Or find the most amazing restaurants tucked in tiny alleyways. One day for work, we were able to go to the showroom for the brand Miss Sixty, which is housed in a 400 year old versailles-esque complex that took everyone’s breath away.
I think Milan is beautiful. Sometimes you will just be driving around and stumble upon 1000 year old ruins and unsuspecting castles and compared to more tourist-trafficked spots like Venice and Rome, Milan isn’t as overexposed. It leaves much to the imagination and makes you work harder to discover. Even after spending two and a half months living here, I feel like I’ve barely scratched that surface, hopefully a bit more than barely but still. You’ll find less tourists and less English speakers, but the most incredible fashion, art, and food. And I’m so grateful that I was able to spend my time here, even when the 95 degree days unrelentingly piled up as time went on.
Being in Italy is incredible for me period, so here’s a story. I come from a vibrant Sicilian family where we plan our next meals in your head before we even finish our current one. My Grandmother and Papi were from Sicily and grew up on the lower East Side of Manhattan. Later they moved out to Long Island and whenever we’d visit there would always be the most incredible food waiting for us when we arrived. I was around seven years old when my Nana and Papi passed, when it was still hard to comprehend loss. Most of my cousins are much older than me and I rely on their memories to really get a better image of how incredible these individuals really were and the lasting impact they’ve had on all of our lives. I loved them each endlessly and I still do to this day. As I’ve gotten older, my admiration for my grandparents and their sacrifices to give my father, his siblings, and eventually me the life we have. They also had the most beautiful love story and were married for over 50 years. Recently, however, I’ve been more emotional about them and our family overall. We keep their memories alive through her handwritten recipes and countless albums old photographs. Sometimes part of me wishes I could’ve been born earlier so I could’ve grown up with the rest of my cousins and been apart of those times with them. But I love to tell and listen to old stories and when we all reunite, it’s all we do. Visiting Sicily is for sure the next destination of my bucket list, but even still I’m so proud of my Italian roots and living here for the past few months has reminded me of all of these things.
You can find a home in a lot of places, and people. For me, I’ve stretched my definition of “home” first to the West Coast and now to here and soon back and fourth. I’ve gained innumerable experiences that have broadened my perspectives in both fashion and life. Although, I am sad to be leaving in just a matter of days now (this also may be posted after I return), I am looking forward to my first meal back in America, which will be the same as my last back in May, Shake Shack. Until then, I’m really really really excited to share some of my favorite spots in the city that I’ve curated from the past several months, which will be listed in another post. Thanks for taking care of me, Milan. Ciao!