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STUDYING IN ITALY

Rome vs Milan: Which is the best Italian city for students?

Both Italian cities are home to excellent universities but they're different in many ways. So which one is best to live in as a student?

rome milan
Photo Photo by David Billings on Unsplash and Photo by Caleb Stokes on Unsplash

Italy is a great country for students, with accessible universities and some of the top schools in the world. Milan’s Politecnico and the Sapienza University of Rome, for example, are ranked among the top 100 in Europe.

A recent QS Best Student Cities ranking meanwhile named Milan and Rome as the best cities in Italy for students to live in.

But which is better, really, and why?

Of course, it depends on what you’re looking for. “Milan is a more organised city regarding the services, cleaner and open-minded, but Rome is pure magic. So it depends on your opportunities in both cities and your personality and what you can tolerate”, Sammer Salah, a 30-year-old Egyptian citizen who has lived in several Italian cities over the last four years, tells The Local.

READ ALSO: OPINION: Why Milan is a much better city to live in than Rome

The dichotomy between the organised city versus the “city with soul” is similar to known feuds between New York versus LA, Sao Paulo versus Rio de Janeiro or, as a Brit might jokingly say, “London versus anywhere Northern”, comes up often in conversations with immigrants in Italy.

What sets Milan apart?

Milan is known for being Italy’s central financial hub and the home of the Italian high fashion industry. Located in the north of the country, it’s also very well connected (by plane, train, or road) to other European countries.

Italy’s best rated university, the Politecnico di Milano.

It can also be a fun and friendly city, with many international residents, lots of cultural events and busy city life.

It’s home to Italy’s best university, the Politecnico di Milano, and surrounded by lovely towns, lakes and close to the mountains.

REVEALED: What studying in Italy is really like and what you should expect

“Milan is generally a younger city. Both have a lot of universities, but Milan has a few large universities that also cater internationally. You also have a lot more young professionals in Milan because it’s where all the industry is”, says Carlos Diaz, who is from the United States and has lived in both Italian cities.

What sets Rome apart?

Rome is, of course, Italy’s capital and one of the most historical cities in the world. Some students say it has a more relaxed atmosphere when compared to busy Milano and the Italian city also gets praise for its cultural importance and beauty.

The capital is also well connected to other Italian cities and you can easily find cheap flights to many European destinations. Even though it doesn’t near other countries like Milan (Rome is located almost in the middle of Italy), it is closer to the sea – and to the famous Italian beach destinations in the south.

READ ALSO: Five things to know before you apply for an Italian student visa

“Milan is more organised when it comes to offices, traffic, people in general, but Rome has so much more soul, the people, sunsets, the eternal city, the vibe”, writes fashion editor Margherita, who added: “In my 20s, I would have chosen Milan for sure, in my 30s, Rome”.

What about the cost of living?

When it comes to the cost of living, Milan is, in general, more expensive than Rome. It has a reputation for being pricey, especially compared to other Italian cities – including the capital.

Rent can also set you back quite a bit.

A one-bedroom apartment in Milan’s city centre costs, according to Numbeo’s cost of living database, an average of around €1,240, which is 29 percent higher than Rome.

But on the other hand the infrastructure is fantastic, and Milan has one of the best public transport systems in Italy.

READ ALSO: Ten things to expect when renting an apartment in Italy

Overall you’d need a monthly income of €3,442 in Milan to maintain the same standard of living that you’d have on €3,000 in Rome, according to Numbeo.

While most things are more expensive in Milan, as salaries tend to be higher, local purchasing power in the northern city is also higher than in Rome.

The QS Ranking

The QS ranking uses the opinions of current international students in cities with more than 250,000 people and home to at least two universities featured in the QS World ranking.

They evaluate a series of indicators relating to university rankings, student mix, “desirability”, which includes questions like what are the pollution levels and how safe is the city, employer activity, affordability and “student voice”, with questions like what proportion of students continue to live in the city after graduation.

Milan and Rome did well in the survey, but Milan ranked higher in the top 50 best student cities while the Italian capital was among the top 100.

See more in The Local’s studying in Italy section.

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MOVING TO ITALY

‘Why I ditched my UK corporate career for an abandoned Italian vineyard’

Many people dream of enjoying a slower pace of life in rural Italy after decades of the 9-5. But some make the leap much earlier. One former UK professional tells Silvia Marchetti how she swapped the London office grind for winemaking and never looked back.

‘Why I ditched my UK corporate career for an abandoned Italian vineyard’

At some point in life living the dream means abandoning one’s job, and this usually happens when people retire and think about what to do next. 

But one UK professional made the opposite choice: in her early 20s, she decided to ditch a promising career in the corporate and consultancy sector to move to deepest rural Italy and recover her ancestors’ long-lost vineyard. 

Scottish-Italian Sofia di Ciacca, with two degrees in law and history of art, worked for four years at KPMG in London and Edinburgh before she took the opportunity to do something different in life.

Her ancestors, who hailed from the tiny village of Picinisco in the province of Frosinone, Lazio, had migrated to Scotland decades ago. Every time she visited Italy as a child during the holidays, Sofia would feel the pull of her roots.

READ ALSO: ‘What we learned from moving to Italy and opening a B&B’

“I found myself presented with an opportunity very young, thanks to my family’s historical connection to the area, and thought: I either take time to build a career, or I can grab this chance,” she says.

“When you’re building a career, you already know what your trajectory will be: that you’ll be in an office here, and another office there. I realised I didn’t want that.”

At 23 she asked herself: why do later in life what I can do now? 

Sofia at work. Photo credit: Sofia Di Ciacca

This awareness took a while to develop, she says.

“As a child when I returned to Italy it was only as a holiday, not my day-to-day life. Imagine a young girl from Scotland, who had to learn about wine. I never thought about it when I was young.”

“Picinisco is so real, out of my comfort zone. That fascinated me”. 

Sofia, now 33, says she decided “to create something of value, that lasts in time and memory”.

Her family had started renovating old buildings in the area, and supported her career leap, but the wine business was something she was going to personally handle and dedicate years of sacrifice, study and hard work to building.

READ ALSO: ‘Do your homework’: An American’s guide to moving to Italy

Sofia had to learn from scratch, in a job that wasn’t quite like sitting in an office in front of a computer, and that required specific physical and social skills. 

She spent around four years studying the secrets of winemaking with Italian wine consultants in other parts of Italy, mainly on vineyards in Tuscany, where she learnt how to clean tanks, press grapes, plant vines, organise and run a canteen, and do the vendemmia (grape harvest). 

“I did traineeships, met experts, other international wine students, and all this helped me to grow,” she explains.

“The wine world is very complicated, you need to learn basic principles and engineering before you can even fathom how to start anything. Only once you learn, study, then you can have your own say, go see how local farmers work, understand how deep they plough the soil”.

Almost 10 years later, her winery now produces premium wines, honey and extra virgin olive oil. The wine is from an ancient grape variety grown in the area, called Maturano, of which production had been forsaken when local families migrated. 

She says it’s all a matter of gaining self-confidence built on hard graft, and it’s best to be honest and humble about things you don’t know, and are willing to be taught. Understanding the “rural respect for farmers” was key for her.

Sofia in the vineyard. Photo credit: Sofia Di Ciacca

One challenge was figuring out how to split her life between two countries: Scotland and Italy, and deciding where to locate the sales site, whether it was best to be in the cantina in Picinisco or marketing her products in Edinburgh. She says the balance is still not perfect.

But the toughest obstacle was tackling Italian bureaucracy. 

“I shed a lot of tears. The regulations hindered the business, like getting grants. You really need to follow the rules, understand the system, get the right people to advise you,” she says.

“But above all, stay honest. People will try to befriend you pretending to help, but it’s not worth it. As foreigners at the beginning you just don’t know how things work in Italy, you need to ask a lot of questions, and don’t be afraid to do that”. 

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Another feat was the practical side of wine-making itself, which requires a lot of physical work, from hand-picking the grapes in the organic vineyard to getting the winery in shape. 

“You need to get physically fit, and the machinery at first was really not for me,” Sofia says. 

“I wasn’t great at understanding how it worked but luckily I had the right people to teach me”. 

The first harvest came after years of tough vineyard revival. The six-hectare vineyard produces some 30,000 bottles a year, which have already won three international prizes. Alongside the premium white 100 percent Maturano wine, it also yields a sweet amber-coloured passito wine. 

Sofia with her children. Photo credit: Sofia Di Ciacca

“I’ve always been fascinated by grapes, passionate about how they turn into wine,” Sofia says. 

“Recovering the indigenous Maturano variety was a success, it grew well with the fertile soil and the climate. The grapes are left to do the talking, no yeasts are used.”

In the meantime, it’s become a family affair: Sofia got married – her husband, also Scottish-Italian, is a wine importer – and their two toddlers have now started taking part in the vendemmia.

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