Pritha Khandhar - Monash University, Prato Centre

I spent my December of 2018 in Italy, where I did my Summer exchange program with the Monash Prato centre. Although it was just a 4-week program, it enhanced my undergraduate experience irrevocably. I’ve always loved travelling, and the opportunity to study abroad meant that I had the chance to immerse myself in a foreign culture longer than I could if I were simply visiting the area. As such, I was inspired to choose Monash Prato as my primary study abroad option as I’ve always wanted to visit Italy, being drawn to its history, heritage, and (undeniably) food for so long. To further enrich my experience of the local culture, I enrolled myself into a Writing Unit that allowed us students to both immerse ourselves in literature influenced by Tuscany while touring iconic locations within the scenic state, like Florence, Sienna and San Gimignano. On these trips, I was exposed to much of Italy’s rich history and art that I otherwise would not have discovered.

The student experience at Monash Prato was equally as enriching as my course. As such, the courses offered were Euro-centric, enriching our learning through a European, and for my elective, an Italian perspective. My lecturer was especially helpful in guiding my through the literature we were assigned to read, and was more than willing to assist me in overcoming my writing blocks. I appreciated that the lectures focused on the students’ opinions, feedback and group discussions over the traditional lecture format. This greatly allowed me to improve in voicing out my opinions in a classroom setting, enabling me to gain a more reflexive learning process concurrently. To assist us students in adapting to everyday life in Prato, the centre provided a course called Parliamo. Here, we would all learn the Italian language, culture, and at the end of our course, have a cooking lesson at a nearby restaurant. Taking Parliamo certainly helped me learn Italian faster as we were encouraged to speak to the locals in their language. Furthermore, studying at Monash Prato was a unique experience in itself as the centre is housed within an enchanting 18th century palace, located in the town’s historical centre. We were provided with study spaces within the centre itself and I was fortunate to have a schedule that allowed us students to enjoy our time in Italy while studying.

I often took to wandering the streets after classes. The town in itself is charming— it has small bars (for coffee!), a beautiful Gothic-styled church, and even a Chinatown for all your Asian grocery needs. While I loved my freedom and independence, I also had the challenge to manage my ventures financially. Cooking every meal and visiting the nearby morning market became one way for me to minimise my spending. And for the first time ever, I felt homesick from Malaysian food. I was anxious at times, but I slowly learnt to deal with my fears. I was lucky to have my friends with me for this journey, but needless to say, it was a humbling experience to make peace with myself when I was so far from my comfort zone.

During my time abroad, I also managed to travel within Italy. While in the Vatican, I even went to Mass for the first time ever — and that too given by the Pope himself! I witnessed the most beautiful sunset of my life at the then deserted Cinque Terre. I also took my chance to cross borders into Belgium, France and London, visiting all the cities I had only dreamed of travelling to before.

This goes without saying, but none of this was possible without the Monash Travel Grant. Thank you, Monash, for enlightening my undergraduate life with this unforgettable experience. To any students considering an exchange program, I say take the step! The opportunity to study abroad is a privilege not accorded to many, but Monash provides vast feasible options. To those who admire Italy for its history in innovation in art, architecture, philosophy and religion, and Monash Prato is the perfect choice for you to balance your student life while travelling.